As a lifelong Chicagoan, every year since I can remember, the holiday season doesn’t feel like it’s really here until a day in the city full of Christkindlmarket, hot chocolate, Millennium Park, and seeing the Macy’s Christmas tree with my family. It’s always freezing cold, and we’re all bundled up so much we can hardly move, but it’s what comes to mind first when I think about the holidays—and for the first time, none of it will be happening this year.
In the grand scheme of things, not getting the usual day full of these much-anticipated holiday traditions is a pretty small deal; but still, no matter what your traditions usually are, you’re probably in a similar boat of trying to figure out things you can do to safely feel festive in 2020. In my opinion, half of that battle is mentally letting go of how you think things should look and making room for new traditions that you might not have ever tried before (and who knows, they might stick around for years to come!).
It’s hard thinking of the most wonderful time of the year in a new context, but that doesn’t mean it can’t feel magical in its own way. Here are 10 new traditions you can start this year (and hopefully next year, we’ll be back to our Christmas markets and ice skating).
1. Watch all of Freeform’s 25 Day of Christmas movies
For all of December, Freeform plays a different Christmas movie every night. Some of these are bound to be your go-to favorites, but some are probably going to be ones you’ve never seen before—and since we’re all stuck at home, there’s no reason you shouldn’t watch both. Make a habit of stepping away from work every night and watching something that will make you feel the spirit of Christmas all month long.
2. Make a new dessert for the first time
This year, I’ve made it my mission to make a homemade pumpkin pie for the first time (complete with leaves that I ordered cut-outs for). In the past, I was always so busy that I didn’t slow down to prioritize something like that, but with what feels like all the time in the world, it’s something I’m excited to do. Making something for the family you’re seeing this year (or for yourself if you’re staying at home) could snowball into something you do every single year.
3. Master a festive drink recipe (or two)
Put down the red wine for a night and mix up a fun Christmas cocktail instead. From boozy takes on egg nog to cranberry-filled spirit, the opportunities to make your drink of choice a little more festive are endless. Master it now and whip it up for all your relatives at next year’s festivities.
4. Adopt a family (if you have the means)
If you’ve never adopted a family for gift-giving, there are few things that feel quite as good during the holidays. You get assigned a family to bring Christmas cheer to, from providing gifts for children to giving a gift card for groceries. One of my favorite memories of Christmas is going shopping for gifts for these kids with my mom and picking themes to go for each kids’ age, and having fun with it is just as easily done online.
5. Make handmade cards
In our office, our Associate Editor Beth’s mom is known for making beautiful, handmade cards (which we’ve all had the treat of receiving a time or two.) There’s nothing wrong with store-bought, but there’s something about her beautiful cards that make them impossible to ever part with, and you can tell how much thought and love went into every single one. Round up the supplies to put together your own cards and send them to your loved ones this year—it’s something that’ll bring a little bit of extra joy to anyone who receives one.
6. Send those closest to you an ornament that reminds you of them
There’s nothing like the joy of going to decorate your tree and getting to look through all of the ornaments you accumulated throughout the years (and haven’t thought about since you put your tree away last January). Add to your friend’s and family’s collections by sending them an ornament that reminds you of them. Did your best friend drink all the white wine they could muster this year? This is perfect for them (and will make them smile when they hang it up for years to come). Find something that captures their current selves—for better or for worse—and get them something to remember it.
7. Go on a drive to look at decorations in your neighborhood
If this is a tradition you already have, good news: it’s one that’s still safe this year; if not, it’s the perfect way to feel festive while staying socially-distanced. Load up in the car with your quarantine crew, some hot chocolate, and your favorite Christmas songs, and drive around for a night to admire your town’s decorations. Spice it up by all voting for your favorite house at the end of the night.
8. Plan a cookie exchange
So, you might not be able to see your friends for your usual Secret Santa this year—you can still keep the love coming by planning a cookie exchange with one another. Set a date for an exchange, pick out your favorite Christmas cookie recipe, and drop off a container of them at everyone on the exchange’s doorstep with a note. It’ll remind you of how much you all care about one another, whether you’re together or not.
9. Make a Christmas playlist and share it with your friends
We all have our favorite Christmas songs (“Last Christmas” by WHAM! will always be the best, sorry Mariah Carey), but listening to someone else’s playlists to remind you of them can be a fun twist on your usual tunes. We all usually listen to The Everygirl’s Holiday Playlist in the office together, and every time I’ve listened to it in my apartment this year, it’s made me smile at the memories of singing each other’s favorite songs together while working. Have your friends make their own playlists and then set days that your group listens to each other’s at the same time—even though you aren’t together, it’ll feel like you are.
10. Have a holiday book club
We all watch as many Christmas movies as we can muster every December, but Christmas-related books fly way under the radar. Find a Christmasy novel and have your circle all read it at the same time (this one is an editor favorite) then host a video call, mix up Christmas cocktails, and discuss it together over some Christmas music on a December night.