The holiday season is usually everyone's busiest time of year, full of parties, trips to the theater and family reunions. This year's celebrations will be much more subdued, no matter where you live, but that doesn't mean they can't be just as exciting. Embrace the joys of a more intimate holiday by treating yourself to some homemade fun, making elaborate decorations and embracing old family traditions—or making some new ones!
How to Make the Holidays More Exciting at Home
Organize a Cookie Swap
One of the greatest joys of the holidays is the sheer abundance of snacks and treats: the elaborate cheese boards at Christmas parties, the thermoses of cocoa and cider at skating parties, the many kinds of cookies set out in seasonal tins.
To recreate this feeling of abundance, plan a distanced cookie swap with a handful of your friends. Each person only has to make one type of cookie, but you'll all get to nibble on a variety of treats throughout the season. Alternatively, if you prefer the savory side of the season, you could organize a snack swap and drop spiced nuts or cheese straws on your friends' doorsteps.
Dress Up for the Theater
Missing your annual trip to The Nutcracker or your local theater's holiday show? Turn a virtual viewing into a special event by dressing up and stocking a side table with upscale treats for intermission. Because of this year's many virtual offerings, you can see performances that you would never usually get to attend, like actor John Kevin Jones reading A Christmas Carol from the parlor of the Merchant's House Museum in New York. Some companies are even offering online bonuses, like a chance to meet one the dancers at the Moscow Ballet after their performance.
Get Ambitious with an Elaborate Gingerbread House
Did you dive into jigsaw puzzles earlier in the year? Turn that energy toward building a towering gingerbread mansion. A complicated gingerbread house is a multi-day project that everyone can chip in and help with, and when it's done, you'll have something that will make your house look like the lobby of a fancy hotel at Christmastime (if you can keep from nibbling on it!).
Books filled with gingerbread house patterns offer the most elaborate options, such as Victorian mansions and churches with tall steeples. Or you can take your inspiration from the cookie chandeliers in season nine of The Great British Bake Off and hang stars and whimsical shapes from the ceiling.
Get Out an Old Family Recipe
This year, when you plan your holiday meals, pull out old family recipe boxes. The old-fashioned flavors of your great-aunt's sherry-soaked stollen or your grandmother's cabbage and chestnut dressing are perfect for this time of year. Moreover, because your senses of smell and taste are linked to the parts of your brain that store memories, these recipes might even stir up some forgotten stories about past family celebrations that you can share with the next generation. (Don't have any family recipes on hand? Try these 25 holiday cookie recipes that are just like the ones Grandma used to make!)
Take the Celebration Outside
Just because you might not be able to go caroling or ice-skating with friends this year doesn't mean you need to keep all of your holiday festivities indoors. If you get plenty of snow, you can build an entire party of snow people in your yard or spend a few days building elaborate snow cities or replicas of some of the world's most famous sites.
In the evening, bundle up and snuggle by your backyard fire pit so you can toast marshmallows or roast chestnuts. (Make sure to pierce the chestnuts before you heat them so they don't explode.)
Splurge on Extravagant Ingredients
Only planning to have a handful of family members around the table this season? There's no better time to treat yourself to ingredients that are usually too expensive for big holiday meals. Start your Thanksgiving with a New Orleans-style creamy oyster stew or shave a bit of truffle onto your mashed potatoes or gnocchi; splurge on lobster or dry-aged steaks for Christmas; or ring in the New Year with caviar and vodka and pretend you're celebrating at the Russian Tea Room in New York.
Turn Your Holiday Movie Night into a Singalong
Some of the most beloved holiday songs of all time come straight out of the movies—and others have been used in dozens of soundtracks. Depending on the style of films you like, you can croon along with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas or get the kids going with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Even Elf (which counts as a "classic" if you're a certain age) is full of excellent Christmas songs. Just download the music ahead of time so you can get a little practice while you're making cookies, then print out the lyrics before showtime so everyone can sing along. Now all you need is some popcorn and cocoa to enjoy when you're not singing.
Try Out New Holiday Traditions
This is a great year to start new traditions. Do some research and find ideas that make sense for your family. Whether you order in takeout from a local Thai restaurant instead of cooking your traditional feast, have a virtual cocktail party with friends or do a doorstep-drop Secret Santa gift exchange, you'll be making new holiday memories for years to come.