This year has been all about distance: social distance, physical distance, keeping our distance. During the holiday season, how can we abide by these public health requirements, yet still feel close and connected to our loved ones? As we wrap up this unprecedented year, here are some of the ways you can still share holiday cheer, safely and responsibly.

Traditional

With fewer in-person visits, this might be the year to re-discover snail mail. Since we’re all constantly bombarded by electronic communication, an old-fashioned paper greeting can be a breath of fresh air.

If you’re planning to send a gift by mail, consider ordering online and shipping it directly to the recipient. Seek out vendors who offer free shipping on all orders, without a minimum spend. If you’re preparing your own parcel, keep costs down by selecting gifts that are small and flat, rather than heavy and bulky.

Another classic holiday gesture is food, especially homemade baking and other yummy treats. This year, it’s a judgement call. The World Health Organization says “there is currently no evidence that people can catch COVID-19 from food,” but you still have to manage the potential risks involved with preparation, handling, wrapping and delivery. To play it safe, you may want to rely on store-bought, pre-packaged items (like boxed chocolates or hot cocoa mix) that can be set aside for a few days before opening.

Theatrical/Musical

It’s time to let your family’s talents shine, by recording an entertaining holiday video to share with friends and family. This might involve singing, dancing, lip-syncing, telling a story, reading a poem, performing a skit, juggling, or playing a musical instrument. It could also be a baking demonstration, a magic trick, a puppet show, or a tour of a newly-built Lego village. If you have a tech-savvy young person who needs a project, entrust him or her with recording and editing the whole thing together.

The most important thing here is to follow your family’s interests. For example, my kids recently discovered a local radio station that plays Christmas music 24/7, and their new favourite game is to take a well-known holiday song and completely change the lyrics. Most of them are just plain goofy, but we did create a pandemic-related one, to the tune of Jingle Bells (“Just stay home, just stay home, just stay home today…”). If your team comes up with a creative gem, grab your phone and hit ‘record’.

Although a video isn’t quite as good as being there, there is one wonderful bonus about it. Because it can be replayed over and over, the audience can enjoy it multiple times, and even months later.

Sentimental

Although we can all use a positive boost at this time of year, think about people in your circle who might really appreciate some extra cheer. It could be a devoted front-line worker or an elderly neighbour who lives alone. Maybe there’s someone who has helped out your family this year, or who is grieving a loss. This is your chance to reach out and do something nice, in the spirit of the season. The best gifts aren’t necessarily ones you can wrap, so here are some outside-the-box ideas:

  • Check in with a spontaneous phone call. At the very least, you can leave an upbeat voice mail.
  • Do a random good deed, such as shovelling a neighbour’s driveway or offering to walk their dog.
  • Find a “holiday flashback” photo of a friend or relative and send it to them with a nostalgic description.
  • Start a countdown (or “12 Days of Christmas” scenario) where you send out a daily holiday joke, meme, quotation or image.
  • Put out a quick message to friends or family members asking: “What is your favourite thing about so-and-so?” Then, compile the responses and send it to the person in question.
  • Deliver your kids’ artwork to a local retirement home or small business, to brighten up their walls.
  • Volunteer or make a donation to a local charity that supports people in need.

Ornamental

If you have craft enthusiasts in your household, it’s open season on cutting, gluing and painting homemade decorations. Or, go to town on your outdoor décor with wreaths, signs, inflatables and lights. For me, lights are extra important this year, as I suspect I’m going to need a lot of them to get through the long, dark winter ahead. During chilly walks around the block, I’m endlessly grateful for the warm glow coming from my neighbours’ yards.

In addition to being festive and uplifting, a well-designed light display can provide a welcome distraction. One year, my sister-in-law’s neighbour attracted a ton of attention when he used lights to spell out “SANTA STOP HERE” on his fence. (Most of the buzz may have been due to the fact that the positioning of the words made it look like “SANTA HERE STOP” – but that’s another story.)

Technological

Video chat apps such as Zoom, Google Meet and FaceTime have become part of our daily lives, so it’s a good bet they’ll be part of our holiday celebrations. Consider adding one of these activities to your next online gathering:

  • Crank the tunes for a holiday sing-a-long or dance party.
  • Ask everyone to bring an age-appropriate holiday joke to share with the group.
  • Play a holiday trivia quiz on Kahoot (bonus points if you make your own family-specific version!).
  • Present a slide show of past holiday photos and have others guess the year.
  • Invite everyone to wear an ugly sweater or ridiculous winter hat.
  • If gifts have already been opened, let each person do a quick demonstration of something they received.

To stop the spread of the virus, we’ll need to be more creative (and careful) in how we spread holiday cheer and goodwill. The truth is, after the year we’ve had, the gifts we all need the most are love and kindness. So let’s give those, to everyone we know, at every opportunity. No gift wrap required.

Kristi York is a freelance writer and mom of two sports-loving boys. Her work has been published by ParentsCanada, Running Room, ParticipACTION and The Costco Connection.

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