Of all the holidays on the calendar, Christmas and the other festive season holidays are centered around gathering with friends and loved ones. It’s been that way since the holidays’ beginnings. But with the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting nearly every aspect of our lives, it’s going to be a little more difficult to plan the same celebrations as in previous years.

Instead, we have to find COVID-safe ways to celebrate Christmas this year, especially with following the safety protocols laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Luckily, after Halloween and Thanksgiving, we’ve gotten pretty good at being clever in how to celebrate the holidays that matter to us. We just need to figure out a few ways to celebrate the biggest holiday on the average American calendar.

Virtual Christmas Morning and Gift-Giving

When you think of Christmas, if one image comes to mind, it’s that of Christmas morning. Kids gathered around the tree, and family sharing gifts before a Christmas dinner. That’s not necessarily possible this year, with social distancing and quarantining guidelines in place. Whatever your relation, you don’t need to miss out on these precious memories because of the pandemic. Using modern technology, you can still be there for Christmas morning. It’s as simple as getting the family together in a virtual group chat prior to opening gifts, especially every family with kids. Every child takes turns opening gifts and showing off what they got to the family. The added benefit of this is that everyone can be together while still in their own homes.

But how do you handle gift-giving when you can’t actually be there? Many families have traditions like white elephant (also called Yankee Swap or Dirty Santa), which may be impossible this year. Instead, Secret Santa is more achievable, especially with tools that allow your group to pick names and share details virtually, from drawing names to sharing wish lists. Once names have been selected, gifts can be delivered directly to the home of the recipient, allowing everyone to give their gift while still socially distancing. The same can go with gifts for grandkids. Many online shopping services will offer giftwrapping around the holidays as well, so that your gift arriving doesn’t spoil the surprise of what they’re getting!

Christmas Parties During COVID

Christmas parties are also a major tradition for many around the holidays. In the age of COVID, there’s one major suggestion for staying safe while hosting a Christmas party — don’t. All the ways the CDC gives to mitigate the risks of a spreading coronavirus at gatherings don’t work at a Christmas party. Unless you live someplace warm all year-round, it’s too cold around the holidays to host the party outside. This limits the ability to socially distance and keep the party well-ventilated. Until we hear differently from experts, large gatherings indoors during COVID remain a terrible idea.

Does that mean Christmas is cancelled and all parties with it? No, we just need to keep being creative. We’ve already figured out how to do Halloween and Thanksgiving parties virtually, so we can take those lessons and use them for Christmas. Virtual Christmas parties can be just as much fun, especially if you include contests to keep the party active. Contests are easy to play along with and organize, and many Christmas traditions lend themselves to friendly competition. It may help encourage participation by including a small prize, like a $5 gift card that can be sent virtually. If you want multiple contests, have each guest take ownership of a contest so everyone gets involved. A few fun contests that will get everyone in the spirit are:

  • Ugly sweater contest;
  • Decoration contest;
  • Christmas trivia competition.

If you and your guests are Christmas movie lovers, you can also plan a virtual Christmas movie marathon, similar to the Halloween movie marathon we discussed a bit ago.

Keeping Up Christmas Traditions

Outside of gift-giving and parties, there are many other traditions that people treasure at Christmas that people will want to continue despite coronavirus. Caroling is one that that can easily be done during the pandemic. So long as people are socially distancing and wearing masks, caroling should be safe. After all, you’re outside, which helps mitigate some of the risks. Another outdoor activity that many take part in for Christmas is getting a tree. As long as you’re going with people in your household and, again, maintaining social distance, you should still be safe to enjoy finding the centerpiece to most families’ Christmas decorations.

Two common Christmas traditions that may be tougher to do the same way as previous years are making Christmas cookies and attending a religious event like a Christmas Mass or church. If you host a cookie baking party each year, you’re likely in the same boat as your standard Christmas party. It’s not a good idea to get together to bake. Instead, bake your cookies separately, sanitarily package them similar to how we suggested trick-or-treating bags, and share them with the group and other loved ones. The second activity, attending a religious event, is crucial to many who celebrate the holiday. Sadly, indoor religious events are risky since it can be tougher to spread out and keep the area well-ventilated. If your religious institution offers it, it may be a better idea to attend virtually, with some congregations streaming their services on social media. Even if your particular church or religious organization isn’t streaming online, others are. For example, the Vatican Christmas Mass will likely be streamed again online for people around the world to view, as will thousands of other institutions and organizations of faith. All it takes is finding your group and tuning in from the comfort and safety of your home.

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Christmas is a special time for many people around the world, but we have to remember that the new normal of a COVID-19 world calls for change and adaptation. We can still have many of our favorite traditions and celebrations, but they have to be COVID-safe so that we can all do our part to slow the continued spread of coronavirus. Despite all the challenges, with the right attitude and creativity, we can all have a merry Christmas this year!