I'm Still Planning to Make This Holiday Season Fun, Despite the Pandemic — Here's How

To me, Christmas has always been like a sport. I plan for it strategically and methodically. I start buying decorations at the after-Christmas sales in January and keep a list of Christmas gift ideas all year long. For months, I think about new crafts I can make, new recipes to try, more decorations to purchase. I plan holiday double dates with friends to see the Nutcracker, go to Christmas plays and concerts with my husband, and essentially listen to nonstop Christmas music starting on Nov. 1. It's my absolute favorite time of the year.

Hosting holiday get-togethers is always included on the list — a Christmas party, a New Year's party, family holiday gatherings. I love planning for them, showing off my decorations, putting on Christmas records, planning outfits (yes, this sometimes means a ridiculous Christmas sweater). Frankly, it's the one time of year I'm more social than usual. It's a chance to catch up and celebrate with my favorite people — all with Frank Sinatra's Christmas albums playing in the background.

Suffice to say, thinking about how the pandemic will change these holiday traditions is heartbreaking to me. Over the past several months of social distancing, not traveling, forgoing restaurants, events, and get-togethers with friends and family, a phrase I often repeated to keep me going was, "Hopefully by Christmas, we can get back to normal!" Now, months later, I know it's not safe and it's not feasible.

Though I'm so sad to miss out on the usual activities I look forward to all year, I'm now figuring out ways to adapt them to our new reality. The annual Christmas party and Secret Santa exchange I have with a close group of girlfriends is still planned this year — but virtually. We're still drawing names for our gift swap, will secretly deliver the gifts to one another, and will hop on Zoom for the party with a glass of wine to celebrate. FaceTime and Zoom — and maybe a few drive-bys — will help me celebrate with family members, as well.

Most significant, though, is the chance to enjoy the season in a low-key way. The holiday season has always been my favorite, but I'm also the first to acknowledge that things get hectic quickly. There usually are work parties, neighbors' parties, friends and family commitments, and of course the gatherings I host — all of which involve time and money. Every year, the weekends and nights in December book up immediately, and every year, I'm left thinking, "How did that happen so quickly? What about the cozy nights in, watching Christmas movies by the fireplace?"

In some ways I'm looking forward to a different kind of holiday season this year, one that's less about entertaining and a hectic schedule and more about taking time to slow down and savor the spirit of the season.

I'm looking forward to driving around with a cup of hot chocolate, looking at Christmas light displays in the neighborhood. I can't wait to watch tons of Christmas movies with my husband with the fireplace on. We moved into a new house last year, and I'm still figuring out exactly how I want to decorate it for the holidays (and this year definitely gives me even more of an excuse to go all out!). And even though I'm not hosting any holiday dinners or parties, I'll still look for fun new recipes to try. Maybe I'll deliver them to family and friends. Heck, maybe I'll eat them all myself.

Although it's upsetting that the pandemic is taking away my holiday traditions, I also know that many people have had much more significant things taken away from them this year. Christmas is about counting your blessings, and I realize that despite the difficulties 2020 has brought, I still have so much to be thankful for.

One good thing about a crisis, I think, is that it opens you up to change and gives you a new appreciation for the simple things. It makes you slow down and reevaluate what matters. I have my health, I can still see my family and friends virtually, and I can still celebrate my favorite holiday, just with a different focus. That's the perspective I need.