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How to Really Bond with Your Family This Holiday Season


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mom and daughter making christmas cookies togetherLet’s not beat around the holly bush: the holiday season just isn’t the same this year. You could get down in the dumps about it OR you could get creative about finding ways to celebrate with friends and family. Honestly, it’s ok to do both. Grieve the we’re all experiencing this season while also looking for ways to make the best of what we have.

We might be apart from loved ones, but we can still be together in spirit. One thing I’ve realized this year is how often physical closeness is used as a proxy for bonding. That is to say, people get together in the same physical space and call that “bonding,” when all they’re really doing is being near one another. Being in the same room is great—oh, how I miss it—but by itself, it doesn’t generate emotional closeness or deep connection. Nobody is making lasting memories simply by virtue of watching a football game and eating turkey together.

This year, we have an opportunity to get out of old holiday ruts and try something different, maybe even start new traditions. Somebody needs to put the ho-ho-ho back in the holidays, and I nominate you. Here are some ideas you can put into action:

Things You and Your Loved Ones Can Create Together

Family members or friends all contribute, and the final project is something special to keep for years to come. You’ll learn more about your family members and end up with a record of special memories or family favorites. As a bonus, these ideas are all free!

Shared photo album

Set up a shared album in any of the many online photo album tools. Invite family members to submit their favorite family photos from years past, or ask for old holiday photos specifically.

Level up: Optionally, arrange the photos chronologically. Do a family Zoom session and view the slideshow together, pausing to reminisce and tell stories about the scenes from the images.

Family cookbook

Everyone submits their favorite recipes. A shared Google doc will do the trick, but it’s even better if someone collects the recipes and arranges them in a pdf. Free tools like Canva make it simple to lay out a basic cookbook, which everyone then gets as a holiday gift. You could even have them spiral bound and sent to folks who prefer hard copies.

Level up: Host a Zoom party where everyone cooks a special family recipe together or a virtual dinner party where everyone prepares recipes from the cookbook at home.

Memory book

Same idea as the cookbook, but everyone submits their favorite memories of holidays past or recounts the wildest family legends.

Level up: Have one person collect the memories and put the stories in a slideshow to be shared during a virtual get-together.

Music playlist

Nominate an “emcee” to collect everyone’s favorite songs (holiday or otherwise) and create a family playlist in Spotify, for example.

Level up: Everyone agrees to play the playlist at the same time—maybe while opening presents or during a specific meal—so that you’re sharing an experience even if you’re not together.

2020 time capsule

You might think you won’t want to remember 2020, but when enough time passes, you may feel differently. Anyway, future generations will be fascinated by what we went through. Create a family time capsule with items that are emblematic of this year. Masks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper are a given, but what else sticks out for your family? Did you play a specific game over and over, or maybe you binge-watched certain shows together? Perhaps you took memorable hikes or did a special staycation. Put in items that remind you of those. Have each family member write down their memories, positive and negative, and seal them in an envelope to be opened later.

Other Things You Can Do Over Zoom

Happy hour

Pajama party

Ugly sweater party

Sing-along, karaoke (yes, you can do Zoom karaoke!)

Virtual painting party: Many of the “paint and sip” establishments are closed in person but host virtual events.

Virtual cookie or gingerbread house decorating: Everyone gets their own supplies. Have prizes for most creative, most festive, or most decorations on one cookie.

Get thee to Etsy! Etsy has loads of downloadable virtual holiday-themed games () or other games designed to play over Zoom. There are also a variety of online games that you can play remotely. Maybe Great-Grandma wants to learn how to play Among Us?

Other Ideas

Cookie exchange, ornament exchange, or secret Santa. If you’re local, leave goodies on the porch, or do secret Santa by mail if you’re separated geographically. Maybe this year you instead do “letters from Santa” where everyone writes a heartfelt letter of appreciation to someone else in the family or friend circle.

Family walk or 5k. If you can get together safely with local friends and family members, that’s one option, but most races have gone virtual this year anyway. You can “host” an event where everyone goes out and completes a 5k on their own one morning. Convene on Zoom for celebratory post-race cocoa. If you want to go all-out, create print-at-home race bibs, custom shirts, and/or medals.

Attitude is Everything

None of these options will suffice if you go into the holidays with the attitude that they are already ruined. No question, it’s disappointing that we can’t have our normal holidays this year. However, we can choose to embrace the opportunities we do have. Just as many of us found unexpected silver linings with the lockdowns (No commute! More quality time with our kids!), there may be silver linings here too. For example, you may “get together” with more family members than usual since everyone’s calling in virtually.

Keep an open mind, and don’t expect this year to be subpar. I guarantee that focusing on the negatives will ruin your holiday spirit. Make a conscious effort to get excited about trying something new. Don’t be surprised if these turn into some of your most precious holiday memories!

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