How to Make Holidays and Other Occasions Feel Special Long-Distance

The holidays can be a challenging season for everyone, and with the restrictions on social gatherings during a pandemic, they are likely to be even more so. Even those of us who know that not only wearing a mask, social distancing, and reducing our time around others, but also opting out of holiday gatherings and staying in our homes with people we already live with is the best way to not give our loved ones COVID-19, and who have managed to convince those loved ones to do the same – or at least broken the news of our absences to them – are having a hard time.

But what’s a holiday without friends and family, chosen or of origin? And for those of us apart from not only family but also long-distance partners, how can you celebrate together while staying right where you are? Below, here’s how to keep the holidays and other occasions feeling special when you can’t be together.

Acknowledge That Things Are Different, But Don’t Fixate


Yeah, things are different right now. You don’t serve anyone by pretending otherwise – but you also don’t serve anyone, including yourself, by falling into a doomspiral around what “normal” would look like, how weird this is, how much you wish you could be together, how much it sucks that you’re apart, and so on. Acknowledge that whatever you’re doing this year is probably a little different, and then move into doing it. Try to focus on the advantages – you didn’t have to deal with the holiday airports! No one has to worry about being a designated driver! It’s easier to deal with unwelcome comments from relatives because you can just close your laptop if it comes to that! – and focus on being present with each other and yourself now in the ways that are available to you.

Hang Out Together Over Video


If your holidays are normally a full day – or several – of hanging out, snacking, and spending passive and active time together, video is a great way to replicate that. A lot of folks think video get-togethers have to be limited to active on-screen conversation, but that’s just not the case. Open a Zoom room and invite your usual crowd to drop in to hang out with you as you all cook (mute yourself for the noisy parts), bustle, eat, drink, watch TV (mute yourself unless you’re all watching together), and do whatever you’d normally do in an extended get-together. Tell folks to not worry about disappearing for a second if they go to a different room for a bit – unless someone is hanging up, everyone should feel free to come and go. This style of hangout can be a way for more people to see each other at once and can create different opportunities for interaction.

Re-create Your Favorite Traditions at Home


If there’s a dish you absolutely love that you’re bummed about not getting to eat this year, make it. Reaching out to the person who would normally create it for the table can be a great way to connect (and flatter) – make sure to send pics of your attempt in exchange. Maybe you like going for an after-meal walk as a group, so this year bundle up and head out even if you’re alone. Maybe you like when everyone sits around quietly reading all day – so commit to doing just that, but with yourself. Maybe you like skipping out on the family parts of the holidays to connect with your community, so do that virtually.

Ditch The Traditions You Aren’t Actually Into


One of the best parts of having the holidays look different this year is the opportunity to take what you want from them and leave the rest. If you hate the food your family eats at this time of year, don’t eat it. If your family is homophobic and you normally go visit them anyway, don’t, and limit the time you spend with them virtually. (Depending on how good you are at setting boundaries, this is either a great chance to practice yours, or a great chance for your wifi to strategically die if needed.) If you normally travel, don’t travel (please don’t travel).

Find Ways To Create Physical Connection Apart


I don’t just mean that kind of physical connection. Sending letters or postcards to friends and family, doing your usual round-robin gift exchange but by mail, making and mailing shelf-stable foods, or even buying each other dinner from a local place that delivers can be ways to connect on a more corporeal level than video.

Create New Traditions That Are Just Yours

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Maybe you want to investigate whose land you’re on and take steps around that beyond territorial acknowledgment, including donating to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center or the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (or a similar organization near you). Maybe you want to create a new tradition with your friends or your partner(s). Maybe you want to mask up and head out to a distanced event like a drive-in movie or in-car protest or parade. What are some things you always wanted to do if you had a holiday that was just you and some downtime? It’s time to do that thing. And whatever you do, make it yours. 

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