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Affordable (and Socially Distant) Holiday Traditions

Written by
Andrew Tavin, CFEI
Andrew Tavin is a personal finance writer who covered budgeting with expertise in building credit and saving for OppU. His work has been cited by Wikipedia, Crunchbase, and Hacker News, and he is a Certified Financial Education Instructor through the National Financial Educators Council.
Read time: 4 min
Updated on May 20, 2022
man with beard wearing a polkadot birthday hat
Don’t wait until the night before Christmas to figure out how to spend your holiday; these cost-effective ideas can help you plan ahead with both your budget and safety in mind.

No matter how chaotic the year, there’s a certain comfort that comes with holiday traditions. This year, however, those traditions may need a COVID-era update. 

Packing as many family members as you can around a Christmas Tree while drinking hot chocolate before going out caroling might be a nice Christmas tradition to uphold in a future year, but this year it would break multiple pandemic guidelines. 

Additionally, many people are entering the holiday season in a difficult financial situation due to the economic effects of the pandemic. If you’re looking at a tight budget this year, Christmas time could be a chance to try out new, scaled-back traditions. By embracing a DIY sentiment and making your gatherings virtual, you can create new traditions to live on beyond these unique days of Christmas.

Which holiday traditions can carry over?

Before you start looking into new traditions, see which family Christmas traditions can carry over, even if the whole family can’t be there.

“Make your same holiday recipes so the holiday brings that holiday sense of smell,” suggests best-selling author and performance coach Erica Keswin. “Set your table with your holiday dinnerware, even if it's just for your immediate family.”

Consider putting up your regular Christmas decorations, Christmas lights, poinsettias, and mistletoe, even if kissing anyone outside of the people living in your house is against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. 

Of course, the suggestion of following old family traditions doesn’t only apply to Christmas -- you can apply this idea to Chanukah or Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice or any other holiday you celebrate. Make those latkes, drink from the Kikombe cha Umoja, or gather around a Yule log, even if all of the usual people aren’t in the room with you.

Keswin recommends getting an early start on your traditions, as we could all use a bit more holiday cheer this year.

The Zoom where it happens

Whether you were raised Christian; nonreligious, but still celebrating Christmas; or just managed to see a trailer for uncanny valley adventure The Polar Express, you know that kids love meeting Santa Claus. But even Rudolph’s nose can’t protect old St. Nicholas from the increased risks of COVID-19 that come with advanced age and life at the North Pole.

So if your kid can’t get a picture on Santa’s lap in person, what’s the next best option? Maybe it’s How to Save Christmas. How to Save Christmas was started by Christmas artist Larry Hersberger, his fiance and business partner Ela Bednarek, and International Santa Claus Hall of Famer Cliff Snider. Realizing earlier this year that in-person Santa visits would be unlikely this Christmas season, Hersberger, Bednarek, and Snider decided to provide a different way. 

How to Save Christmas allows parents to set up a virtual Zoom call with one of hundreds of Santas, which can be a fun way for kids to get a version of the Christmas experience, even if the sugar cookies they leave out may not be eaten this year. How to Save Christmas also allows you to create pretty family photos with Santa for Christmas cards or with a snowman if you’re planning more general holiday cards. 

Of course, Zoom isn’t only for Christmas. You can light the menorah while you video chat with your relatives or have an online winter solstice meditation get-together. 

New year, new traditions

While there is comfort in repeating the same traditions year after year, this could be a time to bond with your friends or relatives over a new tradition. Consider purchasing matching advent calendars and setting a time each day to see what goodies are inside as you countdown the month. Have an eggnog toast before Christmas dinner over Zoom. Have someone pick different Christmas movies to watch each week or Christmas music to explore together over video.

Never built a gingerbread house before? You can follow a recipe for gingerbread pieces along with a relative over Zoom. It could be a fun new tradition and you’ll save money compared to buying premade gingerbread house kits that overcharge for their candy cane pillars. 

Not into gingerbread? You can do the same activity with regular Christmas cookies and have a cookie exchange through the mail. Not into baking? Create your own Christmas ornaments to exchange instead.

DIY gift exchange

Speaking of exchanges, what would the holiday season be without gift-giving? Sure, Christmas songs and movies and TV have taught us that the real meaning of the holidays is in our hearts, but presents are still nice.

You can set a dollar amount with some friends and family, and then make your own Christmas gifts to save money. Even if you aren’t particularly crafty, you can order something simple and within the cost constraints from Amazon and add your own flair. Even a small gift can be meaningful when there’s thought and love behind it.

Making your own Christmas stories

This year, your Christmas Eve, Christmas Morning, and Christmas Day are not going to look like last year, and will probably look different next year, as well. While it may not be the best Christmas you’ll ever have, you can carry forward the new traditions of this year to memorialize what will be -- at the very least -- a distinct holiday season. 

So from all of us to you, have a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, an Umoja-filled Kwanzaa, the best Winter Solstice wishes, and may we move on to a less viral new year.

Article contributors
Erica Keswin

Erica Keswin is a bestselling author, internationally sought-after speaker, and founder of the Spaghetti Project, a roving ritual devoted to sharing the science and stories of relationships at work. She helps individuals improve their performance by honoring relationships in every context, always with an eye toward high-tech for human touch. She was named one of Marshall Goldsmith’s Top 100 Coaches in 2020, as well as one of Business Insider’s most innovative coaches of 2020

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