12/4/2020 | By Annie Tobey

7 tips for making the most of this season, for yourself and your loved ones

The holidays are here, a time for family, celebrations, cheer, and hope. And there is hope –hope for a return to pre-pandemic life soon to come. Vaccine distribution will begin very soon, the first big step. In the meantime, we’re still hunkering down, asked to stay home, to avoid visiting with extended family this year. So how can we have holiday celebrations during the pandemic, fulfilling our needs for connection while still respecting health guidelines?

We’ve provided seven tips for staying connected and keeping the cabin-fever, can’t-see-your-favorite-people blues at bay. We recommend a blend of familiar traditions with fresh new ideas. Whether you’re planning for your own holidays or wondering how to perk up the season for a senior loved one – or looking for ideas for both of you – let suggestions help.

Decorate for Comfort

Decorating for the holidays can be overwhelming, especially if holiday decorations have multiplied like bunnies over the decades! This year, a more modest display can diminish the stress of decorating – and of cleaning up when the holidays end.

In deciding what you can display at your holiday celebrations during the pandemic, Marie Kondo’s decluttering principle can help. The organizing professional says that you should ask of every item, “Does it spark joy?” For decorating, this means, only display the items that will bring joy to the holiday. The rest can remain at rest till next year!

At your home or at a senior loved one’s residence, consider these holiday-like decorating items that can spark joy.

  • Gentle lights. Soft, small lights can soothe the soul. Scented candles can do double duty, offering therapeutic smells with the flickering of the candle. If a flame is a concern, invest in flickering electric candles. This time of year especially, a traditional bubble light can spark both memories and feelings of peace (use a bubble light nightlight, no tree needed!). Strings of lights can bring holiday spirit even without a Christmas tree. Instead, drape them along a mantle, above a mirror, or around a window frame.
  • Greenery. Nature provides a natural therapy. The outdoors – fresh air, trees and other plants, sunlight, expansive skies – has been shown to have health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and heart rate. And bringing bits of the outdoors inside provides benefits, too. This can include living plants or cut greenery such as wreaths or drapes of holly or evergreen boughs.
  • Electric wind chimes. The dulcet tones of tinkling chimes foster a sense of rest and relaxation. And though they aren’t truly “natural,” they carry that connotation of gentle outdoor breezes.

Make Gifts of Affection, Promises, and Experiences to Your Loved Ones

Unless you know of items that your family members absolutely need, 2020 provides a prime opportunity to offer gifts more of meaning than utilitarian value.

  • New pictures. Update pictures of grandkids and other family members, beloved pets, and close friends. You can spark nostalgic smiles by framing old pictures, perhaps holiday pictures, from past photo albums.
  • Videos. Have each family unit (i.e., whoever is under one roof and together despite the pandemic) create their own video. Then combine all videos into one big video to share with everyone – not just with Grandmom and Granddad!
  • Promissory notes to upcoming events. Even if you can’t purchase tickets to a spring concert yet, you can make your own “tickets”: to the first theatrical performance of post-pandemic times; to a walk around the local botanical gardens when social distancing has eased; to dinner at a favorite restaurant. We all need things to look forward to, especially during challenging times.

Expand Your Giving

Studies have found that giving to others makes the giver happy, too. Since we all need a little extra cheer this year – especially in our holiday celebrations during the pandemic – consider giving a little extra to those in need.

Give in the names of friends and family members, and they can share in some of that warmth. To make this extra special, consider what’s meaningful to each individual and gift accordingly. Dad was a farmer? Give in his name to Heifer International. Mom loves classical music? Give to the local symphonic orchestra. Uncle Dave is an outdoorsman? Donate to The Nature Conservancy.

Try Out New Recipes

Senior woman enjoying holiday celebrations during the pandemic

If you aren’t hosting a big holiday gathering this year, you won’t have to please guests who are expecting traditional family dishes. That means that this holiday provides the perfect opportunity to try new recipes – even new recipes using traditional holiday ingredients, like scalloped spicy sweet potatoes or pumpkin bread pudding. Who knows, you might even discover a dish that’s worth introducing next year, destined to become another family tradition!

Share Favorite Foods

Some holiday dishes and desserts can be prepared in advance and delivered in time for the holidays. Baked goods such as gingerbread cookies, buttermilk biscuits, challah, and sufganiyah can easily be shipped across the country. Other non-perishables – like pies, cornbread, bûche de Noël, and stollen – can be hand-delivered to in-town relatives.

Sometimes comfort food is all you need for your holiday celebrations during the pandemic!

Explore New-to-You Traditions

For two important reasons, 2020 is a wonderful time to explore other holiday traditions. First, as we know, sharing with others makes the giver happy. Second, this year we don’t have to fulfill the tradition-hungry needs of other family members.

So use this year to learn about other rituals and foods. The season is filled with a diversity of celebrations:

  • Winter solstice, Dec. 21. The first day of winter also marks the longest day and shortest night of the year (in the northern hemisphere). Cultures around the world celebrate in a variety of ways, from the Native American Hopi to the Dong Zhi festival in China. Many Americans, on the other hand, observe the day as a celebration of nature.
  • Christmas, Dec. 25. The Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
  • Kwanzaa, Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. An annual celebration of African American culture.
  • Boxing Day, Dec. 26. This British holiday began as a day when donation boxes were opened and contents were distributed among the needy and when servants were given the day off.
  • Orthodox Christmas, Jan. 6. Also a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus, but based on the Julian calendar. Observed primarily by Christians from central and eastern Europe, so customs and foods vary a bit from western observances.

Although online and book research are always useful, connecting with people is even better. If you know of friends, a local faith community, or a local interfaith group that celebrates one of these holidays, they can be knowledgeable and passionate guides. Even if your connection is only virtual, person-to-person contact adds life and energy to your explorations. Plus, we can all benefit from a little extra contact these days!

Who knows, you might even discover a ritual that you would like to incorporate into your future celebrations.

Consider sharing some of your findings with your family and loved ones as well, enriching their understanding of the season. A touch of another tradition might even make this season less lonely.

Keep Connecting!

Zoom holiday celebrations during the pandemic

Virtual gatherings have gotten old for many of us. Seeing our loved ones on a computer screen just isn’t the same as giving them a hug and being face-to-face. But until the coronavirus is under control, virtual meetings can provide that connection we so need while still being safe. Let Zoom, Facetime, Skype, etc. keep us connected and healthy in our holiday celebrations during the pandemic.

Happy holidays!

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey