So, the holiday season is different this year. Fancy office holiday parties have been shelved. Bouncing around to spend Christmas with large groups of extended family members could trigger a super-spreader event. I just saw a funny Hanukkah meme with a dancing potato pancake that read “pass the latkes, not the Covid.” With case counts spiking, social distancing regulations have tightened in many areas. But having to stay physically distance from loved ones right now doesn’t mean you can’t reinforce feelings of love and friendship for those that matter the most. Here are five ways to stay connected during a socially distant holiday season:
Did you ever have a pen pal growing up? Whether the connection was on paper or email, the process of sharing thoughts, interests and dreams in a written letter built a great foundation for a friendship. The same is true today, when letter-writing feels special and different in contrast to exchanging quick texts.
Lisa Ferentz, LCSW-C DAPA, Clinical Social Worker, Educator, and President of The Ferentz Institute, has encouraged her clients to stay connected by writing letters. “It’s sort of a lost art, but I’m inviting people to write letters and send cards to loved ones, not just emails,” she said. “We are much more emotionally connected to writing a letter than we are to typing emails.”
Personally, I think that’s great advice. Receiving any mail that isn’t an invoice or a political solicitation this year feels like a present anyway. Throughout the pandemic, I have been using a website that allows me to create customized photo cards with notes inside, which are mailed directly to the recipient. Just sent my mom one with an image of my hubby and I, reminding her how much she is adored. Writing these personalized cards to friends and family members during the holidays has strengthened our bonds. I feel a burst of joy each time during the creation process, while the recipients appreciate the acknowledgement.
If you can’t be together in person, reach out using video apps that allow you to see another person. During the 12 days of Christmas or Eight Nights of Hanukkah, pick a different person you would normally visit and schedule a call — or fill up an entire Zoom screen with faces of beloved ones. It’s easy to do with the prevalence of smart phones and decent Wi-Fi connections these days.
Heck, I’ve been on some Zoom family calls this year that included people from age 16 to 83, proving that video platforms can be adopted well by multiple generations. Of course, we turned to the Gen Z and younger Millennials participants whenever tech issues arise.
Build new rituals.
Enjoy watching “Love Actually” or “Elf” together while baking cookies? Use a streaming service to start that beloved flick at the same time, allowing you to watch and chat about it with your BFF or family member while rolling out that batch of gingerbread treats.
Instead of having a huge holiday dinner, pick a couple of people that matter the most to come over following negative COVID tests or self-quarantining. You might enjoy a deeper level of connection and higher quality conversations with just a few individuals instead of trying to entertain a dozen people.
Plan for the future.
With multiple COVID-19 vaccines being reviewed and approved by the FDA, I am hopeful that much of the population will be inoculated by late spring. Right now, I’m talking to my husband about re-planning a vacation for next summer that we had cancelled because of the pandemic — one that lets us see his extended family in the United Kingdom. The anticipation of spending time with my brother and sister-in-law, his cousins, parents and more gives us something to look forward to after being grounded for so long. Talk about a great distraction from a quieter holiday season than normal.
With that in mind, start thinking now about your ideal holiday experience for next year. Who do you most want to spend time with? It might boost everyone’s spirits to tentatively plan a special gathering or getaway for the end of 2021.
The most important person to stay connected with over the holiday season is, well, yourself. Engaging in self-care can help deal with the isolation and loneliness that has permeated throughout 2020. Ferentz encourages her clients to engage in regular, small acts of self-care to maintain their well-being.
“I give my clients invitations to download phone apps to help manage stress, anxiety or sleep better, watch fun exercise videos and do more journaling,” she notes, echoing some of the advice presented in her book, Finding Your Ruby Slippers: Lessons Learned From the Therapist’s Couch. “I’m encouraging them to make healthy meals now that we are home more often. These are ways that we can use being less busy and less distracted to actually turn inward and be more attentive to ourselves and our wellbeing.”