8 Joyful Alternatives To A Traditional Holiday Celebration

No dinner and presents? No problem.

by Jessica Goodman
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If you’re someone whose holiday traditions are not quite etched in stone, it can seem like everyone on the planet has longstanding, immovable plans with friends and family as soon as the winter months hit. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the season with some unexpected yet wildly celebratory events. Unconventional activities can still put you in the holiday spirit whether you’re at home or heading out on a little adventure. Think: the most relaxing wellness retreat of your life, excellent seats at an NBA game, or donating your time to an organization that means a lot to you.

Whether you’re learning a new skill, giving back to your community, having some serious ~self-care~, or making new friends, here are eight alternative ways to celebrate the holidays.

Hit The Slopes

Even though most ski resorts are packed come winter, Christmas Day is known for being a fantastic time to hit the slopes, since most skiers stay home. Just make sure to check your preferred mountain’s holiday schedule; some mountains tweak their hours to accommodate the crowds. Seasoned winter athletes with bigger budgets may want to head to Telluride Ski Resort, Aspen/ Snowmass, or Vail, all in Colorado. For a less trafficked getaway, try the low-key Bear Valley Lodge in Bear Valley, California, with rooms available around Christmas for under $300 a night or Bellayre Mountain in the Catskills, which is close to tons of upstate inns, bed and breakfasts, and short-term rentals, and is open on Christmas.

Indulge Yourself On A Relaxing Vacay

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Want to recharge and re-center yourself ahead of the new year? Book a stay at a wellness-centered hotel, where you can experience a full-service spa, yoga classes, hikes, workshops, soaking tubs, and more. Try Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs, California, where rooms during the holiday season start at $475, or Ojo Spa Resorts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where rooms during the holiday season start at $375. To find other retreats of all types, check out

Watch The Game

In the past, the NBA has owned Christmas, and this year, the lineup includes matchups in New York, Dallas, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Boston. But football fans can get excited this year, too: the NFL is also holding Christmas Day games. (Check out the schedule here.) If one is in your market, grab tickets, a jersey, and prepare to cheer — and if not, sports bars are notoriously packed on Christmas for fans to watch their teams with a crowd.

Party At The Matzo Ball

Every Christmas Eve, thousands of partygoers head out to the Matzo Ball, an annual celebration geared toward Jewish singles (though anyone over 21 years old can attend). This year, fetes will be held in New York, Miami, Boca Raton, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Los Angeles. Ticket prices vary by location and begin at $40.

Hang 10 And Ride Waves

If you’ve ever had the itch to learn how to surf for a full week straight, book yourself a surf retreat in Costa Rica with Pura Vida. From daily lessons to sunset rides, it’ll take you from beginner to wave-rider in just a few days. The all-inclusive trip runs from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4; rates begin at $4,295.


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Seek out local organizations in your area that need extra hands during big holiday rushes. Think food banks, soup kitchens, local hospitals, nursing homes, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, and animal shelters. Find a cause that speaks to you and reach out to their volunteer organizers to see how you can make an impact with your time and energy.

Catch A Double (Or Triple!) Feature

Sure, the movies are a time-honored Christmas pastime for those who don’t celebrate the holiday, but heading to see Oscar-worthy flicks on the big screen during the snowy season can be ideal for anyone who wants to catch a film with a full crowd. (Christmas was once named the most popular day to go to the movies.)

Enjoy The Great Outdoors

Pack up the car with your tent, sleeping bag, a portable stove, and some s’mores, and book a campsite at your local park — or head into the wilderness for a backpacking trip. If you need inspo, try Dry Tortugas National Park near Key West, Florida, or Wildrose Campground in Death Valley, California, both of which provide mild winter temperatures and have entrance fees beginning at $15. But since it’s December, just remember to check the forecast and bring all your cold-weather camping gear with you.