Virtual meals, movie nights, and gift exchanges will bring everyone together.

The holidays mark a time of family, friends, community, and overall togetherness. While you may have to be more creative in planning the "together" part this year, there's no reason you can't keep your holiday traditions alive and thriving. These traditions could look like running marathons on Thanksgiving, baking a batch of your family's signature cookies in the days leading up to Christmas, or gift exchanges ahead of one of the winter holidays. Whatever ignites your excitement for this season, know that it can still be accomplished with a little coordination between friends and family. Here are a few suggestions to get you going.

"Bright" holiday card from Artifact Uprising
Credit: Courtesy of Artifact Uprising

Cook a virtual meal.

One of the best parts any holiday is sitting around the table with your loved ones over a meal. While it might be difficult to physically gather for such an event right now, you can host a virtual Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving meal with the help of technology. Swap recipes for your virtual turkey bake together. Then simply place a laptop, cell phone, or any device with video capability at the end of your table, and using Skype, Zoom, FaceTime or a host of other applications, to "connect" your table to those of your loved ones. 

Exercise in a turkey trot.

Are you one of those families that runs marathons over the holidays? While it's safe to say that formal marathons won't be taking place this year, it's a good idea to get fresh air in quarantine; go ahead and hold your own cross-terrain marathon with family and friends. Simply run in your own neighborhoods, keep track of your mileage using one of several apps (like Strava or Map My Run), and head out onto the trails.

Enroll in acts of service together.

This is the season of gratitude, and there's no better way to show your appreciation for your own blessings than by helping others. If you're separated by distance this holiday season, connect through acts of service. Start an initiative among your family or friends to contribute to the greater good this year: donate or volunteer in possible areas of need like food banks, hospitals, hurricane or wildfire relief efforts, or community organizations helping at-risk populations, to name a few.

Bake your family's favorite recipes.

Perhaps it's the recipe that's been passed down through generations or the tantalizing scents that drift from the oven, but there's something nostalgic about baking that captures the holiday season. Even if your loved ones are scattered about, baking can bring you together. For instance, you could exchange recipes for your favorite desserts—sufganiyot for Hanukkah or bûche de Noël for Christmas—between several friends and family members, and send them in a mailing swap

Play games and tournaments.

Whether you play Christmas carol charades or a round of dreidel for Hanukkah, there are several traditions to try virtually. This year, perhaps you could set up a tournament between your friends and family, and keep score from afar by hosting a virtual game night. This will inspire some healthy competition as well as bringing your loved ones together on a large scale. Just serve up a plate of latkes and let the games begin.

Host a holiday movie night.

Settle in for a socially distanced-movie night. Doing this could be as simple as watching your favorite Christmas movie with someone while on the phone with that person or as complex as a shared screen and a video call. Either way, you get to enjoy the fun of watching with someone (commentary included), just from far away. Additionally, if you are in the same city as your loved one and the weather cooperates, watch the movie outdoors on a projector screen so you can safely distance while enjoying the entertainment in each other's company.

Don matching pajamas.

If your family owns a dozen sets of holiday-themed pajamas ranging from penguins to winter plaid, you can still wear them even if you're not together on Christmas morning. Purchase matching pajamas for your extended family celebrating from afar, take lots of photographs, and share them with everyone.    

Gift each other in a mail exchange.

The holidays present many opportunities for exchanging gifts. If you normally participate in a gift exchange such as secret Santa, white elephant, or Yankee swap, consider a slightly varied version this go around. Instead of meeting in person to do a swap, send your gifts through the mail. Secret Santa works quite well in the mail—gifts will actually stay a secret if you want it to. Otherwise, in the spirit of white elephant, you can buy several small silly gifts to send to your fellow exchangers. For example, if you have a group of five, buy or make one small gift per participant.

Send holiday cards.

If any year warranted a meaningful holiday card, it's 2020. So, if you're removed from your family this holiday season yet still want to be included in the festivities, send out a special card. There are numerous services at your disposal to order, print, and send out cards personalized with a photography such as Minted, Artifact Uprising, and Paper Culture. Just be certain to send out your enveloped cards in time.

Rotate Kwanzaa.

If you celebrate the holiday of Kwanzaa with your extended family, try rotating the hosting duties. Meaning, for each of the seven nights, a different member of your family would be in charge of lighting a candle and discussing one of the seven principles. You could either record a video of this to send out to the rest of your family or do this over a live video call. In either case, it brings the family together virtually to celebrate this holiday.


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