Staying Home for the Holidays

How to make your holidays special in the midst of a raging pandemic

It’s month 1248 of the pandemic, we just ran the gauntlet of the 2020 election, and many of us are exhausted. The holidays are looming, tempting us with a familiarity we crave. A few days to eat too much, nap on a different couch, hug (or even argue) with your Uncle, is tantalizing. It’s a chance to escape.

Before you load up the car, remember that the freaking pandemic is raging and doesn’t care that it’s the holidays. (Credit: pixnio)

In the Beforetimes, about 50 million Americans traveled a least 50 miles over Thanksgiving. AAA says that more than 90% of travelers drive to their destination. Considering COVID, driving an hour (or ten) feels reasonable. Just you and your quarantine buddy in the car and only a couple stops for gas. It seems… almost… like a good idea.

Don’t. Please.

We just passed a record-breaking week: 5 consecutive days with more than 100,000 new cases of COVID. The New York Times reported that over the past 2-weeks, there was a 59% increase in cases, and a 14% rise in deaths.

Consider these grim numbers as you make your plans. Before you tell your Gram to make the pie you like, take a moment and think of, you know, your Gram. Or your cousin who has health issues. Or the gas station employee who can’t afford to stay home and has to spend 8 hours watching a stream of customers bringing in who-knows-what into their work (while arguing with some blowhard that a mask is required).

There’s a slew of “Is it safe to travel? Experts weigh in” articles out there. I’ll summarize for you. Maybe. With tons of precautions. But it’s still risky. And in those articles, when each and every expert was asked if people should travel, or if they themselves are traveling, the answer was always a resounding NO.

I get it. My husband and I are fending off requests from our families to trek home for the holidays. Everyone is lonely, everyone could use some familiarity, everyone wants to feel (as Kim Kardashian opined) normal.

But nothing about 2020 has been normal, so why should the holidays be any different? Instead of making plans to visit despite the (very real) pandemic fears, I have a suggestion: stay home.

But what does that even look like? First thing: knock out the dire images that may have popped into your mind. It doesn’t have to be miserable! I missed a lot of family holidays over the years and I learned how to forge new traditions. Here’s my advice for having a very merry 2020 holiday season while staying in your own home.

What to Eat

American holidays have specific food themes. There’s turkey at Thanksgiving, ham at Christmas, and all those “traditional” add-ons that we’ve come to expect: Bubbe’s latkes, Uncle Vinnie’s oysters, Aunt June’s sweet potato pie, Mom’s gingersnap cookies.

These foods taste like home and can trigger fond — or at least familiar — feelings. And just because you stay home doesn’t mean forgoing your favorites. You can embrace those traditions or you can ditch it all and make up your own.

I’ve tried both. One Thanksgiving, I invited my fellow grad students staying in town to my apartment. Since it was only a couple Americans and a slew of international students, I asked everyone to make a favorite dish from their country. Best, weird, delicious mash-up ever.

A few years ago, I was at the grocery store getting cookie supplies. While my groceries were being scanned, the bagger was chattering with the checker about his Christmas plans. As he outlined the family visits and parties, his entire face lit up when he announced that his mom was “even making tamales!!” His unbridled joy was contagious.

Guess what we had that Christmas? Tamales (and cookies). 10/10, would recommend mixing new and old traditions.

So what should you eat? Whatever you want! Go ahead and make the traditional dishes and bask in the coziness. Or try something completely new. Being on your own means you don’t have to eat the usual. I mean, I don’t even like ham…

Another bonus to a holiday at your place? No judgy encounters from family or friends. Want to have a cocktail? Maybe even more than one? Have at it. Plan to eat cookies for breakfast again? Have seconds, ’cause no one will give you the side-eye or ask you to join them for a ridiculous “earn your bird” workout. Want to make an all vegetarian meal without the commentary about your protein intake? Tofurkey it up, cause when it’s your house, it’s your rules.

Tofurky without the side of arguing-about-factory-farms with your parents. (Credit: wikicommons)

What to Do

Oh, the sweet, sweet freedom of planning your own holiday. If you’re wondering what to do in the days and hours that are normally planned from dawn ’til dusk, I have a thrilling new thought for you:

Do whatever you want.

This concept can spark joy or trigger the cold chill of uncertainty to ripple through you. Where to begin? Well, start thinking about what you like about the holidays. Whether it’s the twinkle lights, the football games, the Christmas Story marathon, or the midnight dancing while tipsy, figure out what makes you happy.

But maybe you’re struggling with the sheer amount of choices you have. Let’s narrow things down a bit: what do you loathe? Is it the commercialism of the season, the pressure to decorate, the dislike of ham (I’m telling you, not a fan)? If you hate a lot of the things that come with the holidays, I have great news for you.

You don’t have to do any of it.

You can watch action flicks, tackle a DIY project, go for a hike and have a spiritual moment instead of heading to church…. the options are endless. But to get there, you have to give yourself permission to throw out all of the “traditions.” The guilt might feel palpable, but why do something if they are just obligations you hate? The “shoulds” have no place here in solo-holiday-fest.

Can’t stomach the Hallmark cheese? I suggest a little Gruber for your entertainment. (Credit: flickr)

But what if you love everything about the holidays, yet fell silly cooking for one or two, or decorating a house if no one will visit? Well, let me tell you, there’s no reason to deprive yourself — this is not the time for martyrdom. Decorate that tree and light the candles. Staying in doesn’t mean your sparkly outfit or ugly sweater is going to sit in your closet. Put those on! We’ve all been video calling for months — there’s no reason we can’t organize a party with friends and family and wear our sequined best.

Bust our your ugly sweaters! Tis the season! (Credit: wikicommons)

Frankly, right about now I could use some twinkle lights. But do (or don’t do) you.

Be Prepared

It’s the beginning of November — why start planning now? Cause we’re in a pandemic, and you want to avoid as many germy interactions with humanity as possible.

Grocery shopping can be tenuous on a regular Saturday, but it gets absolutely heinous around the holidays. One Thanksgiving, I decided to cook and asked a couple of friends to join at the last minute. Since it was so close to Turkey Day I had to get a fresh bird — no time to thaw out the frozen ones.

Three stores later, and all my nerves frayed, I grabbed the second-to-last small turkey and made my way home. That stress-filled task was NOT worth it.

Thinking ahead also gives workers a break. From grocery staff, to postal workers, to big-box stores and warehouse workers, they are busting their butts to get you all your crap. But there’s still delays, and that’s just the way it is. Help them catch their breath and not work 14 hour days. Order the puzzles early, get the craft supplies sooner rather than later, and for Pete’s sake, get your booze cabinet and baking supplies stocked before the holiday rush.

a mason jar rilled with a hot toddy drink, topped with star anise and orange slices
Get all the ingredients for your hot drinks BEFORE the rush. (Credit: wikicommons)

I mean, nobody wants to be running out at the last minute for that essential ingredient, a stocking stuffer, or another bottle of whiskey. Make a list and check it twice.

Stay Home

When it’s all said and done, staying home will help keep everyone safe. It can be disappointing to not make the trek, but it doesn’t have to be sad. Spend some time to plan out your new traditions or revamped rituals. It will be worth it next year.

Happy-Merry to you and yours. If there was ever a time, 2020 seems like a perfect year for a stay-at-home holiday. Let’s protect our fellow humans and rethink how to best celebrate.



Freelance science writer and editor. Assistant producer at @BiPiSci radio show. Geologist. Coffee worshiper, hollering hockey fan, wannabe gardener.

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Sarah Derouin

Freelance science writer and editor. Assistant producer at @BiPiSci radio show. Geologist. Coffee worshiper, hollering hockey fan, wannabe gardener.