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New and Creative Twists on Holiday Traditions

by Pavia Rosati and Jeralyn Gerba |November 20, 2020

This holiday season it might take a little more ingenuity and creativity to keep everyone connected.

But, age-old rituals and family traditions don't have to be abandoned — just rewired for new times. Brand new customs can be welcomed into the fold to infuse the holidays with meaning.

With an added dose of gratitude, humor, hope, whimsy and maybe a splash more eggnog, even the smallest groups can execute big ideas and get into a celebratory mood.

Brightly lit snow-covered tree outside at night during the holidays

Turn all eyes on the house

Holiday decorating is trending to be even bigger and bolder this year, given how much more time everyone is spending at home. As a bonus, decorations are a fun and creative way to get into the holiday spirit and show people outside how you're feeling inside.

Lighting up the exterior of your house, dressing windows or tricking out the yard brings joy to both the people making the magic happen and the people that are happening by. No need to buy single-use disposable plastic decorations when you can get crafty with pine cones, leaves and various decorative gourds (they last a long time!).

Indoors, the money that families would have spent on vacations and experiences are going into nesting impulses. So, why not put a bow on that request to turn the guest room into an office?

Home beautification projects not only make nice gifts but improvements are investments that last. Take stock of the things your housemates have been procrastinating on — getting artwork framed, hanging up a new light fixture, replanting the flower boxes for the season — and then take on the job to completion.

Your work may be hard-earned, but it will definitely be highly appreciated and meaningful.

Little girl sitting in father's lap at holiday dinner table

Don't just set the table. Make it a tablescape.

Did you have to cancel that spring trip to Morocco? Scuttle your big summer reunion in Italy? Postpone the usual vacation with grandma at the lake cottage?

Get inspired by the places you've been (or long to go) and create a meal around it — in other words, make the place the guest of honor. Break out the special dishware, light new candles, and decorate the table with souvenirs, flowers or produce that remind you of that special destination.

Split up the menu so that everyone in your pod can take part in cooking, preparing drinks, or assembling apps or dessert around the theme. Further get into the spirit with cool music or an old film set in the destination.

And, don't just dress up the table — have everyone wear something that evokes the mood and play games or print photos to pass around during storytelling time.

Make your neighborhood your extended family

You've been meaning … to do something meaningful. But you just haven't found the right outlet yet. Build something from scratch in your community.

Start small — set up a holiday-themed lending library on your stoop. Or coordinate a food drive to help local organizations. Send a message or distribute flyers to your neighbors, then arrange to pick up (you can have people put goods directly in the trunk of your car) and drop off their donations.

Feeling ambitious and in-tune? Gather your pod and fill up the thermos with eggnog for a caroling stroll through the neighborhood. Keep up the pace and knock on friends' doors so that they can join your parade, too.

If you live in an apartment building or are connected to your local school, organize a massive cookie exchange — or, better yet, open the exchange up to whatever homemade goods your friends and neighbors have perfected while spending time at home (hello, sourdough).

Up the ante on the usual office gift swap by leaving presents in mailboxes and on doorsteps for an additional layer of surprise.

Buy a big box of colored chalk and spend time with the kids writing out the words to popular holiday poems and songs all along the sidewalk. See if that won't put a little spring into your neighbors' steps.

Promote random acts of kindness by paying for the pumpkin spice latte of the person in line behind you at the coffee shop or leaving a thank you note for your mail carrier near the mail slot.

And, for gifts from (or for) loved ones that keep on giving, consider replacing your own wish list with ideas that go beyond the box — such as donations to local organizations you support.

Family on a video calling using digital tablet at home

Celebrate with faraway family

When everyone can't be together, stretch the imagination a little to come together in new ways. Start with video calls with a purpose: Instead of hosting all 32 cousins in a chaotic video chat room, come through with an actual game plan — set up a virtual round of celebrity, charades or trivia.

Reach out to elderly relatives who may be missing out on the action or are generally just a little more tender these days. Have everyone in the group make a portrait and submit a story or anecdote to be read aloud.

Or, in lieu of a typical gift exchange, family members near and far can send time capsules of this year in the mail or ship each other presents and unbox these gifts over video chat.

Do you usually cap a holiday dinner with zany parlor games? It's still possible to get everyone in on the fun with an activity — like acting out a play or movie. Assign everyone a role and give them a few minutes to pluck some props or costume elements from around the house before settling in for the production. Perform together or remotely. Hilarity is sure to ensue.

The bottom line: Stay positive and open-minded and flex those creative muscles to craft your own series of silver linings this holiday season.

Pavia Rosati and Jeralyn Gerba

are the co-founders of Fathom, a women-led editorially driven travel website that connects passionate travelers to the world's best places and experiences. In addition to the website and newsletter, Fathom has a bespoke concierge service and a podcast, A Way To Go. Their 2019 book Travel Anywhere (and Avoid Being a Tourist) has been published in eight countries.

The content reflects the view of the authors of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article.