Alone During the Holidays? How to Bring the Magic Home Despite the Pandemic

I am not sure what is happening where you live, but here in British Columbia, the number of people affected by COVID-19 is rising every day and we have been asked to isolate. I know that our situation is not unique, and wherever you are in the world, you are probably staying home, and preparing to celebrate the holidays without your family as well.

I love the holidays, and so do my boys – we have so many traditions! One of them is getting together with my whole family on Christmas Eve and spending the whole evening together, sharing dinner and exchanging presents. My family is my two sons, my partner, his two daughters and myself. I am also very fortunate to have almost my entire family live close by: My brother, sister-in-law and my three nieces, my sister, brother-in-law and their three little ones, my mom and my grandmother – we love spending time together, and Christmas is no exception.

This year, however, like many families, we will each be in our own homes instead of together. My sons are old enough to understand it, but I think of my little nephews, who have been working on their list for Santa since July and looking forward to a loud and happy family get together, and I feel sad for them. I think of my 93-year-old grandma whose main joy is to spend time with family – these are the people who are affected the most by having to spend the holidays on their own.

But at least each one of us has a loving family at home – and I feel so grateful for that. What about those who are in care homes and cannot have visitors, or at the hospital, or on the street? What about those battling COVID-19, those who lost family members during the pandemic and those who lost their jobs? Compared to so many, we are very lucky to be healthy, to have a warm home, to have each-other, to be loved.

This year will be difficult for many people. It will be hard for young children, who don’t understand why the holidays are different this time, and who have been so patient since the beginning of this pandemic (almost a year ago now) and have seen their parents and siblings worried, depressed,  distracted, even angry and somewhat distant, although everyone is staying together indoors. Being together did not always mean that we were “being together”, enjoying each-other, taking time for one another. Instead, our children have seen us divide our time between them, our jobs, the laundry and all the things that have been altered since the pandemic. They have learned to be quiet when we are on calls, to understand that their friends can’t come over, their activities have stopped, and even school is different. Over the past year, young children have also had to endure the stress of the pandemic, just as we have. Many have not seen their grandparents for months, or their friends, and we can’t tell them when they will be able to see them again. For a young child who is just trying to understand the concept of time, and who is used to adults having answers to many of their questions – this pandemic has been difficult to cope with.

So, what can we do as parents to make it easier for them this holiday season? Make it magical! Here are some of the things we do each year at my house which make the Holidays such a special time for us, even now that my sons are 18 and 21.

We Set Up the Tree Together

Every year on November 1, I get the tree out and all the decorations, and set it up in our living room. It symbolizes the start of the winter for us, and instantly makes our home glow with the beautiful, peaceful light of the tree, which in turn makes us all even happier and more at peace. I know it is early to set up the tree, but somehow it makes the holidays last so much longer, and it symbolizes the time to be together as a family in the evenings, happily spending time together by the fire while it is rainy and dark outside. Maybe this year, just to make things a little more magical, try setting up the tree early, as a family.

We Watch Holiday Movies Together in our Pajamas

I must admit, I do this much more often than my boys do, especially now that they have grown up. I used to have all these holiday cartoons and movies for them when they were little, and every few days, we watched one together. The fun part was all of us spending time together, cozy in our PJs, with hot chocolate and popcorn, by the light of the tree and with a fire warming our place. You don’t have to watch a movie if you don’t want to, you can play a board game instead, or just cuddle, but spend the time together each day.

We Bake Together and Make Each-Other Special Drinks

I love baking, and I especially love baking during the holidays. It is such a great way to spend time together, and to pass down family recipes and teach your children how to bake. Not a baker? Not a problem. There are boxed cakes, cookies and even gingerbread cookie mixes that make it so easy to do! All you have to do is add water and a couple of eggs and you have the perfect cake 30 minutes later. Cake pans can be purchased at the dollar store for two dollars – you don’t need to get fancy. You can even buy some Christmas cake toppings and sprinkles and decorate pre-made cupcakes or decorate a gingerbread house! The nice part about baking is that you can teach your child to make something for others. We love baking cookies to share; I bring them to work, or we offer what we bake to our friends and family. This year, with COVID-19, we won’t be able to share our treats with everyone, but we can at least bake together.

As for the special drinks, I can tell you that mine contains Bailey’s around the holidays, but as a family, we love making each-other hot chocolate and add whipped cream and special seasonal sprinkles on top, or shaved chocolate. Making a beverage is simple and even a young child can do it. It is a way to teach them to give to others.

We Make Presents Together

One of my nieces brings every single person of our big family a handmade present every year at Christmas. She puts so much thought into making each one, and really takes the time to think about what we each like. You may not be able to see the family this year, but you and your child could think about each person and what they would like and make them a gift. It can be as simple as a drawing and as fancy as a bracelet – you decide!

We Play Board Games Together

This is not just during the holidays, but since you will have a little extra family time, why not teach your child how to play a new board game and leave it set up during the holidays? Also, try a puzzle you can all complete together!

We Play in the Snow

We may not be able to go ice skating or do many things that involve a public venue, but we can always build a snowman in the backyard! Spending time outside is healthy, and there are plenty of things you can do, like building a fort, building a snow pal, going sledding or going on long walks around the neighborhood.

We Read Together

I love reading, and so do my children. During the holidays, why not start a longer book together that you can read over a week or two? You can cozy up by the fireplace and read it as a family without having to worry about bedtime. Most children only read at school or else right before bed, but there is something magical about curling up with your little one and a nice book in the middle of the day – give it a try, you will see!

We Wrap Presents Together

Since before I had children, I always chose a night to wrap all the Christmas presents for my family. I would put some music on, have a Bailey’s on the rocks (I swear the holidays the only time of the year I drink Bailey’s!) while I carefully and beautifully wrap each present. My youngest son has, since he was just a few months old, joined me in that tradition. He loves wrapping all the presents with me and placing them under the tree. The only ones he does not wrap are his own J Some families don’t have presents under the tree until “Santa brings them” but in our family, they know that presents come from me and from the family. Santa brings one present, and it is always unwrapped. We open our presents on the 24th at midnight, and the next day when they wake up, they run to see what Santa brought them. We spend the rest of the day playing with their new gifts. We all have different traditions, and that is the one I made for my home. I find that my sons learned a lot from watching me choose a present for each person in my family and wrapping them with love and dedication. Plus, learning to wrap is not as easy as it seems, so it is excellent practice for your little ones if they start doing it with you.

We Write Cards for our Friends

You may not be able to see your friends as much these days, but you can write them a card or make them a drawing, then mail it together. Ask your child what they like about the person they are writing to and help them write that on the card if they are too young to write. For example: “Grandma, I like that you help me with my math homework” or “Sam, I like having you as a friend because you always make me laugh”. This way, your child learns to appreciate others, and to express that appreciation.

We Find a Way to Contribute Together

My sons have been volunteering with me from a young age, as well as donating time or money towards causes they believe in. Around the holidays, we have always found a way to give to others. We bought and wrapped presents for families who needed them, then delivered them. We distributed food and blankets to people on the street, we helped at soup kitchens, and contributed to the food bank. Every year from the time they were little, I chose a way to contribute that they could understand (for example, it is easy to explain to a child how a food bank works) and participate in. This teaches them to be grateful for what they have, but also to share with others.

We Stay Close to Those we Love

Children are, by nature, resilient, quick learners and adaptable. My mom told me yesterday that my sister called her via Facetime so she could sing her new baby to sleep. My mom was beside herself with pride and happiness. Although she could not hold her new granddaughter, she felt close to her and experienced such joy while singing her the lullabies she used to sing to us when we were little. Invite your child to use zoom, facetime, or any other app you have at your disposal to virtually get together with friends and family throughout the holidays, and you will teach them to care for others and stay in touch.

There are many more things we do during the holidays. Some we won’t be able to do this year due to the pandemic, but many traditions can still be honoured, and new ones can be added as well. This year, our focus is on being close, helping others and finding new ways to keep our big family together while being apart. What are your favourite holiday traditions? I would love to hear from you in the comments, below.

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