A year ago, I wrote a post about Holiday Traditions. Here I am a year later writing about how to celebrate the holidays in 2020. What a difference a year makes. 2020 has been challenging to say the least. It’s been downright awful for some people, and that can make the looming holidays seem like they’re going to be another challenge to ‘get through’ this year. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can face another ‘zoom’ holiday.

So, in preparation for today’s post I went back and re-read last year’s post. Some of my ideas back then still apply in this pandemic year of social distancing. Some, obviously, do not. Take, for instance, the idea to invite friends over for weeknight parties. Who would have thought that something as simple as that would be considered taboo just one year later? Are people still doing it? Sure they are. Should they? Hmmmmm….not so much.

And just one year ago, I encouraged everyone to invite family and friends over to cook and/or bake together. This year, I’ve got other ideas about that. And inviting a casual friend that might otherwise be alone for the holidays? Not a good idea.

So what is there to do? Lots. There are a lot of great ideas for ‘social distance’ celebrating with just the people in your “bubble”, or your close circle. Some are my ideas, some I’ve heard about from other people. Some of these ideas are Buffalo specific, but most you can do from anywhere. Let’s take a look.

The Holiday Baking/Cooking Thing

The other day on social media, I saw a post by an acquaintance of mine saying that she had made 242 perogies, and that the first 16 people to comment would get a bag of perogies delivered to their door the next day, with the stipulation that they would then pay it forward. The timing was right, so sure enough, the next day, she showed up at my house, with a bag of perogies, and the request to ‘pay it forward’. Which I will do.

That got me thinking about this holiday season, and how we cannot get together with family and friends to cook and/or bake this year. But why does that have to stop us? I mean, would it be more fun to do it with loved ones? Yes, of course. But, my plan is to bake alone this year, but for other people. I’m going to put on some Christmas music, fire up the oven, and go to town, baking some of my Mother’s best cookie recipes. Mom’s cookies are legendary in my family. Recently one of my sons was asked what his favorite holiday cookie is. His answer? “Anything baked by Grandma Mika.” Good answer.

Mom poses with her “Rocks” cookies. Filled with fall spices, raisins and walnuts, (spoiler alert) they do not taste like rocks.

Mom baked with recipes, but she also made up her own. I remember her showing up at my house one day saying she had an idea for a new cookie and had brought some over for us to test taste. When I tried the cookie, it practically melted in my mouth. She had a gift, my mother.

Paying It Forward

And now, I’m sad to say I have my Mother’s handwritten recipe book. When considering what to do to ‘pay it forward’ for the perogies I received, I will be consulting the book. I don’t share my mother’s gift for baking, but using her recipes gives me the best possible chance to show love to the people I pay it forward to.

Here’s my idea for you. You don’t need to receive perogies from someone to be able to pay it forward. We all have something to be thankful for. No matter how insignificant it may seem. Without all the parties, gift exchanges and running around shopping for extended family and friends, we have time this year to do stuff like this. Do it alone, or with the few people in your “bubble”. Whatever works.

And, it doesn’t necessarily have to be homemade baked goods, or enough for 16 people! Could be two people. Could be bakery bought cookies. Make a pot roast or a spaghetti dinner for a neighbor. Or bake a cake. Or anything your heart desires. Pay it forward your way! You decide.

Come to think of it. This doesn’t have to be a cooking/baking thing. If you knit or crochet, and can make scarves or hats, do that! Deliver them to the city mission. Contact your church, synagogue or mosque and ask if they know a family in need, (they usually do) and send them some anonymous gift certificates, or gently used clothing. Whatever you can do. Just pay it forward.

Thank you Ann, for the perogies, and for the inspiration.

Doing something like this, that takes a little planning and effort on your part, will get you into the holiday spirit!

Send Out Cards This Year

Since we have so much time at home during Covid, why not send out holiday cards this year? No matter what you’re celebrating: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice…wouldn’t it be a great idea to spread some cheer?

Sending out cards for the holidays has fallen out of fashion. I myself sent out cards much longer than a lot of my friends and family. But even I stopped quite a few years ago. What better year to pick it back up again? At a time when we cannot easily go see friends and family, to me it makes sense to spread some holiday cheer by sending greeting cards.

I know the postal service sometimes gets a bad rap, but look at it this way, what other delivery service will pick up right from your home, and send an envelope clear across the country for you, for 55 cents? It might not be what we used to pay, but it’s still a good deal. And it’s a small price to pay to make someone happy.

Also, be thoughtful about it. Along with your family, be sure to send cards to people you think might be surprised to receive one from you. Or someone you know who has lost a loved one this year. Or someone who lives alone, or is lonely (not necessarily the same person). If you have the time, personalize it by writing a note inside.

You get what I mean here. Send out some holiday cheer in the form of greeting cards. It’ll get you in the holiday spirit. And you might just make someone’s day!

Get Outside

This is one that still applies from last year. If you can, get outside into the fresh (cold!) air. Take a walk, or an urban hike. If you have kids, take them with you! Bundle up, of course, and stay out only as long as it’s safe. But do it. And do it often. You’ll feel better, less stressed, and you’ll sleep better at night.

Where to go? Just about anywhere you want. Not sure? Here are a few suggestions.

Right in Your Own Neighborhood

Walk out your front door, make a left (or a right) at the sidewalk and follow it all the way around the block until you’re back to your house. Sounds crazy, but it could be that simple! The point is, that it doesn’t have to be complicated. I have several different walks in my neighborhood that I take regularly. Which one I take depends on how much time I have, which way the wind is blowing (some routes are more windy than others) and how much snow is on the ground!

Aoife on one of our walks, 2019

Be sure to head out occasionally in the early evening when everyone’s lights are on. People have really gone all out this year with their displays. It’ll lift your spirits to see what some people have done! You’ll be amazed!

Or Someone Else’s Neighborhood

Do like I sometimes do. Drive to a neighborhood that interests you, and take an urban hike. Pick one of Olmsted’s parkways, Lincoln, Chapin, Bidwell, Richmond or Porter. Or check out the Parkside neighborhood. The Darwin Martin House is not the only impressive home in that area. There are lots more! Check out Tillinghast Place (one of my favorites!).

Or explore any street in the Elmwood Village too! While you’re there, do some holiday shopping at one of our locally owned shops. Or try one of the residential parks over in Allentown and beyond. Arlington Park, Days Park or Johnson Park.

The point is to get out and do a little urban exploration. You’ll fall in love with our city!

The Waterfront

Or for a change of scenery, head over to the waterfront. I do this all the time. Park near the Swannie House and walk past the Edward M. Cotter, and make your way along the Buffalo River all the way to the lookout at the Erie Basin Marina. Climb the lookout – the views are gorgeous – even in the winter! Head back and get some wings to-go at Swannie House. Yum! (Support our local businesses!) Or if you prefer, head home for some hot cocoa and cookies. Either will hit the spot after a winter walk. During the holidays though, plan for the after party, especially if you’ve got kids. It’ll extend the adventure and make it more memorable.

I’ve heard that some places in Buffalo are selling Tom & Jerry drinks to-go this year. Another thing to be thankful for!

Hit A Park During the Holidays

Live near a park? Even if you don’t, head out to one of Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks, and walk. Park behind the Art Gallery at Delaware Park for instance, and walk around Hoyt Lake. You won’t get lost. There’s a paved path for some of it and a well trodden path for some of it, but if you keep the lake in view, you can’t get lost. This is one of my go to walks during summer and winter alike. It’s so beautiful and peaceful there. And you’ll see plenty of other folks out too! Don’t forget the after party!

A couple of years ago, my sister and I headed over to Delaware Park the morning after getting about 14 inches of snow overnight. It was early, it hadn’t yet been plowed and was it ever gorgeous! The sun wasn’t even shining, but the snow! It looked so beautiful, and peaceful! If you can time one of these walks just after a snowfall, or during a calm snowfall, the whole world will feel different. Quieter, more insulated…peaceful. Try it, you’ll see what I mean.

Plan Ahead for Your Holiday Walks

Plan ahead for a few walks during the holidays, and get creative with the after parties. Get the crock pot going before you go out, and come home to the wonderful smells and tastes that await! Got kids? Finish off the day with one of your family’s favorite board games! Make the game an event! Talk it up to the kids, and they’ll get excited!

Get Creative this Holiday Season

Go Christmas caroling. Seriously. Get the people in your “bubble” to do it with you. You don’t have to get very close to the homes you visit. Get creative by traveling to people’s homes that you know could use a pick me up! Maybe they’ve lost a loved one this year, or have been sick. Maybe you happen to know they’re feeling lonely. Super easy to do, and you could bring some of those cookies to drop off while you’re there! Again, you might just make someone’s day!

Watch some Christmas movies! Now, this sounds like something that we’ve always done to get in the spirit. But this year, make it an event. Cook a special meal to eat while watching. Maybe homemade pizzas with everyone helping and using their favorite toppings. Or make cookies to eat, and cocoa to drink during the movie. Watch the classics, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas and Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus. And ‘new’ classics too! Elf, Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, This Christmas and A Christmas Story. Or whatever your favorites are! Your choice!

Check this Out!

I know a family who, during quarantine last spring, started their own family Olympics! They got really creative and made up silly events and competed with each other! I believe there were upwards of 30 events in all! They did it over several weeks. I, along with many others, followed their progress on social media, including closing ceremonies etc. It was fun to watch, and must have been a blast for them!

The video below is from the Telesco Family Quarantine Olympics – The following quote is the intro to this particular event from facebook.

“Event #2 – Whipped Cream Flip Challenge. The rules: Spray whipped cream on your hand. Flip it up and catch it in your mouth. Top two move on to finals. In the finals, you must flip it up, do a 360 and then catch it. After 4 attempts, if there is a tie, it goes to sudden death in a regular (non-spinning) flip.” I love it.

See how much fun we all could be having with this?! Haha! Now, you don’t have to video your own Olympics and share to social media. But why not plan your own? I thought this was a really creative way to break up the monotony of quarantine. Add a holiday theme, and you might just have fun with it!

Wrap it Up!

Now, I could continue with ideas like getting all of your neighbors to go out on their front steps at 6pm on Christmas Eve to ring bells together to celebrate separately-together this year. Or having a family board game night tournament style (this is not just for kids – keep it to your “bubble” though) with prizes for the winners etc. But I think you get the idea!

Any one of these would surely get you into the holiday spirit.

My Impressions

Sometimes, getting creative can mean stepping back and relaxing a bit. Staying away from the hustle and bustle of the season. Keeping it simple.

The other day I saw someone on TV make an old fashioned paper chain to decorate for Christmas. Always looking for things to do with my grandkids, the next time one of them was over, I pulled out the construction paper, some scissors, and a glue stick. My granddaughter Aoife, my daughter-in-law Kristen and I cut and glued for an hour. Okay, Kristen did almost all of it (thank you!). But Aoife is only three.

But even at three, we were able to convey to her that we were doing something important to get ready for Christmas! When our tree goes up mid-month, as is our tradition, that chain will go on it. And I’ll make it a big deal that Aoife made it, and that it makes our tree perfect this year. I can picture her now, bursting with pride!

That’s what it’s all about if you have kids. YOU have the power to make or break this holiday season for them. Kids will pick up on whatever attitude you project. You will too. If you keep positive with the simple things, this year could turn out to make some of the best holiday memories ever!

It’s The Simple Things

Take some walks in some of Buffalo’s parks. Give to others in a simple way. Have family fun nights. Send greeting cards. Drive around to see the Christmas lights (Buffalo has really gone above and beyond this year!). You get the idea, and most of you are more creative than I am, so have fun with it!

Focus on the positive, even if you have to keep re-focusing on it (I know sometimes I do!). We are all human, and need interaction with others. Perhaps in Buffalo, we have a little more of this than in other cities, in keeping with our ‘Friendliest City in America’ status. But we are creative and can figure out ways to be social while maintaining social distance and staying safe through these unprecedented times. We got this, Buffalo.

Do us all a favor and share your creative holiday ideas in the comments below!

*Special thanks to the Telesco family for allowing me to share that super fun video!

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