7 Ways to Make Celebrating the Holidays Alone a Little Happier

Here's how to get in the seasonal spirit, even if your loved ones are at a distance.

The holiday season has been described as the "most wonderful time of the year," when people who hate cold weather and snow delight in it because it temporarily adds to the world's charm and festivity. But because we're in 2020, the year we'd all rather forget, the winter season is heading into some challenges.

Whether you're celebrating Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa, you may be getting the message from your local or state officials to do it alone this year. For example, Philadelphia's health officials called on families to cancel all holiday plans into the New Year, referring to them as "very dangerous," as the city's case counts increase. Dr. Anthony Fauci was the first to caution Americans against planning family get-togethers, saying he will not gather his children living in separate states for the holidays.

For many Americans who live alone though, the recommendation dampens an already depressing year. And the thought of yet another Zoom celebration is hardly what any of us are eager to experience. But by enlisting a culinary expert and an event planner to help us, we've compiled a list of ideas to make the holidays a bit brighter, online and off, if you have to spend them alone or with a limited circle of family and friends.

Woman with cup of coffee using laptop and headphones at Christmas time
Westend61 / Getty Images

Make a Mini Meal

Instead of making all the fixings and roasting up a huge turkey dinner, find an alternate that will satisfy yourself. Food writer and recipe developer Kristina Vänni instead recommends making a Cornish game hen, saying, "It looks like your own, adorable little mini turkey but still feels festive and special. You can season it with all the same herbs you would use on a traditional turkey, so your kitchen is still filled with the aromas of the holidays." Make a rib roast if you're not a fan of turkey or a special pasta dish that you've bookmarked but never had the time to create. Because you're only serving yourself, it may be the opportunity to satisfy the holiday cravings that never got onto the family menu.

Support Local

Take the pressure off the meal by ordering in. Whether by supplementing with some side dishes or letting the professionals take care of the whole thing, shopping from nearby restaurants (and even some supermarkets) is a great way to support local businesses while still creating a memorable night.

Learn a Family Recipe

Or, it could be time to learn Mom's secret stuffing recipe. While we are all a bit sick of technology, many are taking advantage of video platforms to have (long-distanced) relatives show them step-by-step how to recreate that beloved family dish. While the result isn't exactly Grandma's, learning how to make her kugel will be a cherished memory that could be the silver lining to take from this holiday season.

Divide and Conquer

Just like when you wrote notes for one section of the exam in college and then shared them with your study group, divvy up cooking or baking duties with a couple of friends and then drop food off (at a social distance) to creating a complete meal. Or take it upon yourself to bake up a batch of cookies and share them with neighbors and bask in the feeling of goodness that comes from gifting treats.

Make the Season Special

Trimming the tree, lighting the menorah, or just getting dressed up might be tasks we think we do for others but are equally essential to create a sense of importance and seasonality. Vänni encourages us to make the holiday a multi-sensory experience, as "it's not just about eating your favorite foods, it's about the sounds of holiday music in the background and the special decorations we put up for the holidays." So dust off your tinsel, wrestle out your table toppers, and set Spotify to a Christmas playlist. Mariam Abdul, event planner and founder of Bloom Floral & Events, recommends using technology to find ways to celebrate with your favorite people remotely. She says, "Decorate the house together through Zoom. You can send each other decoration kits to match and put up together and then share photos of the results with friends and family. You can make it into a competition with votes on the winner."

Be Giving

Do things for others this holiday season, such as handwriting holiday cards, dropping off food for your local food bank, or donating to your local humane society. Make up a plate of food for someone else who may be celebrating alone. We know that small acts of kindness can significantly impact our happiness, and of course, that of the recipient.

Get Creative

The night of your holiday meal or virtual get-together, if you choose to Zoom call everyone, embrace the chaos, but use some tools. Vanni recommends enlisting game apps to encourage fun and free-flowing conversations and reduce awkward moments. And suppose you've had enough chit-chatting, but are missing some company? In that case, Abdul suggests planning a virtual family movie night using the plugin Teleparty, noting, "This plugin helps you watch TV with your friends online through different platforms. It synchronizes video playback and adds group chats to the platforms." Group watching is also available through some popular streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Hulu.

The most important thing to remember is that the holidays are not cancelled simply because it's 2020. Just like the Whos down in Whoville learned, the spirit of the holidays is in your heart.

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