It’s safe to say that 2020 didn’t leave anyone unscathed. We’re all feeling the emotional toll of a year that challenged us, pushed us beyond our limits, and tested us.
As the holidays approach, there’s no doubt that the season will look different — but thankfully, the spirit is still alive and well.
We tapped our Camille Styles’ editorial team to ask how everyone is embracing the moment and making this year just as memorable as the last. From taking a tour of the neighborhood Christmas lights to baking a new holiday recipe or ditching screens and getting crafty, scroll on for lots of ideas on how to make Christmas feel special.
Take a Road Trip
“For Christmas, my husband and I are driving to Cleveland to be with his family. We haven’t seen them in two years and I have witnessed the effect that distance has had on my husband’s well being. I decided to take it upon myself to build a strict health protocol as his parents initially weren’t comfortable with us visiting. We’ll be quarantining, getting tested three days in advance, and making the 20-hour drive to avoid crowds. It will be so worth it to spend quality time together… and maybe see some holiday snow.”
Donate Your Travel Funds to Charity
“This year we are feeling incredibly grateful for everything we have been blessed with, including our health. Though we are sad and disappointed we won’t be seeing our extended family, we decided to use the money we would typically spend traveling to gift four children through baby2baby. A tradition we will be continuing in the future. I’ll get to wake up in my own home on Christmas morning with my kids, and I’m going to try and make cinnamon rolls from scratch and hope we stay in our pj’s all day. And because I really want a photo of the kids on Santa’s lap, my husband has volunteered to dress up as Santa and play the part for my photo. I can’t wait to see what magic organically unfolds throughout the day.”
Send a Care Package to Those Who Can’t Come Home
“This is the first time my sister and I won’t be with our family for the holidays, which we’re of course sad about, but also take comfort in knowing it was the right call for us. We’re sticking with all of our traditions: Chinese takeout and a Christmas movie on Christmas Eve; Christmas Day kicks off with a run around Town Lake, followed by staying in our cozies all day while I make these red wine short ribs, mini herbed pommes anna, and this kale salad and enjoy it with a few glasses of wine as we FaceTime with our parents.
“We’re not a big gift-giving family as we prefer to take trips together instead, but we are sending a box of our parents’ favorite things from Austin since they couldn’t make it this year. I traditionally stay in on New Year’s Eve, order pizza, watch a movie, and head to bed before the ball drops. I’m most excited for New Year’s Day—we’re headed out for a long hike, followed by a Russ & Daughters schmear and caviar breakfast. Keeping it very chill, safe, and relaxed.”
Bake a New Holiday Recipe
“This year, we’ll spend all of Christmas Day at home with family, so I’m going to use those low-key hours to finally make a Bûche De Noël: a traditional holiday sponge cake also known as a Yule Log. I’ve always wanted to make a really beautiful one, but it’s kind of a project—and this year I finally have time to do it. After the presents have been opened and we’ve done our neighborhood walk, Phoebe and I will put on our aprons and make meringue mushrooms, carve chocolate ganache to resemble tree bark—and at the end of the night, everyone will sit around the fire and demolish our artistic creation.”
See the Quiet Time as a Chance to Rest
“This is the first year that I will not be spending Christmas with my grandparents and cousins, so it will just be my family of five. Even though I will miss seeing the rest of my family, it will be a special time for us because this will be the last Christmas that it’s just the five of us—my sister gets married in May! We will be slightly modifying our usual traditions by live-streaming the church service on Christmas Eve on our living room couch, followed by a family gift exchange, and a family dinner. We’ll celebrate Christmas Day with a big brunch, and later, our traditional fajita dinner with margaritas! While the energy level will be different this year without my two young cousins running around, I plan to embrace and enjoy the more mellow and intimate celebration we have planned.”
Host a Chili Cook-Off
“My family will be spending the holidays in the mountains this year, so we’re fully embracing a white Christmas and getting cozy indoors. While we’re sad to miss time with our extended family this year, we’re grateful for a safe place to retreat for a low-key week of lounging and treats.
“We usually kick off Christmas day with a classic breakfast of chocolate-chip pancakes and bacon, followed by exchanging gifts in our pajamas. We then plan to brave the freezing temps and go for a walk outside with the dogs, snow, or shine, and my brother will definitely attempt to spark a snowball fight or two along the way. For Christmas dinner, we’re mixing it up and making personal pizzas in the pizza oven this year, and I fully plan on getting festive with allll the red and green veggies on top.
“New Year’s Eve will be spent around the table playing games, and speaking of new traditions, our crew of nine is dividing into teams and having our first annual chili cook-off on New Years Day. The winners are relieved of dish duty for the rest of the trip. Wish me luck!”
Tour the Christmas Lights in Your Neighborhood
We’re usually pretty lowkey about the holiday since it’s just the four of us, but this year we’re going to make a giant thermos of hot chocolate, pack a huge cookie box, and go do some Christmas light watching—and not just in our neighborhood but other parts of Houston as well! It’s always my favorite night of the year and it feels so magical to be huddled up in the car with my family as all the pretty Christmas lights go by. Plus, I feel like everyone went all out with the decorations this year so it will feel even more festive! Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday.”
Start a New Holiday Tradition
“My husband Evan and I both work in healthcare and offered to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas day since we can’t travel and don’t have family close by like many of our co-workers. To keep things feeling special on Christmas Eve day we’ll try to get to work super early and get everything done so we can spend the afternoon and evening together making pierogis from scratch. My Polish grandmother Joan Zielinski was a huge believer in passing down cultural and family traditions. My tradition to carry on is making pierogis (Polish dumplings) during the days before Christmas. This is an all-day super tedious process, but I love thinking about the many women in my family doing the same every year as I watch my hands roll out dough. Plus, there’s something about sipping wine and listening to Christmas music, getting flour and potato filling everywhere, that can make any place feel like you’re home for the holidays.
“We’ll be sure to end Christmas Eve around the fireplace with a nightcap of what is normally a Christmas morning tradition, a few glasses of spiced rum milk punch. Christmas day I’m on the first call for my job as a midwife so if I’m not delivering any Christmas babes (which honestly, would be fun) after my husband gets off work we’ll hit the foothills of the Sandia Mountains for a hike with our pup Milagros, followed by tamales (another Christmas tradition on my mom’s side).
“We are still working on what our little family’s Christmas traditions will be as we carve this year out on our own. As we navigate this very different season, I have been coming back to this quote by Susan Lieberman to remind me that we’re all in this together despite the distance: ‘Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.’”
Unplug and Crack Open the Craft Box
“Christmas time usually means a big gathering of all my seven siblings (and their families) at my parent’s home with a full weekend of traditions and celebrations. This year, we’re switching it up and heading to the mountains for a cozy escape at a cabin about an hour from any town. No service, no WiFi, just lots of cooking, hikes in the snow, chats by the fire, and quality time. Since we won’t really be going anywhere once we’re there, we plan on busting out all the Christmas crafty things. There will be a gingerbread house building contest, ornament making with the kids, a nativity play, and Christmas cookie baking. Our family opens gifts on Christmas Eve, so Christmas Day is for opening stockings and cooking a big family brunch (we make this recipe every year) and maybe a talent show from the littles.
Put a New Spin on an Old Tradition
My family and I have decided to throw our pre-Covid Christmas traditions to the wind…. because what could possibly be more fitting to close out this roll-with-the-punches year we’ve had? Our group is quarantining and testing leading up to the holidays (I write this from my at-home work desk with multiple kids schooling from the kitchen table). Then, once we safely come together, our usual Christmas Eve candlelight church service and chili night will be replaced with a homespun nativity play and potluck Italian dinner. I’ll be bringing an Italian-style cheese board and this oven risotto with Tuscan kale pesto. Oh, and the night wouldn’t be complete with some traditional Italian panettone. Buon Natale! – Anne Campbell
Swap Screens for Puzzles and Board Games
“We typically like to mix it up each Christmas—one year it’s with my in-laws and the next it’s with my family in Australia. This year we won’t be heading Down Under sadly because the flights are too expensive and Australia also requires everyone to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks—which I applaud but we can’t afford to take that much time off. So, we’re getting tested and driving the 9-hours to be with family in Pinetop, Arizona. It’s beautiful and so quiet up there with patchy WiFi so you’re forced to relax and sign off from your regular life (which we all need!). I am going to buy some new puzzles and board games to keep us entertained the old school way and we might even look into some snowboarding lessons for our son at the nearby ski slopes.”