We've said it before, and we'll say it again: 2020 isn't like other years. And when it comes to the holidays, that goes double. Many of the celebrated traditions we look forward to every fall and winter are off the books for this season, since social distancing and travel restrictions have put the kibosh on some of our most beloved activities and events. But that doesn't mean the holiday spirit isn't alive and well within us — quite the contrary, in fact.
This year, we're getting creative to find new ways to celebrate, whether virtually or just at a distance (and, yes, even outside — cue the heat lamps). Here's how we're adapting our favorite days in the Most Wonderful Time of the Year to fit the times we live in. It may not be traditional, but we're certain it'll be memorable.
We admit it; we're guilty of being Scrooges in past years when we've heard holiday music blasting in October. But this year, we're looking at things a little differently — and excitedly anticipating the change of pace (and distraction) that can come from getting ready for the holidays. To make the most of the season (however you define it), we love opting for nature-inspired decorations that feel appropriate from month to month ... and bring a little greenery indoors during the grey winter months.
This thick, substantial garland looks real but comes without the needle shedding we all dread.
If you prefer a more realistic look without the fuss, try this lively green garland. Made from real boxwood that has been preserved, it can last 2-5 years.
Subtle twinkle lights on a metal wire are versatile enough to keep up throughout the season.
It's a great year to invest in "holiday decor" that you can keep up year-round ... and a Norfolk Pine is pretty much the perfect example. Its softly sloping branches are reminiscent of the classic holiday pine tree, but it's actually a tropical plant you'll love to watch grow over the years to come.
Thanksgiving Dinner Al Fresco
Weather permitting, the shift to taking the turkey outside this year is a smart move that can also feel like a shot of excitement for this usually traditional feast day. Deck out your outdoor space with plenty of cozy touches to keep guests comfortable — from proper lighting to blankets and throws — and consider dining closer to midday to get the most out of your outdoor occasion. Then when the sun sets, switch to cocktail hour around a fire pit or add a new tradition to the mix: Thanksgiving S'mores.
A high-quality set of outdoor lights can last you years — and imbue your event with the warm glow you're looking for. A commercial strand designed for prolonged exposure to the elements is worth the investment.
You'll be devoting most of your table's surface to side dishes ... so make some extra space for decor with an over-the-table rod that can support smaller string lights, boughs of greenery, and even a small hanging centerpiece.
As the sun starts to go down, handy (literally) mobile lanterns are a great addition to your space. This one even offers Bluetooth integration so you can provide a little mood music.
Or, for a more atmospheric glow, cluster a few inexpensive IKEA lanterns in various sizes around the area.
Folded blankets or pashminas on the backs of each chair are a thoughtful touch that also adds to the warm vibe of the holiday. These soft, long-staple cotton throws from SNOWE are a no-fuss choice.
Made with spiced Speculoos cookies instead of graham crackers, these s'mores seem fall-festive enough to become a new favorite Thanksgiving dessert option.
Facetime Cocktail Hour
Coordinating a happy hour over Zoom is not exactly groundbreaking, but we love the idea of taking it a step further and sending along matching glassware to your BFFs to make the feeling of being together (virtually) even more real.
Trying out different aperitifs together only makes happy hour more fun.
Or, upgrade your standing monthly Zoom Wine Date with a natural wine subscription for yourself and the "wonder women" in your life ... with a selection of vinos from female winemakers.
These will look great when you "clink" on Zoom.
Affordable, celebratory, and infinitely giftable.
Family Movie Night
There are certain movies that make this time of year all the more magical. And whether you're together or apart from loved ones, make a full evening of it and pop some popcorn, make cocoa or mulled wine, and embrace it the way you would if you were there IRL. Most streaming services now offer a "watch party" option, so you can watch and message your family and friends, or coordinate pressing play at the same time on your own and live-text each other throughout.
Just in case your holiday movie nights revolve around Elf (and whose doesn't?), this mug is a thoughtful addition you can send to faraway family members.
There's nothing like sitting down to a holiday movie with a mug of spiced wine.
A good Heat Miser pullover is just what your annual Rankin Bass movie marathon is missing.
Another way to feel closer even when you're not surrounded by friends and family is to join in a shared task — whether that's an existing tradition, like a big baking spree, or something new you're trying out together.
It's a family activity! It's a tasty treat! It's decor! This kit makes one "cookie wreath" each, composed of 26 snowflake-shaped cookies. Unlike other kits we found, this one actually lets you make the cookies from scratch (as opposed to decorating pre-made cookies), which we think is preferable.
We're calling it now: churro French toast with horchata whipped cream is the new Christmas Morning breakfast of choice. Sorry, it's a thing now.
This makes for an especially nice "do-together" activity if someone in your party is deeply jonesing for the New York bagels they won't get to taste in person this year. (Just a hypothetical.)
Or, if baking cookies isn't your thing, try your hand at ceramics. Trendy brand Crockd has both kiln-fired clay options (with a list of places you can get them fired locally), and air-dry kits (so you don't have to wait to enjoy your creations). If you have a ceramics enthusiast in your family or have just always wanted to attempt something artistic, these kits are pretty much perfect.
Or, embrace your creative side by making this chunky, cozy sweater with your sister or bestie. It always helps to have someone to troubleshoot patterns with (even these, which are designed for beginner knitters) ... plus, you can plan on wearing your finished masterpieces together next time you can hang out IRL.
Emily Bihl is a freelance writer and sometimes-songwriter who can invariably be found rearranging furniture in a domicile somewhere along the Mississippi River. She lives with her black labrador Selkie and a small army of homemade ceramics, and has not willingly closed a browser tab since 2011.