11 Old-Fashioned, Newfangled Ways to Celebrate the Holidays

brown paper wrapped gift tied with a shiny copper-colored ribbon and bow

In this time of COVID, holidays will look a little different. Large events are not recommended. A lot of families are not gathering due to concern about spreading the disease. Those who host small gatherings are taking extra precautions, like limiting time indoors, wearing masks indoors, seating households at separate tables, and serving food on individual plates instead of passing bowls. It’s a small price to pay to ensure that you and they stay as healthy as possible, and for the health of our community and the world.

But that doesn’t mean you need to forego tradition. There are lots of ways to feel festive and share the fun. You may have extra time on your hands—good for old-fashioned creative endeavors—and we have numerous newfangled ways to celebrate, including video-conference calls, e-mail, and social media. It’s very possible that 2020 will be the holiday season that everyone talks about for years to come. Let’s make the best of it!

Here are some ideas for festive activities and gift-giving:

  1. Share a holiday memory: Use a holiday photo from years past as your inspiration to write or voice-record a holiday story for your loved ones. What year was it? Who and what are in the photo? What were you doing that year or that day? What were you feeling at the time? What do you miss from that time? What are you glad is now ancient history?
  2. Videotape your holiday message: If you have a camera on your computer or smartphone, chances are you can record video. How about a recorded holiday letter? How about your favorite craft or other pastime? You have a lot to share! Short videos are easy to text or e-mail, and longer videos can be saved to platforms such as YouTube.
  3. Children’s story time: Consider recording your favorite children’s story to share with young people in your life. Or schedule regular story hours throughout the new year via videoconference or a platform like Facebook Live or Facetime. If you have young grandchildren that you are not able to see in person, regular video-conference calls are a great way to stay in touch.
  4. Share a favorite holiday recipe: Do you have a favorite holiday dish that you prepare every year, or you used to prepare every year? Don’t let this holiday season go by without sharing the recipe with people who enjoyed eating it with you. You will be remembered on holidays for many years to come.
  5. Decorate a tree outdoors: Most of us are unlikely to have friends and neighbors visit indoors during the holidays. If you normally decorate a Christmas tree in December, consider stringing lights and hanging ribbons on a tree outdoors, sharing the season with neighbors and passersby.
  6. Share your family tree: If you haven’t done this before, your loved ones will be fascinated to learn more about from whence they came. Names, dates, and places tell part of the story. Add your own personal memories and stories about past generations that you may have heard from your parents and grandparents.
  7. Virtual holiday happy hour or dinner party: While it’s not the same as sitting at the same table, hanging out in the kitchen, or lounging with friends in the living room, it can be fun to schedule a virtual event that involves dressing up (if so inclined), fixing a drink, preparing a favorite food, and talking to each other. It’s even possible to play online games like Charades and, using screen-share options, Pictionary. Or create a scavenger hunt. Involve others in planning and encourage everyone to be creative.
  8. Write letters: Write a personal letter to each family member and close friend that says what you love most about them. Often meaningful letters become cherished keepsakes.
  9. Take in the holiday lights: A lot of neighborhoods light up in December, and some started decorating in November. You can enjoy the lights from the safety of your own vehicle. If your neighborhood has a blog or a social media account, look there for locations. If your own neighbors decorate with lights, plan an evening stroll to enjoy them (always wearing sturdy footwear, a warm coat, and a mask). You may want to repeat this activity several times, as more households get festive.
  10. Give back: Some families have realized they don’t need more stuff in their lives but still get great joy in giving and receiving gifts. Consider letting your loved ones know which charitable organizations matter most to you and ask what donations they would appreciate if you give in their honor. Even a small donation is meaningful when it’s given with intention. If monetary contributions aren’t possible, consider donating canned and dry goods to your local food bank.
  11. Support local businesses: If you enjoy purchasing gifts, consider buying and giving gift certificates from smaller locally owned restaurants, retail stores, and service providers. This helps small businesses that may be struggling to survive and supports local employment during the COVID pandemic.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, another holiday, or no holiday, I hope you take every precaution to limit possible exposure to COVID. Stay home as much as possible, limit the number of people you see (especially indoors), wear a mask anywhere you might come in contact with someone outside of your immediate household, wash your hands (or sanitize) frequently, and do everything you can to maintain good health. More than anything, I wish you and yours good health, happiness, and peace, now and in the new year.

Irene StewartContributor Irene Stewart manages communications for Aging and Disability Services and is editor of AgeWise King County. She (safely) hosted four other people on Thanksgiving but still bought a 12-lb. turkey. Some traditions never change.

This article originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of AgeWise King County.