For many families, the holidays are synonymous with spending time with family. However, some years that’s just not possible. Whether you can’t spend the holidays with loved ones because of the pandemic, a December due date, or work demands that make travel difficult, we have plenty of tips for staying connected and making the holidays memorable.

photo: iStock

1. Stay connected throughout the festivities.
Before the holidays, figure out how everyone who is usually together can get connected virtually. Poll your people before the big day and make a plan in place to chat via FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or Duo. A great gift to ensure this happens would be a Google Nest Hub with video capabilities. Set one up in each household and check in throughout the day. Kids can call just by saying, “Hey Google, call Grandma” to say thank-you for a present, you can leave the video chat open for hours while opening presents Christmas morning. It’s easy for Grandma to use too!

2. Take photos.
Keep your cell phones handy throughout the day so you have plenty of memories to share with friends and family later. Document everything from waking up to opening gifts and eating the day’s big meal. Take a photo at least once an hour on the top of the hour, or more often if you feel up to it. If you have an old cell phone lying around, give it to your kid(s) so they can share the day from their perspective too!

3. Focus on who you are with instead of who is missing.
It’s okay to feel sad about not being with loved ones during the holidays, but a silver lining is that you have more time and attention to focus on those you are with. Instead of dwelling on what you're missing, take the time to enjoy a low(er) pressure holiday where you can really focus on the small group you have nearby.

photo: iStock

4. Keep old traditions going.
Although holidays away from family mean you will miss some holiday traditions, you may be able to figure out modifications for others. Like, if your mother or uncle always makes a special dessert, get the recipe and make it yourself. Or, since having kids sit on Santa’s lap is likely out this year, visit St. Nick virtually. One options is Jingle Ring. For under $25,  kids can invite grandparents and cousins to join in the (virtual) magic from afar.

5. Create new family traditions.
Find a new favorite light display in your neighborhood, write down something you're grateful for every day and read them all aloud during your holiday celebration, or choose a new book to read together on Christmas Eve. Here are more ideas for holiday traditions to start with your baby.

6. Plan holiday activities to do together.
Even though you can't be together, you can still plan activities to do together. Get cousins the same advent calendar like this Elf on the Shelf Advent North Pole Calendar Train that comes with figures kids can use during virtual playdates in the countdown to Christmas. Tracking Santa through NORAD or dishing about great Black Friday deals can be almost as fun virtually as it is in person. Grandma can read The Night Before Christmas or The Very Hungry Caterpiller's Eight Nights of Chanukah over FaceTime. Watch a holiday movie together using Disney+ hangout or Netflix Party while eating the same snacks. Instead of cooking an elaborate meal for just a few people, decide that everyone will order a feast from somewhere that ships nationwide like Veestro. Or, order kits like these from Global Grub that come pre-packaged with almost everything you need to make delicious dishes like mochi ice cream or ravioli together over Facetime or Zoom. Get creative!

photo: iStock

7. Make a shared playlist.
Another way to experience the holidays together while apart is to create a virtual musical playlist. Make your playlist full of holiday classics or include everyone’s non-holiday favorites, from grunge to Cardi B. Sharing the same soundtrack for the day can make you feel closer together and bring back shared memories tied to the songs.

8. Have a matchy holiday.
Not only will matching clothing make your holidays Insta-ready, it’s another way to feel connected when you are far apart. Matching attire can also double as a great gift. Check out affordable matching PJs from Pat-Pat or custom shirts from Etsy shop MinnieMadeit. For a less expensive but still super cute option, coordinate socks with funny sayings from Lavley; wear socks with the same message or customize them to each person's interests or personality. These would be especially appealing to anyone who is reluctant to go full-fledged matchy-matchy.

9. Exchange gifts.
When you mail gifts to family and friends, include a note letting them know what you love about them and what you miss about spending the holidays with them. To simplify gift-giving, create a virtual secret Santa. Also, keep in mind that when you are apart, gifts from the heart are even more meaningful. A Little Love Jar filled with personalized notes from friends and family from all over will be treasured and will keep giving as the lucky recipient reads the notes over and over again.

—Jamie Davis Smith

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