Readers, I’m filled with both excitement and dread this holiday season–more so than any other previous year. Do you feel the same? I started decorating for Christmas even before Thanksgiving because after the year I’ve had–after the year we have all had–I really needed some holiday cheer. I needed bright lights, garland, nutcrackers, Christmas movies, and colorful wrapping paper to help keep the sad reality at bay, which is that these holidays will have to be socially distanced. Isn’t that the opposite of what a holiday is supposed to be? Of course it is, but I would much rather have one less-than-great year on my own than many years with empty chairs because my high-risk loved ones (of which I have many) became Covid statistics. We’re all making decisions based on our comfort levels and individual situations. For me, this means that my extended family will not be gathering, and gatherings with my close family will be shortened and masked.
I still have hope that this last month of this weird year will feel special for good reasons. I hope you do, too. I’ve put together a few ideas for how we can make this socially distanced holiday season a time for festivities, fun, giving, comfort, and yes–even togetherness.
This is an easy one that most of you already do and it’s socially distanced by nature! When I was a kid, I always loved opening the holiday cards we received and hanging them in our designated spot. I still do! Now more than ever it’s reassuring to hear from loved ones and old friends.
Handwritten Notes of Gratitude or Good Wishes
Is there someone who’s been on your mind recently? It could be someone you haven’t connected with in some time, like an old friend or former coworker, or maybe it’s a stranger in the military or a nursing home for whom you want to send a lifeline. Why not break out your best stationary and pens (and maybe some cute stickers?) and write the letter you’ve been wanting to write for ages. There are many lessons to be learned from the hardships of this year. Gratitude is one of them–both the appreciation for what we have and the expressing of thanks. To send letters or cards to the troops, visit Operation Gratitude or Hugs for Soldiers for more information and suggestions for other ways you can help lift the spirits of those who are deployed. Elder Care Resource Center has a list of New York State nursing homes and rehab centers. This would be a good place to start if you would like to send letters to seniors. For guidance on what to write (and what not to write) in your letters, I find these tips from the Girl Scouts of America helpful.
This is another classic activity that can be done safely, either from the comfort of your car or even during masked walks through your neighborhood–or maybe even in a new neighborhood (I think we can all agree that we’ve taken plenty of walks around our block since March). The popular Jones Beach Light Show is back again this year if you and your family are looking for a night out. However, a simple nighttime drive looking at holiday lights never gets old. Some of our neighbors are true artists; it’s incredible to witness each year. For those of you who usually trek into Manhattan but don’t feel comfortable taking the trip this year, please join us for a virtual tour of iconic NYC holiday sights on December 17th at 2:00 p.m. Online registration is open and ongoing.
Bake…with a twist!
One of my salvations during the pandemic has been The Great British Baking Show. I’m pretty late to the game, as millions had already discovered the magic of this reality show long before me, but I am so thankful for its existence. I’ve even started re-watching past seasons, some of which are available on DVD through the Library, because they’re so comforting. The important thing to keep in mind while watching these incredible bakers construct everything from biscuit towers to bread sculptures is that they’re amateur bakers just like you and me. They practice their recipes in their own kitchens, fine tuning two of the three weekly bakes at home. And each week they’re often trying techniques or recipes they’ve never before made or perhaps even heard of or seen or tasted (this is during the second bake of the week, what’s called “the technical”). It’s inspiring to watch their skill and creativity. So, get in your kitchen and try something new and ambitious this holiday. If you’re separated from your family and friends make it into a fun activity you can do together over FaceTime or Zoom. See who can make the lightest Victoria Sandwich, the Swiss Roll with the best swirl, or the shiniest Mirror Glaze! And whatever you do, steer clear of the dreaded “soggy bottom.” Even better, drop off your (hopefully tasty) treats to neighbors, coworkers, loved ones, or those who could use a little extra sunshine and sweetness.
Family Food Exchange
This Thanksgiving, my husband and I stayed home for obvious reasons. Our extended families were scattered in various boroughs, but thankfully (pun intended) our parents live close by. Instead of a big feast all together, we devised a food swap and exchanged our dishes during brief outdoor visits. Later in the day, we met with my family over Zoom for some “face to face” time. Even though it wasn’t the ideal situation, we still made it feel like Thanksgiving. If you’re lucky enough to be local or local-ish with your loved ones, a food exchange and Zoom “meeting” are great alternatives to a large gathering. Look on the bright side: you’ll get to stay home in your comfy clothes and if you’re like me, you will end the day with a feeling of accomplishment after finally contributing to a big holiday meal.
Make a Holiday Movie Watch List
I love holiday movies so much that every year I make a list of my favorites to re-watch and a separate list of classics and contemporaries that I still have to see for the first time. Readers, my favorite movie of all time is It’s a Wonderful Life, so that should tell you something about me and my enthusiastic appreciation for seasonal fare. Make your own list and get to work checking it twice and checking off the films you watch as you go. To connect with friends and family, turn your lists into a weekly movie club and meet over Zoom to discuss. What begins as a holiday activity can turn into a monthly excuse to watch movies and socialize with your friends.
Book Exchange and Virtual Read Aloud
Even though I’m a librarian and my workplace is literally wall-to-wall books, I still love to give and receive books as gifts. There are few presents that feel as personal as books. You might select a beautiful book of photography for an artistic friend or your favorite mystery of the year that you’re sure your mom will also enjoy. You can even get sentimental and give a loved one their favorite book from childhood. If you and your circle are the bookish types, consider hosting a virtual book exchange and read aloud. You can buy new or even pack up your own copies to loan out. Over a virtual format, gather together to discuss your reads–why you passed along the title you did and what you thought of the one you received. Depending on the books, take turns reading aloud your favorite passages. If you do decide to buy books this year, consider purchasing from an independent bookstore. You can find your local independent bookstore via Indiebound. If you’re in the Levittown area, our closest store is the iconic Book Revue in Huntington. Don’t forget that your friendly neighborhood librarians are here to help you with suggestions. And hey, stop by to check out the merchandise we have here at the Library–give a book (or movie or CD) a test drive before you buy it.
Wishing you good health, peace of mind, and the hope that 2021 will be a better year.