Ideas to help you celebrate a very different festive season

Ideas to help you celebrate a very different festive season

Many of us are facing cancelled holiday plans this year. Some of us might have the city or country they live in on lockdown, others might live far away from family and won’t be able to travel due to restrictions. This doesn’t mean you have to cancel the holiday season and can’t have fun with friends and family, even if you’re celebrating away from each other. Not sure how to do it? My husband and I have been celebrating the holidays on our own ever since moving overseas and we’ve come up with a few of our own traditions over the years to make the season feel more magical. Most of these tips are based on celebrating Yule / Christmas, but you can easily adjust them to fit Hanukkah or any other festive celebration. Here are some ideas on celebrating away from friends and family:

Decorate your space:
You might not have anyone come over this year or only have people in your bubble pop by, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still decorate. Getting cosy each night (even here in Australia when we usually have to have the aircon on) with the tree lights and candles really help shift my mood. Get all your favourite decorations out. The added bonus is you can decorate however you want without judgement from others. If you’re sharing a space with family, house or flat mates, make a fun evening out of it. If you’re living on your own, see who else is keen to decorate their spaces and do it together online, or take each other on a little decor tour afterwards.

Share your favourite Christmas cookie or hot recipes and make them:
Whether it’s with family or friends, or both, share your favourite holiday cookie or hot chocolate recipes and choose a date when you all will make the same one. Hop online either during the baking / making process or afterwards to rate each recipe. Once you’ve made them all, crown an overall winner at the end.

Watch your favourite holiday movie and share it:
It’s not Christmas unless I’ve watched Die Hard and Love Actually. Put on the Christmas lights, grab some festive snacks and pop on your favourite festive movie. Even better, get your family and friends to contribute to a list of their favourite Christmas movies so you can all watch each other’s suggestions. You might even find a new Christmas favourite.

Create a festive playlist:
If you can, share a playlist with your friends or family and get everyone to add their favourite holiday songs. It’s a great way to set the mood while also connecting with family and friends who may be far away. You can listen to it while wrapping gifts or cooking dinner in the weeks leading up to Christmas to help create a festive atmosphere, especially if you’re limited to going out.

Share holiday traditions:
There might be some traditions you’ll have to miss out on this year, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t do some of the others. One of my holiday traditions my husband was happy for us to incorporate was celebrating on Christmas eve. It’s just so much more magical at night with the candle and Christmas lights, not to mention it’s usually a little bit cooler at night in the Southern Hemisphere which makes it much easier to eat anything warm. Get your friends and family to share their favourite holiday traditions and see if there are any new ones you might want to incorporate. This year you might decide to go for an early morning walk come Christmas day when it’s relatively quiet outside or make a new dish for dinner (maybe one you’ve secretly been hoping to have for years on Christmas). If you’re living with others, it might be fun to dress up, either in silly Santa hats or what you were hoping to wear to the Christmas party this year.

Use this time for some introspection:
Take this time to sit down and reflect on the unusual year that was, and make a list of all the things you’re also grateful for. We often focus much more on the things that go wrong than the good things in our life. If you like you can ask friends and family to share what they’re grateful for this year as well and create a little list to keep and look back on next year.

Support small, local businesses for holiday gifts:
In areas that have had (and that are currently having) strict lockdowns, many small, local businesses have suffered. So instead of hopping onto Amazon or one of the big retailer’s websites, why not get friends and family something local? Maybe a voucher form their favourite restaurant for a pick up dinner, festive candles from a local maker or a hamper filled with delicious local treats. If they’re living close to you and you’re allowed to see each other, you can always drop off the gifts in person and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate together outside (or maybe a cold chocolate milk if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere).

Do a fun holiday activity with the kids each weekend in December leading up to Christmas:
If you have children, use this time together to start some fun holiday traditions leading up to Christmas. Pick one night or day each weekend to do something together as a family, whether it’s decorating Christmas cookies together, watching a favourite Christmas movie, making Christmas decorations for the tree or hand making cards for grandparents or their friends. It can be challenging when you’re spending all this time together indoors day after day, but creating a special day each weekend gives them something to during this time of year.

Make your Zoom calls festive:
I know, Zoom fatigue is real but put a festive spin on your next quiz night. You can theme the quiz along holiday traditions around the world or Christmas facts not everyone might know. End the evening with a festive drink and chat. The same goes for on the day itself. You can do a Christmas meal together via Zoom, where everyone sits down and eat together or organise a virtual festive happy hour with friends. Dress up for the occasion, whether it’s all glitz and glam or wearing your best ugly Christmas sweater. Make them fun.

Head outside if you can and watch the Christmas lights:
Heading outside is so good for our mental health. Check with the local safety guidelines first before venturing out as there might be rules with regards to how far you can travel and for how long. If it’s quiet outside and the weather isn’t too bad, grab a hot chocolate and go for a walk through your neighbourhood to see if any of your neighbours put up Christmas lights. Alternatively, if you have a car you can go for a ride to look at the lights. Even if it’s chilly outside, going out and getting some fresh air always helps to improve my mood. If you can’t head outside, open a window for a short while or find a spot near the window to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate (or your favourite festive beverage) and just enjoy some time looking outside.

Make time for some festive self care:
Even though there might be less travel stress and family gathering anxiety this holidays, there might be some completely different stressors for you. Make sure you set time aside to practice self care as well. Treat yourself to spending some time being cosy reading, or a relaxing bubble bath or by making your favourite meal. Perhaps you’d like to dance to a playlist that reminds you of happier times, or you want to light some candles and watch a movie that always leaves you feeling happy. Do something for you that lift your spirits.

While this year has no doubt been incredibly challenging for most of us, and it will probably make the holidays a little bit more challenging, know that this is hopefully only temporary. If we all do our part, we can hopefully celebrate together again next year.

My Holiday Traditions

I have a confession to make. I absolutely LOVE this time of year. I grew up in a town that each year decorated our main street with Christmas lights and then closed the road for a few nights for a big Christmas market.

It’s also a time when schools break for summer holidays (at least for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere) so December was a time for a lot of excitement. Decorating our tree started as soon as my mom finally relented and I can still recall the smell of Christmas when I opened up the box with all the decorations.

I was also very lucky in that I had two Christmases. One of Christmas Eve and another on Christmas day (the benefits of German and Scandinavian ancestry). Naturally as I got older, fell in love, moved out of home and got married things changed a little. But it wasn’t until the Hubby and I moved across the ocean to another country when I realised what Christmas on our own would be like. We no longer had our usual traditions with our family, and it was time to adjust to Christmases with just the two of us. We have come to love this time of year where we get to spend time together as a couple, incorporating some traditions from our childhood while also creating new ones.

Going to the beach
While I grew up close to the beach, we never went there on Christmas day. We’d be busy catching up with other family members while the beach was usually packed with holiday makers from the north. However, since moving to Perth the Hubby and I now get up early and head for the beach first thing. It’s usually quite hot, so we enjoy a nice refreshing swim first thing and then head home to escape the heat (and usually the crowds that begin to arrive later in the morning).

Christmas Eve
I’m so happy the Hubby was keen for us to celebrate on Christmas Eve like I used to as a child. Instead of doing a big lunch and pressies on the 25th, I instead make us a delicious meal on Christmas eve. We have the Christmas lights going, some music in the background and after dinner, we get to open our pressies from the tomte (Christmas elves). Not only is it quite a nice, romantic evening, but it just feels more Christmassy doing it at night.

Christmas stockings
I never had Christmas stockings growing up. I do remember leaving my pillowcase out though. But Hubby’s family has Christmas stockings which sounded fun. His aunt made him his own personalised stocking when he was still quite young, and then she surprised me recently with a beautiful one of my own. We now make sure to hang them up even if we don’t fill them with gifts. They’re a nice reminder for Hubby of his childhood and I think they look gorgeous, although I usually make sure to at least fill them with delicious treats.

German Christmas carols
My grandfather gave me a tape (yep, that’s how old I am) of German Christmas carols for my first birthday. Believe it or not, I still have my tape, although it doesn’t always want to work 100%. Luckily I could track down the singer and the songs on Spotify! Christmas is saved! It’s not Christmas unless I’ve spend a few days singing along to my carols. It’s a tradition that’s been going for as long as I’ve been on this planet and while I admit the carols don’t appeal to everyone, they remind me of when I was little and how excited I was in the days leading up to Christmas.

Advent calendar
This is another more recent tradition for me. My grandparents had an advent candle. You had 4 candles in a wreath and would start to burn the first one of the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Each week closer you’d burn the next one. I now make my own advent calendars, usually with an educational but fun Christmas related fact inside it and a small chocolate or two. But those I have to keep in the fridge else they would melt!

Christmas movies
This is also a more recent tradition. Each weekend in December before Christmas we watch a Christmas movie. My favourites include Die Hard, Love Actually and Elf.

So while we’re usually away from family this time of year, it doesn’t feel like a lonely time for us. We usually Skype or call family members on Christmas day, but the rest of the time Christmas is a special time for us as a couple to connect, laugh and be together.

What are some of your Christmas traditions?

Try a little self-care this Festive Season

Aaah the Holidays. For some of us it means decorating the tree, getting all excited baking delicious treats and counting down the days until we get to celebrate, for others it can be a stressful and even lonely time of year.

Whether it’s seeing and spending time with family members you don’t see eye to eye, or whether it’s being far away from family or missing loved ones during this time, the Holidays can be anything but cheerful.

Luckily I have a few tips on how to turn this time of year into a special time for you to recharge and unwind.

Make time for yourself
This might sound quite obvious, but how many of us run around this time of year trying to do things for others only to find ourselves exhausted by the end of December? Book out some time in your calendar if needed, but make sure you have some time set aside to do something that you enjoy, that makes you feel happy or relaxed and that nourishes you.

Saying no isn’t a bad thing
We feel terrible saying no. We feel like we’re letting that person down. But sometimes politely saying no can be a good thing. If you’re feeling rushed and anxious with all the catch-ups, office parties and family get togethers this time of the year, why not decline a few invites? As long as it’s done in a polite way, there’s no reason people should feel angry or disappointed.

Keep moving
Exercise is a great way to get some happy endorphins to make you feel better, but your body will thank you too. For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s quite easy to head outside for a walk as it’s summer, but the Northern Hemisphere can be a little tricky. If the weather is terrible, put on one of your favourite songs and dance around the house to it. Try a yoga class (whether in person or online) or head out for a walk. Sometimes changing our environment is a great way to reset and improve our mood.

Do one special thing just for you
I’m not talking about things you do every day, I’m talking about doing something you love and enjoy but don’t often get the time for. Maybe it’s a luxurious bubble bath with a glass of wine and a good book, maybe it’s a coffee and morning swim in the ocean or your favourite movie with some homemade popcorn. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive, it just needs to be something special.

Log off
Yep, you heard me. Sign out of your social media, put the phone on silent and spend an afternoon (or day if possible) without checking everyone’s latest posts. Social media can often make us feel like we’re missing out, but the reality is people share a curated life. They rarely share the downs, and when they share the ups, often that’s even edited to show an altered version with some filters, strategic camera angles and clever wording. Real life is rarely social media worthy, so unfollow accounts that make you feel bad, and log out every now and then to just enjoy the present moment without any distractions.

Stop putting added pressure on yourself
Trying to force yourself to feel festive isn’t going to do the trick. Most likely, it’s just going to make you feel worse. Instead, accept that not everyone is into this time of year. Perhaps you love Halloween more, or Fridays, or your birthday, or any day but Christmas and that’s perfectly fine. You can still enjoy this time of year by shifting your focus. Find something else that you enjoy instead, like early morning beach walks (for us SH people.) or watching the snow fall while all being all warm and cozy inside (for you NH people). Maybe you just like having a day off to get round to doing some chores around the house, or having a nice sleep in for a change.

Know that it’s ok to feel what you feel
For those who have lost loved ones, or who are living far away from friends and family, this can be a lonely time of year. Instead of feeling like you have to force yourself to be happy, just sit with what you’re feeling and acknowledge what you’re experiencing. If you find that you’re really struggling, reach out to someone or one of the many amazing organisations. There’s no shame in admitting that this time of year is challenging and that you might need a little help getting through it.

So take time this Holiday to take care of you. It’s the best gift you can give anyone.