How To Celebrate Holidays Remotely If You Can’t Be With Family

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When you're used to gathering around a table with family, the mere thought of celebrating a holiday remotely can feel like a massive letdown. So much of the struggle of social distancing is, after all, centered around "isolation and change of habits," Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, tells Bustle. Self-isolation is tough on an average day, but missing out on favorite holiday traditions can magnify those feelings, and make it that much harder.

There are, however, countless ways to feel close, and maintain some sense of normalcy, even when you're forced to break from the norm and stay apart from loved ones, Pratt says. Think of all the FaceTime chats you've been having, the Zoom parties, and the Skype calls. These very same tools can come in handy when reaching out to family, and celebrating from afar.

And, yes, experts say celebrating is something you could continue to do, even though it may seem pointless or strange at first. "Gathering remotely can remind us of the things we are grateful for, such as community and tradition," Pratt says, and that is essential for maintaining your mental health.

Narrate What's Going On

If you miss the feeling of being in the kitchen with your family as you stir pots and season side dishes, go ahead and recreate that coziness by hopping on a call, and detailing the experience over the phone.

Describe the behind-the-scenes action, Laura M. Wagner, LMFT, a licensed marriage, and family therapist and life coach, tells Bustle, by talking about what you're cooking, how you're setting the table, which candles you're lighting, etc.

As Wagner says, this narration will offer a way to experience the comfort and familiarity of the holiday, even while social distancing.

Try Recreating Recipes At Home

Nothing will replace a home-cooked meal or your mom's famous green bean casserole. But it might be fun (and comforting) to recreate these familiar recipes yourself.

Talk about the dishes you'd likely make if you were together, Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT, a licensed marriage, and family therapist, tells Bustle, then cook them all individually.

"When it’s time for dinner," she says, "do a group call and eat at the same time. You’ll all be eating the same foods and getting to enjoy the conversations as if you were together."

Share What You're Grateful For

Once you've settled around your perspective tables, go around and ask each family member to offer something they are grateful for, Wagner says, or something that has become more important to them during these uncertain times.

While this tradition is typically reserved for Thanksgiving, purposefully focusing on the positives in life — even if it's something small — can change the entire mood of your holiday.

If it feels right, you might even want to share something funny that's happened recently. According to Wagner, humor is incredibly healing, and laughing together can provide a much-needed release, especially when you're sad or lonely.

Work On A Collective Project

Think of the holiday traditions that mean the most to you, and then work on them collectively, from afar.

If you love to dye eggs on Easter, for instance, set up that trusty FaceTime call once again, and dye those eggs together. "Collaboration is key," Pratt says, "and maintaining a collective 'we' during the holidays is essential to feel close to family."

Do Readings Via FaceTime

If your holiday includes readings, take turns saying them aloud via video, Dr. Kimberly Dwyer, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. Or find a live stream of a worship service you typically attend and watch it together. "Sharing traditions and participating over live video feed can help people to participate in the routine of the celebration while being reminded that they are part of a community," Dwyer says. And again, that's the key to feeling more positive during trying times.

Send Each Other Flowers Or Notes

If it's feasible, consider sending your family members flowers or a hand-written note as a way of making the holiday feel special.

"This can be a way of maintaining closeness with people that are typically included in celebrations," Jennifer Litner, MSc, MEd, LMFT, CST, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "It's also an opportunity to express feelings of love and care towards one another that may not be expressed verbally."

Do Things Differently — On Purpose

All of that said, "for some families, the idea of trying to recreate a well-worn family tradition may feel more sad than positive," Pratt says. So if you hate the idea of watching your family eat dinner without you, ask if they'd be willing to break from tradition and try something new.

As Pratt says, "It may actually be more effective and beneficial for your mental health to try something completely different." Watch a holiday movie, do an art project, go on a solo walk around the neighborhood while talking on the phone — whatever feels right.

Your holiday won't be the same while everyone's self-quarantined, but you can make the day special by reaching out to family, recreating traditions, or even inventing new ones, as a way of celebrating and staying close.


Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, psychotherapist in private practice in NYC

Laura M. Wagner, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist and life coach

Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist

Dr. Kimberly Dwyer, clinical psychologist

Jennifer Litner, MSc, MEd, LMFT, CST, licensed marriage and family therapist