How to Celebrate the Holidays During the Pandemic


The holidays have a way of bringing personal problems – financial, familial, or otherwise – into sharp relief. And at the tail end of a year that has been challenging in so many ways, it is natural to feel daunted by the onset of a season marked by celebration and merrymaking. Whether you are disappointed by the muted feel of this season compared to holidays past, or you feel utterly exhausted from fear and worry and have little left to give in the way of festivities, decking the halls may be the last thing on your mind. Nonetheless, celebrating the season – no matter which particular holiday you observe – can restore a sense of normalcy in an otherwise tumultuous time. And while the great family gatherings of past years are a no-go now, there are still safe ways to mark the season.

The positive double-effect of the unique landscape of the 2020 holiday season is financial: a decrease in travel, gift exchanges, and lavish parties means good things for your wallet. And of course, while this will do little to assuage the fear, sadness, loneliness, and isolation that many still feel, it can help solidify our financial standing as we move into the year we all hope to be the “rainbow” of the decade: 2021.

Here are a few ideas to observe the holiday in your own way, safely and peacefully at home.

Don’t give up on Your Family Traditions: Modify Them

If you look forward to large family dinners, parties, and holiday travel each year, it’s natural to feel disappointed when seemingly everything is canceled. However, this is the time to get creative. Instead of gathering your family around your kitchen table, can you set up card tables outside? Can you order pre-boxed meals instead of inviting your guests to share food from a common platter? Instead of gathering in front of the television for the annual viewing of Elf, can you project the movie on a screen in your backyard and invite each family to sit on their own picnic blankets, six feet apart? There are options available to keep your beloved traditions alive – they may just require some creativity, flexibility, and advance planning. 

Make this the Year of New Traditions

In a similar spirit, think of some new “pandemic” traditions you can start with your family. While many events we know and love during the holiday season – festivals, parties, and travel – may not be happening, consider whether you can start something new, something you would not have even considered doing if you’d been busy with your typical activities. Can you take your family on a neighborhood walk to see holiday lights? Prepare a special recipe at home? Bake cookies for your elderly neighbors who live alone? You may find these simpler activities grounding. Not to mention, they are good for your wallet: baking cookies and looking at lights is much cheaper – and far less likely to land you in debt – than taking elaborate vacations and throwing boozy parties.

Don’t Pity-Spend

This year has been hard, but resist the urge to throw yourself a pity party. Pity parties often lead to numbing behaviors, chief among them overbuying stuff you simply don’t need. If you feel the pull toward retail “therapy,” lean instead into the opportunity to simplify and streamline. Instead of accumulating more unnecessary items, can you pare down what you already have? Instead of spending more money, can you fund your IRAs to reduce your taxable income for the year? Better yet, take the money you would’ve spent on Amazon and put it in a special “End-of-Pandemic-Vacation” fund for the end of 2021.

Your Purchasing Power Matters. Use it Wisely

When you do spend money, consider its impact. Instead of over-ordering takeout, cook a simple meal at home and donate what you would’ve spent to a charity or institution like St. Jude’s. Similarly, instead of ordering your Christmas presents from a corporate giant, patronize local shops. Numerous small businesses have struggled this year, so buying local – and encouraging others to do so, too – can help immensely.

Staying Home is Safest, but if you have to Travel, Consider some Tweaks

If you do end up traveling, experts recommend taking a series of precautions to keep yourself and others safe. For instance, consider staying in a hotel instead of with elderly or at-risk family members, wear a face mask at all times when in the presence of others, and if at all possible, quarantine for 14 days after you arrive at your destination. 

Celebrate technology by throwing a virtual party

Zoom and Webex have had quite the year, and we are all better for it. In lieu of a large in-person gathering, host friends and family via a virtual holiday party, happy hour, or gift exchange. While in many cases we cannot be physically present in the same room, we can still enjoy seeing one another, catching up, and sharing food and drinks from the safety of our own homes.

Embrace normalcy at home

No matter what your year has looked like, taking some time to carry on with your typical traditions can be grounding. Decorate the tree, hang outdoor lights, dust off the menorah, make all the family recipes, take out your family heirlooms. Don’t hold back, even if you are feeling down and tempted to throw in the towel. Not only will this restore a sense of peace and normalcy to your home (especially if you have young children), but it is also likely to help you embrace the holidays at home and avoid making rash decisions out of boredom or quarantine fatigue. 

The Final Push

It’s been a tough year, but we’ve nearly made it to the end. Keep holiday traditions alive, keep a close watch on your budget, save as much as you can, stay out of (or pay down!) any outstanding debts, and bring some energy, peace, and joy back to your home before we transition to the New Year and new opportunities.