Be Gone, Grinch! 20 Ideas for Celebrating the Holidays Safely During COVID-19

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It’s possible that Santa, way up in the already socially distanced North Pole, hasn’t got the memo yet. But the rest of us surely have. Here in the impenetrable weirdness that is 2020, holiday celebrations are going to be different.

Instead of feeling mopey that you don’t get to do all the things you usually do, we’ve got a better idea. Why not get a little creative, either reinventing old holiday traditions or starting new ones?

As you’ve now heard a zillion times, inviting loved ones beyond your household to in-person gatherings also means inviting them to potentially compromise their health. And venturing out to crowded bars, restaurants, and holiday parties are activities heavy with personal risk and social irresponsibility. In a land where we daily set new records for COVID cases, this is true no matter how careful you are.

We know. It sucks. We’ve had a tough year, and it’s awful to contemplate a holiday season huddled alone in our respective household quarantines. That’s why it’s more important than ever to find ways to come together safely with our loved ones. And thus, welcome to Covered’s ideas for celebrating the holidays safely during COVID-19.

First Things First: Don’t Forget the Essentials

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) holiday celebration recommendations stipulate that the lowest-risk option is to celebrate only with members of your own household who are taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For most, that means celebrating either with immediate family members or roommates. It also means treating anyone who doesn’t typically live with you — for example, college students home on break — as “part of different households.”

For more considerations, guidance, and tips for celebrating the holidays during COVID-19, please visit the CDC’s website. In addition, National Jewish Health gives a succinct rundown of options and considerations at different risk levels.

Plan and Set Expectations Early

Everyone’s happier when they have something to look forward to. Make COVID-appropriate plans and that allow you to do just that. You’ll have a better chance of avoiding disappointment. You’ll also have a better chance of planning celebrations that will be meaningful to everyone. With that in mind:

  • If you’ve got kids: Manage their expectations proactively. At least two weeks before the holidays, sit down with your kids to talk about how and why this year’s celebrations will be different. Make suggestions for safe ways to celebrate, and invite ideas and questions.

  • If you usually get together with extended family or friends: Start having phone or email conversations NOW about ideas, plans, and expectations. Having no plan will get you nowhere, and could lead to hard feelings, confusion, and missed connections.

Get Creative in Reinventing Favorite Holiday Traditions

Some holiday traditions can continue business-as-usual. Whether that means decorating, making cookies, driving around to see holiday lights, or sledding, treasure it all and make your gratitude heard. For the traditions that need a little COVIDifying, consider these options.

  1. Try a gift exchange or “secret Santa” arrangement. Go the old-fashioned route and appoint someone to pull names out of a hat and assign giftees. Or, if you’re working with a slightly more tech-savvy group, try free services like drawnames.com or elfster. They allow you to exclude certain people (e.g., so you don’t get your spouse), share wish lists, and more. Then, open gifts together via video call.

  2. Organize a holiday recipe swap. Just because Aunt Linda can’t be there to deliver her famed rice pudding doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from her recipe.

  3. Go beyond typical holiday cards — maybe far, far beyond. Take the time to personalize by tucking hand-written notes and extra photos in with your holiday cards. Or commission a Cameo video message to friends and family from a favorite star. While Snoop Dogg will run you a hot $1,000, TV host Tom Bergeron, magician Penn Jillette, or actor Danny Trejo will only set you back $125. For $300, you can have Alice Cooper or Boy George sing everyone a holiday song!

  4. Coordinate a COVID-friendly holiday potluck. Working with friends, family, or even just next-door neighbors, plan a menu and agree upon drop-off times. Drop off dishes on each other’s doorsteps. WAY better than ding-dong-ditch.

  5. Avoid the strange men’s laps and make those Santa visits virtual. Macy’s Santaland is offering free virtual Santa visits and other Santa-focused online activities. Sam’s Club is offering free virtual Santa visits to members. For a reasonable cost, JingleRing offers virtual Santa visits or storytimes. If you want to go big, consider Package From Santa (packages include personalized videos, calls, letters, or emails from Santa, gifts, and more) or Santa’s Club (live video conversations or pre-recorded, personalized videos).

  6. Go big with that outdoor decor! In a year when we can all use a little sparkle, shine, and wonder, those outdoor twinkling lights, lawn decorations, wreaths, and window decals will go a long way. (We know someone who’s been talking about building a Die Hard John McClane diorama for years. Might we suggest that 2020 is the year?)

  7. Zoooooom into indoor holiday decor! Set up a time with family and friends to do indoor decorating via Zoom. Watch each other’s progress and share favorite ornaments.

  8. Plan a virtual holiday watch party. Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party) is a free browser extension that works with Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, or HBO to let you play the same movies or shows as family and friends while spouting off in a chatroom sidebar. Add a video or voice call if you want to talk live while you watch. The Airtime app lets you watch YouTube videos together while simultaneously video chatting with friends.

  9. Go to the drive-in… in December? While most drive-in theaters are closed over the holidays in most years, this ain’t most years. So check with your local drive-in to see if they’re hosting holiday showings. And don’t forget to pack along the hot chocolate and cookies!

  10. Host a virtual cooking or baking party. Choose a favorite recipe for everyone to make together. Just keep those screens far enough away from your mixers and stovetops and you’ll be fine.

Get Creative in Starting NEW Holiday Traditions

  1. Go caroling. Okay, so most of us probably have either never been caroling, or haven’t gone caroling since the ‘80s. Time to bring it back… well, as long as you include only members of your own household in the caroling party and sing at houses and businesses from a profoundly safe distance (~20 feet away). Find printable lyrics online and belt out some “Winter Wonderland” or “Jingle Bell Rock.”

  2. Create an online family photo album everyone can contribute to. Google Photos makes it easy to create and send invites to online albums anyone can contribute to. As we all work through our very first COVID holiday season, we can share photos, videos, and comments, becoming part of each other’s preparations and celebrations as best we can.

  3. Have an all-day holiday pajama party. I mean, if you’re not supposed to leave the house anyway, why not? Naturally, matching holiday-themed pajamas will work best. But if you can’t match, it needn’t slow you down. Start with holiday pancakes. Have a holiday craft morning and a holiday movie afternoon. Take photos to share later.

  4. Revamp the “12 Days of Christmas.” It’s true that 12 entire days may be excessive. Also, we’re not suggesting your events should involve maids-a-milking or swans-a-swimming. But what about scheduling a series of short virtual dates with loved ones throughout the holiday season? Each household “hosts” one session apiece, leading a different activity. Think crafting, storytime, holiday-themed karaoke, dance party, or talent show. Or limit events to your own household, creating a calendar that includes at least one holiday-focused event each day.

  5. Go on a holiday picnic. If your climate permits, take your crew to the park, packing along some picnic-appropriate provisions. This is one where — provided you keep those picnic blankets socially distant! — you could even invite friends and family along.

  6. Try asynchronous messaging. Even though we keep talking about video calls, we know Zoom fatigue is real. And it’s hard to find times that work for everyone. Instead, consider creating asynchronous holiday videos, which let you record, watch, and respond when it’s convenient for you. Marco Polo is a great free app that supports asynchronous video messaging.

  7. Have a holiday scavenger hunt. Come up with at least semi-clever clues (Google can help!) to hide all manner of holiday treats and gifts in and around your home. Or go on a holiday decor scavenger hunt, walking around your neighborhood and checking off everything you find (e.g., Santa, elf, stars, sleigh, grinch, snowman, angels, candy canes).

  8. Find outdoor lights displays that will get you out of the house while keeping you safe. Many zoos, botanic gardens, and other light displays are using timed entries and attendance caps — while enforcing masks and social distancing — to ensure that it’s still safe to visit.

  9. Mail or drop off holiday care packages. Who doesn’t love a care package? It doesn’t have to be big or expensive. Just thoughtful, sending the message that someone out there cares.

  10. Find other creative ways to spread joy. Everyone’s looking for it, so don’t be stingy with whatever joy you have to spare. Maybe you have an elderly neighbor who can’t get out much, or there’s a nursing home or fire department down the street. Make and drop off holiday notes, decorations, or treats.

Yes, celebrating the holidays during COVID will feel different. But it doesn’t actually have to feel worse. With a little advance planning and creativity, you can make 2020 a holiday season you won’t want to forget. (You know, as opposed to the rest of 2020.)

Bonus Insurance Tip: If your holiday celebrations at home include lighting candles or sitting around the fireplace, check out our tips on how to NOT burn your house down over the holidays. While your homeowners insurance may help you make repairs post-fire, isn’t it better to avoid one in the first place? For your sake and Santa’s, you might also want to check out our guide to fireplace safety.

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Cover Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

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