Virtual Shopping Dates and Home Videos: How My Family Is Staying Connected For the Holidays

Baking sugar cookies with Nanny. Wrapping presents with Grandma. Taking pictures on Santa's lap with cousins. Going to church with friends. For my kids, the holiday season is all about connecting with loved ones. So far, every Christmas my 3-year-old and 20-month-old sons have celebrated have all been surrounded by the loving and admiring faces of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. (Yeah, OK, they're both a little spoiled, but that's not the point.) Since the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on our world (and doesn't show any signs of slowing down), every day has been an uncertainty. Now that the holidays are approaching, my husband and I are trying to figure out how to incorporate my kids' favorite part of the season — quality time with family — in a way that is safe for everyone involved. And as you probably already know, it's not going to be easy.

Over the last few months, I think both sides of our family have done a pretty good job of keeping up with each other. We hosted a drive-by birthday party when my son turned 3, and my brother- and sister-in-law hosted a virtual cake smash for their 1-year-old. We've also done FaceTimes, masked visits, and sent lots of pictures to try to heal the ache left from missing each other. But I've also been sort of ignoring the holidays, not wanting to think about what it'll be like when we can't gather around the Christmas tree or dinner table with everyone.

As someone who is always thinking ahead and absolutely loves Christmas time, I decided I'm not going to let COVID-19 stop me from making beautiful holiday memories with my husband and kids — and that includes making connections with family members.

With a little creativity and a lot of technology, we can keep our traditions alive, continue to bond with family both near and far, and create new holiday memories at the same time.

For us, our Christmas traditions start when we go shopping for presents. I have gathered coupons and hunted for the best sales with my mom for as long as I can remember, but this year she was planning on buying her things online anyway — her immune system is basically shot from her chemotherapy treatments for stage two breast cancer. Now, we're planning on doing online shopping together via FaceTime, while drinking hot cocoa and listening to festive music. (Remind me why going out is so great?) If I do need to run to a couple of stores in person, I'm planning on shopping for my mom and dropping it off at her door; and while I'm sad we can't spend that time together in person, there's no need for her to take that kind of risk right now.

A week or so before Christmas, my husband's side of the family always gathers together to bake and decorate cookies. His parents invite all their children and grandchildren over to make hundreds of different cookies, with plenty to take home for everyone. The pandemic doesn't make being in a tiny space and sharing food ideal, not to mention that my in-laws recently moved about nine hours away. Instead, my sister-in-law is hosting a smaller get-together at her house, while the rest of us join in on Zoom. That way, everyone can participate at the level they feel comfortable with, while still carrying on this fun tradition.

Finally, one of my favorite memories on Christmas day is my dad making home videos of us. He would capture our faces as we inspected Santa's cookies and our delight as we saw the presents under the tree, and would mail copies to my relatives who didn't live nearby. This year, I'm going to bring back that Christmas-morning tradition by filming my own kids. Then, I can send this special moment to my family (via text, not mail), and I'll also have something to look back on to remind my kids of how strange 2020 really was.

Keep in mind, it's OK to grieve over how weird the holidays will be this year. Yes, I am thankful to be healthy and safe, but I'm still sad that there will be no backyard football games with my dad or gossiping over dessert with my sisters. Everything will be toned down, done virtually, and modified, which just plain sucks. But, thankfully, with a little creativity and a lot of technology, we can keep our traditions alive, continue to bond with family both near and far, and create new holiday memories at the same time. We'll be spending a lot more time this year staying in watching Christmas movies, and less time stressing over fitting every little thing in — and that just might be a good thing. Whether you are staying safe due to the coronavirus, are missing a deployed loved one this holiday season, or facing another reason why you can't celebrate the way you want to, remember: we are all in this (virtually) together.