Start by focusing on gratitude—after all, it is special that you get to spend the day with those you love most.
mother and daughter hanging red and gold bulbs on christmas tree
Credit: Getty / Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

No matter how much you complain about seeing your extended family over the holidays, missing your your Grandmother's annual Thanksgiving dinner or your aunt's day-after-Christmas brunch due to social distancing can create a very real sense of loss. "In terms of tradition—that's something that's really important within families and for everyone's wellness," says Dr. Yesenia Marroquin, psychologist in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "It keeps us connected, and it keeps us with this understanding that we are part of a unit, we are more than ourselves—and for kids and adolescents, it provides a sense of safety and stability." There is, however, a way to preserve these feelings if you're celebrating within your immediate family unit only—ahead, our experts share four ideas to do just that.

Focus on the good.

Start the season by spotlighting what you have—not what you're missing—with a gratitude exercise, suggests Dr. Marroquin. Hang a paper cutout of a tree trunk and branches, and attach paper leaves where you and your family can list what you're thankful for; or use a hanging branch or potted tree to which you can tie small notes with pretty ribbon. "It can be something very small like, I am grateful for the service I have on my phone, to something that's a lot bigger—like, I'm really grateful for my grandparents' health," says Dr. Marroquin. Encourage your extended family to do the same, and share photos of your finished tree on Thanksgiving Day.

Gather virtually.

Though you may not get to see your relatives in person, coordinating a virtual get-together allows for the sense of connection that you might otherwise miss. Virginia Frischkorn of Bluebird Productions recommends creating and sharing holiday playlists for your distanced parties: "Split up some of the key nights that you may have gathered and play the same music as the rest of the groups on the same nights," she says. If you are able to gather for a live chat, have a stash of games and conversation starters ready. "Use a deck of guided conversation cards like Convers-ate ($35,," suggests Frishkorn. "They have more 'flow' and guidance than the 'pull a card from a deck' and will offer hours of engaged conversation to make you feel connected." Dr. Marroquin recommends sharing favorite recipes with your extended family or coordinating matching pajamas—both of which create a sense of team spirit. "It's a way of connecting with others that still abides by safety guidelines," she says. "Even though there isn't that proximal, physical touch, there's still that sense of, 'We are all together in the way that makes the most sense for us right now.'"

Continue your favorite traditions…

Your holiday may have a smaller guest list this year, but that doesn't mean you should skimp on your usual preparations. "Decorate and get festive!" says Frischkorn. "We need the cheerful lights and holiday décor more than ever this year. Embrace the season." If you always hang stockings, says Dr. Marroquin, continue that tradition—even if your grandparents won't be there in person to open theirs. "For parents, it's the question of, 'How would I like my kids to remember how we got through this,'" adds Dr. Marroquin. "And it can be from a place of, 'We were all very spent and we just didn't see the point of celebrating the holidays if we couldn't have it the way we always had it,' versus, 'We did the best we could with what we had.'"

…and start new ones.

Make the best of a solo holiday by taking the opportunity to create new traditions that wouldn't have worked in the past: A moonlit walk through your favorite nature preserve instead of a morning at your local parade; lasagna for dinner instead of the ham your uncle insists on; a Star Wars movie marathon instead of a continuous stream of Christmas cartoons for your baby nephew. "As a family, [it's about] how can we be made out of rubber—we can be a little more flexible, we can make the most of what we have," says Dr. Marroquin, "as opposed to being made of concrete where we're just going to stay stuck—that's when a lot more suffering can happen."


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