No matter your faith, family traditions or shopping plans, the 2020 holiday season will be different than any other in recent memory. Reduced travel, altered family plans, smaller gatherings (if any), and changes in shopping habits will all have an impact on children and families this year. While there will be challenges to this holiday season, there will also be many new opportunities for your family.


The Discussion

The first challenge families face this year is deciding what the holidays will look like. Then, you must talk with your family about how this season will be different from previous years. For parents/caregivers, make sure you have talked through all the important decisions beforehand. When key decisions are already made – or are at least pared down to a few choices the family will discuss together – it can lessen frustration for children.   

The Plan

There is no "right thing" to do this holiday season. Your family’s plans may depend on the makeup of your family, distance to travel, weather or typical traditions. The key is to plan now. That way, you and your family have time to adjust to any changes. Leaving planning until the last minute can cause anxiety for you and your children. Starting now allows you to come up with creative ways to make this year special and to think about things that you haven’t had to think about before. 


Despite everyone's best efforts, there are likely to be disagreements about the "right" thing to do this holiday season. What about the baby that no one has been able to meet yet? What about the grandparents who only get to see everyone together a few times per year? Can we really exclude a few members of the family who haven't been practicing safety guidelines?

While this may not be possible in every family, the best thing you can do is have an honest discussion. Share your feelings and do your best to listen and understand their feelings. More than usual, this should be a time to come together as a family and avoid judgement about family members who have different views or needs. Enter the conversation knowing things won't be the same this year and explore creative solutions to anything you may still disagree about.


Although there will be many challenges to the upcoming holiday season, there are also opportunities to lessen the frustration about missing your "normal" holiday traditions:

Take Stock

Many families have deeply rooted traditions that go back generations. Sometimes we continue these traditions year after year without thinking about why we do them. Take stock of these traditions this year:

  • When did they start?
  • Do you know how they started?
  • What do the traditions mean to you?

Talking about them as a family can help you think about creative ways to keep these traditions this year, even if they look a little different.

For example, if there is a family recipe that is passed down, have a virtual cooking lesson. Share the recipe, then the person who typically makes it can teach other family members. For many families, the most important tradition is having everyone together. Can you create a sense of togetherness another way? Maybe through a shared game, storytelling or a picture slide show of the last year.

Start Something New

Traditions are a way to maintain connection with those closest to you. They are shared experiences that are repeated to strengthen bonds between people and groups. Sometimes they are based on cultural beliefs and sometimes on our personal interests, like watching a sports game with close friends. 

This year, think about starting a new tradition. If you live near your extended family, try a recipe competition. Have everyone make the same dish (e.g., pumpkin pie, green bean casserole or tamales) using their own recipe and then deliver some to the rest of the family for a coordinated taste test. Or meet at an outdoor park for a picnic or series of games. You never know, a new tradition you start this year may end up becoming a regular part of your family plans in future years.

Focus on Giving and Gratitude

Many of us can name what we are going without this holiday season. But research shows that focusing on gratitude and giving has a positive impact on our mental wellbeing. Because of the pandemic and resulting financial challenges, more families than usual are living with hardship this year.

If your family is able, make a commitment to focus on gratitude and giving this year. It will benefit you as much as those that receive your support. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Complete Growing Our Gratitude.
  2. Choose a charity and donate some of the money you would typically spend on holiday gatherings.
  3. Work as a family to raise money for a local food pantry or other nonprofit that provides basic needs in the community.
  4. Choose an area of your neighborhood to clean up and beautify.
  5. Offer to decorate for an elderly neighbor who is unable to.
  6. Cook extra portions of your family’s traditional meal and deliver it to a neighbor in a contact-free way.
  7. Participate in a holiday gift bank or adopt a family and provide gifts for a family in need.