Christmas 2020: How to Maintain Holiday Cheer in a Strange Year

If you had asked me when I was a kid how I foresaw spending Christmas 2020, I might have told you I’d be baking a turkey in a lightning-fast, futuristic oven or traveling to my aunt and uncle’s annual holiday gathering in a hovercar. I never would have predicted I’d be living through a pandemic that would change almost every aspect of everyday life—and, now, the holidays, too.

This year, as COVID-19 threatens to take the “happy” out of our holidays in so many ways, I believe one solution is to make the season all about comfort. Keeping up with what’s familiar and comforting—even in small ways—might just provide the sense of groundedness we’re craving this year. Plus, observing traditions (with or without a group of loved ones) connects us with the past and reminds us to hope for a better future. 

Here are five ways I’m planning to keep this holiday season full of comfort and joy.

Make your favorite foods

Forget presents. If you ask me, food is the real gift of the holiday season. In my family, it simply isn’t Christmas without my mom’s apple pie or my mother-in-law’s mashed potatoes. This year, when many other types of traditions are “off the table,” the good news is that we can still have plenty on the table—literally. Establish a sense of normalcy by continuing to make your family’s usual holiday dishes, even if you can’t gather in person.

Watch warm and fuzzy movies

There’s no COVID-19 restriction against revisiting your favorite holiday movies! This November through January, fire up the streaming service of your choice (and maybe an actual fire, too) for a relaxing evening at home. Will Ralphie get his Red Ryder B.B. gun in “A Christmas Story?” Will Mrs. Walker finally believe Kris Kringle is Santa Claus in “Miracle on 34th Street?” (My personal favorites.) Sure, I know the answers already, but curling up with holiday movies never gets old. 

Play allllll the Christmas music

Amy Grant’s classic album “Tennessee Christmas” has played in my parents’ (and now my own) house every year since its 1982 debut. This year, I’m looking forward to its soothing sounds more than ever—and not just because they’re the perfect audio backdrop to tree decorating. 

For me, well-loved songs can bring a peaceful vibe that far transcends their lyrics (or, in this case, the cheesy ‘80s drum sounds). I find that listening to music dear to my heart can actually ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

And hey, it’s actually science! A 2020 study of 90 people found that comforting songs reduced a sense of loneliness and improved mood. If you’re the type to be consoled through music, be sure to craft a playlist of pure Christmas comfort this year.

Decorate like a boss

Got a little extra cash leftover from that vacation you didn’t take or the restaurant dining you haven’t done for months? Maybe it’s time to put it to good use on some dazzling Christmas décor! Turning your home into a winter wonderland could be just the ticket to helping you forget the troubles of the world outside. 

Maybe this is the year you splurge on the porcelain nativity set you’ve always wanted or get a live tree. Or, if finances are tight, make things festive with inexpensive decorations. Strings of lights, tinsel, and basic bulb ornaments may not be flashy, but they can still make your space feel merry and bright.

Keep gathering safely

No matter what, the holidays are all about connecting with loved ones. Even if you won’t be attending the usual 50-person Thanksgiving dinner or NYE bash, there are still ways to stay close to family and friends this year. Smaller, socially distant gatherings, like a cookie decorating session with a neighbor or two or a movie night with a friend, fall within health and safety guidelines for most areas. 

As an outdoor alternative, walk through a neighborhood with a fabulous light display, go ice skating, or take a family stroll on Thanksgiving morning to offset the coming feast. Touching base with friends and family as much (and as safely) as possible will go a long way toward making this strange season feel a bit more normal.

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