Usually for Christmas, Lola Laosebikan is cooking together with her family: Her mom does the main dish, and she and her sisters handle the sides. But this holiday season, a trip back home to Chicago isn’t happening.

With coronavirus cases surging nationwide, gathering with those outside your household or traveling to see family is being highly discouraged. As we worry about the health of the people we love, stress about money and feel emotionally drained from months of social distancing, planning for the holidays can seem overwhelming anyway. 

While the holidays aren’t canceled, the season is going to look very different. This year, we have to figure out ways to create holiday spirit on a smaller scale, connect with our loved ones remotely and create new traditions that are safe and uplifting. Here are some ideas from local experts on how to make this dark season have more sparkle. 

Enhance a video call with loved ones by sending care boxes containing things like hats and small gifts that can be opened together. (iStock)
Enhance a video call with loved ones by sending care boxes containing things like hats and small gifts that can be opened together. (iStock)

Party in a box

Laosebikan, a Seattle-based event planner and founder of The Event Space, has West African heritage, and when her family gets together for the holidays, her mom makes a special mac and cheese that’s spicy and loaded with vegetables. It’s a key part of Christmas dinner — but a dish that Laosebikan never learned to make herself.

“This is going to be our first Christmas as husband and wife,” says Laosebikan about her new marriage. “I want this to be really memorable. I want every dish to be perfect. I’m not the best cook, so [my mom] is going to have to send me the ingredients to make that.”

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Enter the party in a box. Or maybe the whole holiday season in a box. It’s the idea of sending a package that includes many of the things you would typically do together in person.

Laosebikan’s mom is sending her ingredients for dinner and dessert. Other variations could include: Sending ornaments to your family members and setting up a virtual call to decorate your trees together; sending a gingerbread house kit and holding a decorating competition; and sending ugly Christmas sweaters and staging a virtual fashion show. Maybe a loved one had a dream vacation postponed, so send Paris in a box to give them a taste of that special place.

“You may not go home, and you have to create the Christmas experience by yourself,” Laosebikan says. “I think a lot of us never thought of that. What am I going to do?” She worries, too, about single people in new cities where they don’t have family or close friends. “Sending those boxes can really make someone’s day or month. It still feels like Christmas with them, even though their family is miles away.”

Gift boxes are a great way to connect with those far away. If you don’t have the energy to create your own, companies such as Marigold & Grey have premade and custom options. (Courtesy of Marigold & Grey)
Gift boxes are a great way to connect with those far away. If you don’t have the energy to create your own, companies such as Marigold & Grey have premade and custom options. (Courtesy of Marigold & Grey)

For people who want to outsource some of the gift-box work, there are plenty of online services that will send premade or custom boxes. Laosebikan recommends Fordé, Marigold & Grey and Loved and Found

These boxes are also a good way for a manager to thank their employees, since in-person parties are off the table. 

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“With it being such a difficult year, there are so many moments people have been frustrated,” Laosebikan says. “Sending a custom box just says, ‘Hey, I appreciate the work you’ve been doing all year.’ ”

Some are choosing to go all out for a holiday meal, even if it’s just for their immediate family. Fine china, centerpieces and linens can make a meal at home feel special.(Sarah Wettleson for Cake & Lace Events)
Some are choosing to go all out for a holiday meal, even if it’s just for their immediate family. Fine china, centerpieces and linens can make a meal at home feel special.(Sarah Wettleson for Cake & Lace Events)

Go big at home

Picture your dinner table dressed up with beautiful china, emerald-green linens and red and white roses. A delicious buffet awaits your family. 

Reneille Velez, owner of Cake & Lace Events in Tacoma, says that this year some clients are choosing to splurge on an over-the-top dinner. It’s all about making the holidays feel special, even when it’s just your household.

“An upscale Christmas dinner is a trend that is happening this year just because we’re all at home,” Velez says. “It’s definitely looking at treating yourself. Spoiling yourself. Because it’s the end of the year. We want to make it special, because this year’s been crappy.”

If cooking up a feast would just add to your stress, look at takeout or catering. A catered meal can run from $20 a person for a basic package to $60–$80 per person for something more indulgent. You can even rent the china and purchase floral arrangements to streamline the effort. 

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Special touches don’t have to be complicated or expensive. A dessert bar with hot cocoa and all the fixings adds  festivity for all ages. (iStock)
Special touches don’t have to be complicated or expensive. A dessert bar with hot cocoa and all the fixings adds festivity for all ages. (iStock)

More budget-friendly options can be just as impactful. Make cookies and set up a dessert bar, complete with hot cocoa and all the trimmings. Dress up for dinner and watch an online church service. Or break out the portable deep fryer and make homemade sufganiyot on the deck. Whatever you do, add a couple additional touches beyond the norm to up the merriment. 

Start a new tradition

During the pandemic, Hallea Tse, owner of Hallea Events in West Seattle, has discovered a love of gardening. Her ZZ plants and pothos, in particular, are thriving in her home. 

To make things more festive, she’s adding tiny ornaments to give her treasured plants a Christmas spin.

“I literally have a whole jungle in a corner of my living room right now, and it just needs some pops of red for the holiday,” Tse says.

Create new traditions by celebrating your hobbies over the holidays. Gardeners, for example, can decorate their plants with lights, bulbs or miniature ornaments. (iStock)
Create new traditions by celebrating your hobbies over the holidays. Gardeners, for example, can decorate their plants with lights, bulbs or miniature ornaments. (iStock)

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Many people have cultivated new hobbies and skills while staying at home, and these can be used as a jumping off point for celebrating the holidays, Tse says.

Advent calendars are a great place to incorporate themes. For the budding gardener, you could include a gardening tool one day, a trip to a nursery another day, and seeds and flower books on other days. 

Or plant some perennials before the ground freezes, and you’ll have something to look forward to in the coming years. It can become a new tradition that everyone will enjoy each spring.

“If anything, during quarantine, we all kind of nested and started new hobbies,” Tse says. “So why not just expand on them and give them a holiday twist?”

This year, it’ll just be Tse and her husband for Christmas. They’ve spent more time together than ever, she says laughing, and it’s been an opportunity to connect. Instead of traveling, they decorated early this season, decking out the living room so they can feel that Christmas joy.

“I don’t think the holidays are canceled,” Tse says. “I think there are a lot of ways we can celebrate with each other. Instead of being busy, rushing off, meeting up with friends and family far away, it’s just more intentional this year.”