The holidays will be different this year – very different. As the country is experiencing a resurgence of COVID-19 infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is naming small, household gatherings as one of the primary causes, as we continue to wait to see the impact Thanksgiving may have on the climbing numbers of cases and deaths in this country.

Since traveling and gathering in large groups is not recommended, this could be the first time in many peoples’ lives that they haven’t joined their family to celebrate the holidays. So, we must be open to doing the holidays a new way this year. Let’s create meaningful experiences, even during a disappointing time. Instead of focusing on what we can’t do this year, we want to help you hone in on what we still can do.

Here are 20 ways you can still find joy in the 2020 holiday season:
  1. Go on a holiday lights tour. Do a little research to find the best neighborhoods in your area for lights and decorations, create a holiday playlist of your favorite festive songs and bring a thermos of hot chocolate in the car for the ride.
  2. Gather the family together for a night around the fireplace and read a classic holiday story together such as Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The Gutenberg Project has the original version online.
  3. Bake Christmas cookies. Even if this is something you regularly do for the holidays, take it to a new level this year. Perhaps you choose a different cookie to bake each day for a week leading up to Christmas. Or, challenge yourself beyond the standard sugar cookies and sprinkles. If you need inspiration, The Kitchn has enlisted baking heroes to share their cookies of 2020 in a collection aptly named “Quarantine Cookies.”
  4. If you want to really show off those cookie skills, host a socially distant cookie swap with your neighbors. Coordinate dropping off cookies on porches along with recipes to share. Plan this right, and you’ll have more cookies than you can possibly eat!
  5. Make Hannukah latkes, especially Mark Bittman’s recipe. You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate a delicious potato pancake fried until it’s beautifully browned. Don’t skip the sour cream and applesauce!
  6. Explore your local zoo at dark. Most zoos have some sort of Zoo Lights festivities during the holiday season, and since it’s an outdoor venue, you can feel safe walking on the wild side.
  7. Host a cocktail party via Zoom. Gather a group of friends together and have each person take turns demonstrating how to make their favorite seasonal cocktail. Collect the recipes ahead of time and put together a document to share as a memento. Free design software Canva makes this incredibly easy.
  8. Watch a Christmas movie. Whether you are a fan of the classic It’s a Wonderful Life, love the antics in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, enjoy the star-studded cast of Love Actually or cringe at Buddy’s eating habits in Elf, there is literally a Christmas movie for everyone.
  9. Play a game of chess. Chess is experiencing a comeback with the popular Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. Refresh your memory of the game, and play in-person with a loved one at home or online with friends.
  10. Many of us want to donate our time but aren’t quite sure how to do it right now, thanks to the pandemic. Local food banks are being stretched thin so you could volunteer to sort and pack food at a safe distance, assist at mobile pantries and no-contact distribution centers, deliver meals and possibly even volunteer from home.
  11. Build a gingerbread house. Of course, there are pre-made kits to make things simple, but if you really want to DIY, make your own gingerbread and transform it into a home by taking notes from these inspiring creations.
  12. Take a walk through your local arboretum. Being outside is a pleasure we can still enjoy, even during a pandemic.
  13. Missing your annual gathering with friends to exchange treasured (or gag) gifts? Host a White Elephant party on Zoom. Here’s how it works: each guest purchases a gift and wraps it. The host draws numbers out of a hat for each guest. The person with number one selects a gift to open and it’s theirs. The person with number two can either steal that gift or open another one. Play continues until everyone has opened a gift. You decide ahead of time how many steals are allowed or whether to limit them at all! After the party, each guest ships their gift to the final recipient.
  14. Skip the cards this year, and create and send personalized video greetings to all of your friends and family.
  15. Cook a meal together with family or friends via Zoom. Decide on a menu beforehand and send out recipes to the group. Create an Instacart link for groceries and set up your laptop in your kitchen as you cook together in real-time, laughing your way through the prep all the way through dinner after.
  16. Donate blood. The American Red Cross urgently needs blood donors to keep hospitals stocked during this uncertain time. This is the ultimate way to contribute something meaningful!
  17. Write a heartfelt letter to someone who especially needs it this holiday season and let them know how special they are to you. We are all feeling isolated right now, but consider brightening someone’s day who may have less interaction in their lives – someone in an assisted living facility, singles, older people, anyone who could use a smile! Handwrite it on your nicest stationary for a personal touch.
  18. Give back. It’s still too early to tell how 2020 has affected charities, but they need our help more than ever right now. Not surprisingly, a recent survey for Fast Company shows those experiencing a loss of income this year are giving less to charity, but hunger relief has seen the most charitable giving. Research charities in your area to find a good cause that will allow you to do what you can to help families in need.
  19. Ship all of your holiday presents to loved ones and host a Zoom meeting for everyone to unwrap and express gratitude together.
  20. Support a local small business. Whether you spread accolades on social media, make purchases, buy gift cards or give a generous tip for your take out, each time you spend money at a small business, your local community is impacted in a positive way.

In this year of uncertainty and isolation, be open to new traditions that will allow you to keep and strengthen human connections, even from a distance. The holidays won’t be the same as years past, but there are still ways you can make this time of year feel special. Look at the rest of 2020 as an opportunity to be creative in making an effort to stay connected to those you love. Happy holidays!