Spending the holidays apart from loved ones won’t be easy this year, after so many months of isolation and social distancing already. But with a little creativity, it’s possible to keep everyone busy. Many of these holiday activities will help you connect with family and friends you can’t see in-person.
1. Do a holiday books version of an Advent calendar: wrap up a bunch of books and unwrap one book to read per night. (Bonus: buy them from a local independent bookstore.) You could also try out the app Caribu, which is designed for virtual reading sessions with grandparents.
2. Have your kids draw holiday cards to deliver to lonely seniors in local long-term care facilities or retirement homes.
3. Mail matching PJs to family members you miss, and do a family photo using the Zoom gallery view grid.
4. Build the biggest gingerbread house you’ve ever attempted (or have a decorating contest between the kids). You can always buy a kit instead of making from scratch.
5. Watch an online version of The Nutcracker as a family. (The National Ballet of Canada has partnered with Cineplex this year.)
6. Build an “acts of kindness” or gratitude chain, day by day, with paper chain loops with something you are grateful for, or an act of kindness your kids can do as an activity, written on each link. (Full credit to Busy Toddler for this idea.) Get the instructions here: Kindness Countdown to Christmas
7. Order takeout from a new-to-you cuisine on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Eve—no cleanup or prep! Chinese food on Christmas Eve is a great tradition to start, and local restaurants need your support now more than ever.
8. Go sledding or ice skating, if outdoor rinks or skating trails are open. (Many are doing ticketed ice times at reduced capacity.)
9. If your family lives within driving distance, see if you can meet up for a COVID-safe, physically distanced outdoor hike together this year, depending on your local restrictions.
10. Mail a hot cocoa kit for everyone to enjoy together over Zoom or FaceTime, with cocoa mix and marshmallows. (Adults can do egg nog or Bailey’s!)
11. Another easy idea from Busy Toddler: Recycle all those cardboard shipping boxes that are accumulating and do a Christmas tree craft with masking tape and washable paint. Get the instructions here: Tape Resist Christmas Tree Art Activity
12. Bake Christmas cookies and do porch deliveries to your neighbours and more local friends. (You can also mail cookies to faraway family. Here’s how!)
13. Make sure you’ve watched every holiday movie on this list. Better yet, make a Bingo card or write all the movies on strips of paper in a jar, and pull one out when the kids are bored. Popcorn, and pillows and sleeping bags by the Christmas tree, can make it extra special. Services like Teleplay (formerly Netflix Party) allow you to co-watch the same show or movie at the same time as faraway friends or relatives.
14. Go on a drive to look at neighbourhoods with the best holiday lights, with Christmas carols playing on the radio.
15. Go for a physically distanced walk to look at department store holiday window displays, if your city has them.
16. Actually hang some mistletoe this year! And shower your spouse (and kids!) with kisses.
17. Try one of these special Christmas drinks or mocktails, and turn the fireplace channel on your TV or Netflix.
18. Make these kid-friendly DIY photo gifts for relatives who are really missing the kids this year.
19. Do a family spa session with silly skincare sheet masks, holiday manicures, and drinks or mocktails over Zoom.
20. Pictionary or Charades are easy games that work well for all ages over Zoom or FaceTime. Set a holiday theme or limit the categories (eg, kids’ holiday movies).
21. If you’ve got older kids, sign up for a digital escape room. It may ring a little too true during COVID lockdowns for some, but it can be a super fun bonding activity for a family or bigger group. This one is Christmas-themed (players are elves helping Santa).
Here are the COVID-safe holiday activities the Today’s Parent editors are planning this year:
“My parents are making big batches of traditional Venezuelan dishes (hallacas and pan de jamón) to porch-deliver to my sister and me, so we can have a taste of ‘home’ over the holidays.” —Simone Olivero, senior editor
“After we put out the milk and cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer, my mom is going to FaceTime us to read the kids The Polar Express and The Night Before Christmas, which is what we would normally do at her house on Christmas Eve.” —Ariel Brewster, senior editor
“We’ve been lighting the Hanukkah candles while FaceTiming my mom, and on the last night we’ll video chat with my brother’s family for the candle lighting.” —Kim Shiffman, editor in chief
“My fam and I are gonna try to wrap lumpia (Filipino spring rolls) together over Zoom. I think a lot of people are doing online cook-alongs or bake-alongs this year.” — Kevin John Siazon, associate editor
“I’m 37 and have never made a pie. Since we can’t travel to see our families for Christmas (for the first time ever in my life), my mom is gonna teach me how to make her traditional apple pie recipe over FaceTime. I guess this is the year to finally learn!” —Ariel Brewster, senior editor
“I’ve been collecting comfort items (chocolate, cozy socks, candles, jam) over the last few months that I’m going to put together into gift baskets for my family. They will likely also feature some of my four-year-old’s crafts and paintings.”— Simone Olivero, senior editor
“After the kids are down, my sister on the West Coast and I are going to pour a glass of wine and wrap our presents ‘together,’ while watching a cheesy Christmas movie at the same time.” —Ariel Brewster, senior editor
“We usually attend a Christmas dinner with relatives but this year we’re going the whole nine yards as a family—roasting our first turkey, making stuffing, mashed potatoes, carrots and beans. We’ll buy the lemon meringue pie, TYVM—a mom of two under four can only handle so much—but we’re going to try to get the kids involved, too, as we drink some afternoon wine and nibble on cheese and crackers. It sounds way more civilized than it will end up being, trust me, but we’re going for it! And then we’ll make care packages for our parents and siblings.” —Jess Pollack, deputy editor
“This isn’t necessarily holiday-related, but we’ll do it over the school break: my six-year-old has been playing Uno together with his grandma over FaceTime. I hold the cards up to the iPad for her and she tells me which card to play.” —Ariel Brewster, senior editor