Because of the pandemic, this year’s holiday season may look very different from years past. You’re no longer hosting your annual Christmas party or traveling cross-country to see family because, like countless other things, they’ve been canceled.
However, the holidays can still be special and meaningful this year, even amid such stressful times. Here are four ideas for adapting beloved traditions—and creating new ones.
1. Start with your values.
To regroup and re-center, reflect on your values. What are your favorite traditions? Why are they so important, and what do they represent? Considering your deepest desires provides you with a road map for the actions you’d like to take—which can then be adjusted accordingly.
For example, instead of scrapping your holiday dinner because your relatives can’t make it this year, ask everyone to cook the same meal and sit down at your normal time using video chat, says Judy Gilliam, author of “Florence and Her Fantastic Family Tree.”
Another way to emphasize togetherness is to have all family members—near and far—decorate countdown paper chains with fun activities, says Cathy Goldberg Fishman, author of “A Winter Walk in The City,” which celebrates diverse holidays. Add everything from reading holiday stories to baking cookies. After you’ve completed the activity, remove the link. You can also write your values on your chain—peace, respect—and discuss them via video, she says.
2. Listen to little ones.
Kids are a wealth of creative ideas and can help us maintain a sense of playfulness and humor, which are vital right now. Let the little ones in your family come up with holiday-themed suggestions.
Several years ago, at the urging of her then five-year-old, marriage and family therapist Catherine O’Brien started caroling with their family. Today, some neighbors make sure they’re home to catch their singing while others have asked to join them. Ask kids what a fun, fulfilling holiday looks like for them this year. Try to honor these imaginative ideas, while also honoring everyone’s safety.
3. Focus on family history.
While there’s no substitute for hugging grandma or playing tag with your niece, you can use this holiday season as an opportunity to cultivate your emotional connection with your family. For instance, create an oral history by asking relatives to reminisce about certain moments in their lives—what was life like when you were 10 years old—while you record them or take notes, says Gilliam.
You can also deepen your connection by creating a family blog, where relatives share photos, videos, drawings, and family trees, or having family members draw names and write letters, says Gilliam.
For a more light-hearted activity, ask loved ones to share their old photos over email or your video platform’s chat feature, suggests Bri DeRosa, content manager for The Family Dinner Project. Then have everyone come up with funny captions for each image, and vote on their favorites.
4. Prioritize small moments.
Because you can’t do your normal outings and activities, you might adopt an all-or-nothing mindset. But quieter, smaller moments can actually be full of meaning.
Savor trimming the tree, lighting the menorah, watching your favorite movies, and dancing to your holiday playlist, says O’Brien.
In short, reflect on the small, meaningful traditions you can enjoy. Then once you are in the moment, take a mental picture of what you’d like to remember later.
Ultimately, try not to “pile on a bunch of new ambitious ideas,” says DeRosa. Instead of pressuring yourself to create an amazing and magical season, focus on a few things that are important to you and your family. Often, it’s the simplest things that mean the most.
“In the end, one night just eating pie in your pajamas together might be the memory that sticks with your family for generations to come,” says DeRosa.