As the numbers of my household members has shrunk over the past few years, it has become harder and harder to keep up the magical feeling that comes with the holidays. With so many holiday traditions that require the bodies to participate, the voices to communicate or the diets to eat all the goodies, it’s increasingly difficult to find ways to inspire that intangible feeling that I’m always searching for every November and December. Many of you know what I mean, especially if you are single or new empty-nesters.
I’m not sure I will ever know how much my boys actually understand about Christmas. I do know that Will understands that on December 25th he often gets some of the goodies he has been asking for; but more than anything I know that Owen and Will both associate the holiday with seeing their loved ones and I know that they truly miss the big family gatherings that we used to have many years ago. The last six years have teetered on the border of depressing to be truthful; but I have noticed over the last few years that the boys were starting to get excited about some of the activities we have tried to repeat every year to get into the spirit. It’s no surprise then, that this year is proving to be the most difficult in our history, with the pandemic restricting the few opportunities we had to make our holidays feel special.
For my sake and perhaps for the sake of others who are looking for ideas, I thought I would list some of the things that I would normally do to make some memories and create the holiday magic and I will list what we will attempt to do now that some of those options are no longer a possibility. I have to note that in writing these out, it became really obvious to me that the one common thread that linked so many of these items together was having wifi. Searching the internet; scouring Facebook community pages; downloading an app; and ALWAYS considering video conferencing (Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, etc.) for a cheap way to stay connected with loved ones while doing the activities listed below – are all ways that our holiday traditions might change this year. Change isn’t always a bad thing!
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- Decorating – Normally I just haul out the boxes of decorations and put them up myself.
This year — Homemade Outdoor Edible Ornaments for the Birds. This year we are going to try a new activity. In addition to the standard decorations, I have asked my sister if we can coordinate a Zoom date with all of the cousins. We are going to spend a couple of hours making homemade outdoor, edible ornaments that we will hang on our outdoor hedges and trees to feed the birds. You can find your own ideas on the Internet by looking up “DIY outdoor Christmas ornaments” or “Christmas trees for the birds”.
Some of our ideas:
- raisin icicles
- birdseed wreaths and ornaments
- covered pine cones
- garlands made with whole peanuts, popcorn, cranberries
- Hearts and shapes made with pipe cleaners and Cheerios
- dehydrated oranges and grapefruit ornaments
- apple slice-circles covered in peanut butter and birdseed
- Ingredients needed: jute twine or ribbon, darning needle, pine cones, silicone moulds or cookie cutters, pipe cleaners, golden & dark raisins, cranberries, birdseed, unflavoured gelatine, corn syrup, and, chunky peanut butter, Cheerios, popcorn, apples, oranges, grapefruit.
2. Letter to the Big Guy & Photos with Santa — This is a tough tradition to lose this year. The twins are 17 and shockingly, they seem to have discovered their love for Santa over the last five years or so. Our hometown (Bowmanville) has a wonderful Santa that we would visit every year and not only would he remember the boys, but he had a true soft spot for both of them; being extra thoughtful, patient and compassionate towards them and their special needs.
This year – Last weekend our local Santa Claus Parade Committee offered a reverse parade event that provided the opportunity to drive-thru and pass your vehicle by the Santa float. We were able to give our letter to Santa that we had written the day before, make a donation to the food bank and talk to Santa through the window. It was a long wait to drive-thru, but we cranked up the Christmas music on the radio and the boys were in the Christmas spirit as we built up the excitement until we laid eyes on our big bearded guy.
Ideas: look up the local events in your area or search local entrepreneur photographers for some fun alternative ideas for photo ops (*Facebook Events and local Community Pages tend to have the quick, pop-up events advertised before you will hear of them on radio or tv). I have seen a local photographer here in Durham who has some gorgeous templated photos of Santa holding a picture frame. For $10 the photographer will photoshop your child or pet’s photo into the template so you can still get your unique, annual photo. I have also seen some awesome invitations advertised on the Facebook community pages of families and businesses who have gone to great lengths to create drive-by experiences for people to come to their address and take photos with their decorated homes and cameo guest appearances by Santa and/or the Grinch! I have also seen offerings for sign-ups to have Santa come and visit your house to do a distance porch visit. Social media has really provided some incredible opportunities for creative ways for our kids to celebrate.
3. Oh! Christmas Tree! Will insists every year on us putting up our pre-lit artificial tree in one room and a real Christmas tree in another. We usually get our trees from a local farm and this is an event in itself.
This year – Still unsure if we will get a real tree this year, but I would strongly urge you to consider getting one from a local farm or community-based organization.
Ideas: Here in Bowmanville, The Rotary Club of Bowmanville is not only selling Christmas trees, but they are also providing opportunities for families to take photos in front of a tree display for a small fee. Everyone is looking for the perfect Instagram photo opp! Why not visit Watson Farms and feel good knowing your money is going back into the community? If you are in the Durham Region, take some time online to look up all the local farms and nurseries that are offering outdoor experiences with some changes made to comply with COVID such as Blackstock Christmas Tree Farm, to get your tree. Many are open for business on weekends.
For those who are staying bubbled up and not venturing out, but still want an experience for the family, why not consider calling up your local nurseries to see if they offer curbside pick-up or delivery of wreath-making kits or other greenery-related crafting activities that you can do as a family?
4. Get together’s – What can I say? We all want to be with our people. Nothing takes the place of hugs. We know that. It’s a sacrifice I hate to make but I am more than willing to make to keep my family safe. So this will be a year that just won’t be the same, but it doesn’t mean we can’t connect with the people we love.
- online video conferencing. Not only do I want to spend time with my loved ones on Christmas Day, but why not join forces with them for some of the activities leading up to the big day? This article in PCMag outlines some of your online options if it’s not something you have yet tried.
- Do you want to gift a senior in your life with the gift of connection? If you know someone who isn’t tech savvy (doesn’t use a computer or a Smartphone), but you want to find a way that you can do video calls with them, maybe an early Christmas gift can be the gift of an Amazon Echo Show and you can make arrangements to have it programmed for them if they have wifi (in addition to video calls, it can have all the same functions as an Alexa or Google Home, etc.). It’s a fairly inexpensive gift that you could multiply for several members in a family so that someone who is shut-in and living alone may now be able to feel closer to their loved ones.
5. Make It or Write It and Gift It – I know we’re not all crafty, but your kids might wish you tried to be! With so many fantastic and affordable ideas online, it’s impossible not to find at least one craft that you could try your hand at. I try every year to do some DIY’s that I give out as Christmas gifts, while also finding ways to incorporate them into our own home for decoration. The boys don’t always help out, but I always insist they add their own touch on the finished project.
This year: Our church is running a wonderful program where families can opt in to make handmade cards that are being distributed to folks in our local nursing homes. I’m seeing new posts every day from our local charities and churches asking the community to chip in to fulfill different needs for our more vulnerable neighbours. Everything from toy drives, food banks, outdoor winter wear, sleeping bags, mittens and masks can be donated. If your family has found itself with a bit of extra saved up from not doing our typical over-spending at this time of year, I hope you’ll consider giving wherever and whenever you can.
If you are Canadian, don’t forget our Canadian troops who won’t be home for Christmas with their families, while they are deployed. You can write a Christmas card to any Canadian Armed Forces member, and send it to:
6. Twinkle, Twinkle – We are very fortunate to live in one of the best places in the GTA for its Christmas light displays. Besides the cost of gas, why not pack up some hot chocolate in a Thermos, set the radio to some Christmas music and go for a drive when it gets dark. So far, the pandemic has not restricted us from driving around to check out the neighbourhood lights like ours on Old Scugog Road just north of Bowmanville. I found this great little article with some suggestions for Old Scugog Road Driving Etiquette as well – something to keep in mind!
It’s still our plan to hit Old Scugog! This year we have also pre-booked tickets to go to the Orono Holiday Festival of Lights that is being hosted by the Super Creek Wildlife Rescue and the Orono Fair . Again – get online and search out any events like this one that might be available where you live.
7. Music – We have been playing the Christmas tunes for a couple of weeks already. Sorry, not sorry! If I am lucky, I try most years to get to at least one Christmas concert to hear some live music. That feeling you get being part of a collective audience, listening to the soaring voices singing your favourite Christmas classics, is like nothing else. One tradition that I have enjoyed nearly every year since my kids were born, was to head out to see the CP Holiday Train pull into town. I’ve been lucky enough to see it in Bowmanville and Calgary and got to see some great Canadian talent perform in this unique setting.
This Year: No in person live music this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some concerts. 2020 may have been seriously disappointing for performing artists who couldn’t be on a stage before a roaring crowd, but because they slowed down, their fans got to enjoy a TON of amazing and intimate concerts online. You don’t have to go further than Facebook or Instagram to tune into a live feed to watch your favourites. If you haven’t done it yet, I would suggest following or liking your favourite artists over the holidays and pay attention for any announcements for live shows they might put on. This includes your kids’ favourites as well! Some artists and choirs are taking it a step further and putting larger shows together with special guests for a reasonable fee. Personally, I already have a few shows already marked on the calendar and am really looking forward to all of them. The bonus – you can wear your pj’s and have a glass in hand!
What I’m planning on watching livestream:
Jimmy Rankin’s Nova Scotia Kitchen Party – Dec. 11th
The CP Holiday Train At Home Virtual Concert – Dec. 12th
Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s Festival of Carols – Dec. 16th
Bowmanville Rotary’s Concert to Feed the Need in Durham feat. our writer Deb’s daughter – Juno & CCMA Award winning country artist – Meghan Patrick – Dec. 20th
Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy: A Celtic Family Christmas – dates throughout December
- get yourself a Spotify or Apple Music account, create a Christmas Playlist and get your friends and family added so that you can all curate the ultimate 2020 Playlist together. If you don’t know how.. just find a 10-15 year old and I’m sure they can help you out. (ha!)
- virtual Holiday Music Karaoke Night with friends and family
9. Missing your Games or Cards with friends and family? There is nothing I love more than playing some Sequence or Skip-Bo with friends, but sadly, there is no one in my extended family who will play them with me. We have had some success in previous holiday get togethers in playing some Headbands or the Pie Face game, however. It’s not so easy to find games that work for the range of abilities that span our kids. And when the kids have gone to bed, a good ole’ 1000 piece puzzle can always be found on my table each year. Yes – I’m a Granny.
This Year: I’m pulling out all of the old games and toys we’ve had from over the years and we are going for a test drive. In many ways, I’m grateful that Owen and Will still enjoy some of the activities that they did when they were preschoolers, because we have a lot to choose from. I think this may prove to be an exercise in purging and we will donate anything they don’t show an interest in OR we might get lucky and rediscover an old activity that we had forgotten about.
Ideas: For those of you looking to play games with people you can’t be with in person, there are so many online options. The simplest? Find a game that you can play if the other person has the same game at home, connect through FaceTime and sit down to play some Battleship, Connect 4, Checkers, Chess or Monopoly (to name more than a few!). It might take some minor tweaks to figure out how to make it work, but many board games can be played this way if you think it through a little. I think this is a great way for grandparents to interact with the grandkids and have seen many videos of it working great! Games like Headbands, Charades and Pictionary are easy ideas you can try as well with all ages. The old reliable Simon Says and I-Spy for the younger ones, or Trivial Pursuit for the older are just more examples of how you can connect over a game with a video call. An early Christmas gift might be in order to set things up so that they are ready to go over the holidays!
If you’re looking for some ways to elevate your play with technology, Thrillest has a great article on how to Host a Virtual Game Night With These Multiplayer Apps and Marie Claire posted The 21 Best Games to Play on Zoom Right Now.
8. Reading & Movies – this is one tradition that I HAVE to do. I try to wait until December 1st, but this year I started in November because I needed that pick-me-up a little earlier this year. Christmas movies are a given and the Saccharine-sweet Hallmark movies play around the clock now on Canada’s W Network. Most of us have our staples that we have to watch every year. For me, the same applies to books. I have to read Christmas themed books and there is one series in particular that just marks the holidays for me and if I don’t read it, something is off the whole season long:
The Cape Light series by Thomas Kinkade and Katherine Spencer started back in 2002 with four books that set the tone and the characters in the quaint, small town of Cape Light, New England. Where everyone knows everyone and by the fifth book set at Christmas, the reoccurring attendance of the Christmas service at their small church, has you feeling like you live there yourself. A new Christmas book has been released every year and there are 21 to catch up on if you are looking for a simple reading tradition. Definitely bordering on the cheesy romance side, but it has some true character and familiarity that gives me the warm and cozies every year.
For the young adult in your life, or the YA reader in you, I really love the Christmas series that now has three books AND a Netflix series to boot. By Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares is the 1st, The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily is the 2nd and Mind the Gap Dash & Lily is the 3rd:
Idea: This year, here’s another event that you might want to add to your calendar to put a little twist to your annual tradition of watching Christmas movies. Who isn’t a fan of the Griswold’s and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?
“Light up your holidays and join Christmas’ favourite couple, Ellen and Clark Griswold for this virtual salute to the holiday classic, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Chevy Chase (Clark) and Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen) lead audiences through this live event as they share fan-favorite clips from the movie, reveal their favorite memories from the making of the Vacation franchise and answer your questions in a live audience Q & A” – Tribute Communities Centre – Dec. 19th
10. I promise I’m not trying to lead you to Jesus. But. As this is a Christian holiday, I would be remiss if I did not mention Church as it might be the one time of year that some of you *might* consider attending a service on Christmas Eve. I’ll admit – I’m really going to miss it this year. But thankfully, our church has gone to great lengths to keep our community connected throughout this entire pandemic and for people like me who haven’t attended in AGES even before the pandemic, I now have a way to ‘attend’ a service because they have brought it online. So I suggest getting online again, or making some phone calls to find out if there might be a church service that you can attend virtually or even by phone throughout the Season of Advent. I’m a bit partial to one in particular, if you want to look up St. Paul’s United Church in Bowmanville (they do a Facebook live every Sunday).
11. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day –
This year: is still up in the air. One thing I would definitely like to do for the boys’ sake especially, is to take all of those goodies that we have made (crafts, ornaments or baked goodies) and plan out a route for Christmas Eve to deliver with any gifts we might have. I plan to make a little map for Will to follow and guide me along as we drive from house to house to do a porch drop-off that might hopefully give us a quick porch visit from our car.
I am praying that Jake can come home to be with us this Christmas and that the boys will spend some time with their dad. We might have to plan a big gathering post-Covid and celebrate again in the spring. That would be okay with me if it means a real turkey dinner!
For any readers who do not celebrate Christmas but who will also have to find some new ways to adapt the way they celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Las Posadas or Chinese New Year (I’m sure I am missing more) – I hope you can find the ways to connect and find joy. My heart breaks for those who will be experiencing their first holiday season after the death of a loved one, without friends and family around to ease the pain.
Writing this has made me realize I have a lot to look forward to this holiday season and the act of writing this all out has given me an injection of holiday spirit, which brings me to my last and most important tip:
Put everything into the Calendar!
I normally wing it all with just the big stuff written down. But in writing out all the little activities, drives, events, livestreams and porch visits down in the calendar, I realize how much we have planned and I have so much to look forward to and be grateful for.
And don’t forget that wherever and whenever you have the opportunity, support our small businesses and SHOP LOCAL!
May we all find that gratitude attitude and that magical feeling over the holidays. We are all doing our best. We all deserve a bit of magic right about now.
I’m trying my best to pay it forward by dealing hope and sharing stories & tips on caregiving and how to survive hard things. I blog a lot about single parenting my adult twin sons who both have autism, and the challenges we face in surviving the everyday challenges and planning for a future full of unknowns.