Celebrating Winter Holidays in 2020: Different, but Still Special


The year 2020 is all about embracing the new normal, even when it comes to celebrating winter holidays and traditions.


As summer turned to fall with no sign of the COVID-19 pandemic fading, I realized that this holiday season will be deeply affected by ongoing social distancing recommendations and began feeling really sad that we won’t celebrate our favorite winter holidays as we normally do. It started to feel a bit like 2020 was going to be the year without Santa Claus.


Christmas cookiesBut, buoyed by how relatively normal Halloween felt, I’m reconsidering. First, so much of what makes Christmas and Chanukkah special are the traditions we celebrate at home with our immediate family: favorite decorations, movies, playlists, festive pajamas, lighting the menorah, sending and receiving holiday cards, and enjoying Christmas brunch are just a few examples. This holiday season will find me, just like every other year, baking my favorite cinnamon cookies, watching Scrooged, surprising my kids with new ornaments on St. Nicholas Day, and singing Hebrew prayers very poorly over our menorah.


Second, there are a few traditions we’re already enjoying outdoors: driving through light displays, visiting Christmas markets and tree lots, caroling (does anyone do this, and if so, can you invite me?) are a few more examples.


Taking that into consideration, I wanted to share some thoughts I have around how we hope to celebrate the season with loved ones, a little more distant but still together:


Not on Zoom. This may be a controversial stance, but I’m very resistant to any Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Chanukah celebrations on Zoom. To me, these holidays are too special to spend in front of a computer.


a roaring fire in a fire pit surrounded by empty, multicolored Adirondack chairsFireside. I believe that the “friend or family member with a fire pit” will become the wintry version of “friend or family member with a pool” this year. I’m lucky to have a few loved ones with ample outdoor sources of heat, and we plan to get together (six feet apart) for warm drinks or drinks that warm us up. It’s not quite the same as enjoying a long meal together, but with less food, there is more availability for talking! We may remember this winter by the scent of campfire and the taste of smores, and I’m not mad about that.


Outside, but active. As long as the weather isn’t completely unbearable, it’s hard to feel too cold while staying active. For example, I may not feel comfortable having a long Thanksgiving dinner indoors with extended family, but I am happy to revive my childhood Thanksgiving tradition of running around playing games (both organized and made-up) with my kids and family members.


Scaling down traditions. One of my all-time favorite traditions is singing Silent Night by candlelight at my church’s Christmas Eve service. I will miss that terribly this year, but you had better believe that I am turning off all of the lights in my house on Christmas Eve, lighting candles, and making my family sing with me. It will be different, but still special.


a score of Christmas music on a wooden table with a red, lit candle on top next to a sprig of greenery


Serving others. The easiest way to feel better about your circumstances is to get out of your head and focus on serving others. The need in our community is greater than ever. Food banks, animal shelters, vulnerable seniors, and more all need our help, and socially-distanced service opportunities abound. If you don’t already have a family tradition of service, this year is the perfect time to start and continue to serve well beyond 2020!


I hope I’ve reminded you of all of the lovely traditions that will continue exactly as they are and started your creative juices flowing on how to make this holiday season memorable for your family. A few things will without a doubt change, but the heart of the season will remain.