fb-pixel20 ideas to rescue the holiday spirit with family and friends in 2020 - The Boston Globe Skip to main content
Globe Magazine

20 ideas to rescue the holiday spirit with family and friends in 2020

Keeping the season safe and socially distant doesn’t have to be a total bust. With a little creativity, this might even be the year you start a new tradition.

Light-up, winter lawn ornaments.Adobe Stock

Coronavirus has not been kind to our holidays — first it was Saint Patrick’s Day, then Patriots Day, the Fourth of July, and Halloween. And with the recent uptick in cases and cutback in the number of people allowed for gatherings, it looks like the pandemic will be putting the squeeze on Thanksgiving and our winter holidays, too. But keeping the season safe doesn’t have to be a total bust. With a little creativity, you can still start a new tradition, get a (virtual or socially distant) gang together, and celebrate.

Make a festive meal Many traditions revolve around favorite recipes, indulgent dishes, and, of course, special people. With family and friends spread out this year, consider making a special feast — like Thanksgiving dinner — that you can share virtually. Cook the same meal in separate kitchens (ordering the same dinner kit from a service like BlueApron.com would make it easy), then dine together over Zoom.


Learn a new recipe Why not experience the joy of baking with friends? Flour Bakery + Cafe (flourbakery.com), for example, sends would-be chefs the ingredients for its famous desserts and has accompanying instructional videos. Sweets not your thing? Try a cheese board or cocktails and assemble at a designated time.

Hold a wine tasting The usual parties may be a no-go, but a sip-in-place event is a great excuse to raise a glass with friends. With virtual wine tastings from local companies like The Urban Grape (theurbangrape.com), and services like Wine.com, you can order a predetermined selection of bottles, then join an expert in real time to swirl and savor.

Host a game night If your favorite part of the holidays is sitting around the table for some good old, analog fun, you can mimic the experience digitally. Loads of classic strategy games can be played online — Monopoly, Clue, Uno, and Catan to name just a few — and many of them are free.


Launch an art challenge When the J. Paul Getty Museum challenged stuck-at-home museum lovers to replicate a work of art using found items, the charming idea went viral. Generate chuckles among your distanced crew by re-creating winter-themed works, characters, or favorite photos of family and friends.

Run a gift swap ‘Tis the season for gag gift exchanges, so don’t let lockdown ruin the tradition. Yankee swaps, white elephant parties, and Secret Snowflakes are possible, just move the shenanigans online. A site like Elfster (elfster.com) randomly picks names; then you can use photos to select and swap gifts. Send goods through the mail or bring to drop-off points.

Deliver meaningful greetings With the typical hustle and bustle coming to a halt, creating extra-thoughtful greeting cards to mail can be kindhearted. Or try making a video card using a service like JibJab (jibjab.com), which inserts headshots into silly song-and-dance animations. Animoto (animoto.com) offers free, easy-to-use templates with more conservative salutations.

Watch a classic film Longing for a movie night? Cue up a holiday flick and watch together-alone using tools like Netflix’s Teleparty (netflixparty.com) or Scener (scener.com), which allow you to message and chat while you stream in synchronized, real time. (Tip: Elf is a perennial hit across generations. And It’s a Wonderful Life is always welcome among the older crowd.)


A scene from "It's a Wonderful Life."Adobe Stock

Outdo yourself decorating Whether your style is sophisticated string lights or blow-up snowmen on the lawn, give your outdoor decor a little extra oomph this year. The wonderland magic will thrill little kids, and probably put a smile on your neighbors’ faces, too.

Organize a car parade Birthday processions became a thing when lockdown first took hold; why not organize some friends and neighbors this winter, too? Grab your pod, decorate your car, don some festive duds, and go spread cheer. Bonus points if you wear an elf suit or sing out of a sunroof.

Cut your own tree Starting a new DIY tradition, like cutting down your own Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush, is a great way to turn a simple, socially distant outing into an event, while supporting local farmers, too (find locations statewide at christmas-trees.org).

Stroll among sparkling lights They can’t cancel fresh air and open space, right? At Stone Zoo in Stoneham, you can safely walk through tree-lined paths with twinkling lights and oversized lanterns that meander through animal displays (zoonewengland.org). At Old Sturbridge Village, Christmas by Candlelight events offer Colonial traditions and decor, horse-drawn carriage rides, and cozy bonfires (various dates in December; osv.org). And Boston Common offers good sparkle once the mercury dips.

Drive through dazzling displays Pile the family into the car and prepare to be wowed by the lights and digital animations at Magic of Lights at Gillette Stadium (November 13–January 2, magicoflights.com). Or head to the Middleborough Festival of Lights (December 12, 13, 19, 20; discovermiddleborough.com/events), where jolly scenes are bedecked with more than 500,000 bulbs.


Reach out One of the most wretched aspects of this pandemic has been the surge in feelings of loneliness and isolation. For some, this season may only make that worse. If you’re thinking of someone, take the time to let them know. Your call, card, or text may relieve some of the pressure. Even the smallest gesture can go a long way.

Wreath made of natural fir branches. Adobe Stock

Get into crafting If baking bread was last spring’s answer to the doldrums, then making wreaths or centerpieces might quell some current angst. Tower Hill Botanic Garden (towerhillbg.org) in Boylston offers various socially distanced, in-person crafting classes. Not ready to venture out? Pull up a YouTube tutorial.

Volunteer virtually Many organizations need your computer, phone, bookkeeping, and other skills, even from a distance. Visit Volunteer Match (volunteermatch.org/virtual-volunteering) or Boston Cares (bostoncares.org/virtualvolunteering) to find a good fit. Donations are also always welcome. Consider food pantries; Massachusetts residents have been especially affected by food insecurity.

Invite Holiday Pops home Symphony Hall may be closed to in-person audiences, but the music continues in an online series. Don’t miss Holiday Pops on December 10, featuring seasonal melodies, plus performances by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston Symphony Children’s Choir, and more (bso.org).

Bring the ballet to you Twirl along with Boston Ballet’s televised performance of The Nutcracker (starting November 28; details at bostonballet.org) or by streaming The Gift, set to the music of Duke Ellington’s bluesy take on the classic suite (December 17–27). Then add City Ballet of Boston’s energetic version to your video lineup – Anthony Williams' Urban Nutcracker blends music from the two with the Hub as backdrop (dates and times at urbannutcracker.com).


A menorah.Adobe Stock

Take a trip back in time Journey through the ages and across the globe with the theatrical Revels troupe, which brings cultural and historic traditions to life. Though its annual Christmas event won’t be held live, you can stream this year’s show, which includes a cornucopia of storytelling, dance, and music from around the world, including a performance by Yo-Yo Ma (revels.org).

Get excited to light the menorah The Jewish Arts Collaborative is bringing its gleaming Brighter Connected installations to eight Greater Boston neighborhoods this year, including in Chelsea and Brookline, and at Freedom House in Dorchester. Designed to be socially safe and family friendly, the large-scale pieces — designed by local artisits in partnership with host communities — will delight art lovers of all denominations during Hanukkah. (December 9–18, jartsboston.org/brighterconnected).


Meaghan O’Neill is a writer based in Newport, Rhode Island. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Note: Tickets available for all events as of press time, but sell out quickly; check websites for availability and pricing information.