Safer Alternatives to Your Favorite Holiday Traditions

Shake up your ugly holiday sweater or cookie swap party with a COVID-safe twist.

safe-holiday-traditions: gingerbread house
Photo: Getty Images

Medical experts don't want to rain on your parade (or your ugly sweater party), but attending gatherings to celebrate holidays still increases your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19, according to the CDC.

You can check out some ideas to help you make your Hanukkah or Christmas safer—but what about those other celebrations that are usually in your holiday season calendar? If you still want to gather with loved ones to exchange white elephant gifts or go caroling, there are some creative alternatives that are still big on fun—and big on safety.

Pro Tip: If you want everyone to raise a glass of the same cocktail (or enjoy the same snacks) at your get-together, plan to spend some time delivering goodies to everyone before the festivities begin. Or consider suggesting a menu (i.e., everyone get Mexican food or champagne), so they can order from their favorite local takeout.

01 of 08

Tree Trimming Party

The original: Invite guests over to lighten the load of your holiday decorating—and get a load of your holiday ornament stash.

COVID-safe alternative: Have a virtual holiday tree tour. DIY your decor before the get-together, and on the Zoom call, every attendee can spend a few minutes showing off their favorite holiday decorations before you start chatting over eggnog or Christmas cocktails.

02 of 08

Holiday Brunch

The original: Champagne cocktails and a fabulous feast let you toast to your loved ones well into the afternoon.

COVID-safe alternative: Skip the eggs Benedict and pack up the trail mix for a socially distanced hike with a few close friends to celebrate the season. (Bonus: you'll get a head start on your "healthier you" New Year's resolution.)

03 of 08

Gingerbread House or Cookie Decorating Party

The original: At this frosting-filled fest, everyone decks out their favorite goodies to bring home with them.

COVID-safe alternative: Drop off the ingredients (bare cookies, royal icing, and assorted candies and sprinkles), and invite everyone for a virtual party to adorn their sweets together. Or host a contest to see who made the coolest or most creative options on their own.

04 of 08

Caroling Party

The original: You and your crew sing your favorite holiday tunes around your fireplace (or your neighborhood).

COVID-safe alternative: Since singing together (even outdoors) can be problematic, invite your friends to join you for a little virtual Christmas karaoke. Internet lags can make it hard for everyone to stay in tune and in time, so have your guests queue up their favorite holiday songs and perform them for everyone. (Let the shy folks sing along with their favorite rendition. That way, they'll get a little extra courage to belt out "Little Drummer Boy" when they're backed by Bing and Bowie.)

05 of 08

Cocktail Party

The original: Everyone gets dressed up and raises a glass of your signature drinks, while enjoying festive holiday snacks.

COVID-safe alternative: If you still want the swank, you've got to go with a virtual cocktail party. To up the wow factor for your virtual get-together, hire a mixologist to walk everyone through making a wild cocktail, or look on sites like Airbnb or Cameo to add a unique experience or a celebrity pop-in to your Zoom.

Otherwise, keep it casual with a socially distanced bonfire get-together. Offer hot drinks—hot toddies, spiked hot chocolate, coffee cocktails, mulled cider or wine—and make a s'mores bar with different add-ons (Nutella, peanut butter, crushed peppermints), to upgrade the campfire classic.

Related: 11 Cozy Cocktail Recipes

06 of 08

Cookie Swap

The original: Gather with a dozen of your closest friends to swap sweets so you get a wide variety of cookies to taste for the holidays.

COVID-safe alternative: It's hard to swap cookies virtually, so plan for a brief in-person (outdoor!) meetup. Have everyone arrive with enough pre-boxed goodies for each guest, and serve a little hot cocoa and some cookies for a socially distanced get-together. (Pro tip: Plan the party for mid-afternoon, so it's warm enough to gather outside.)

Related: Create the Ultimate Patio for Outdoor Entertaining

07 of 08

Ugly Sweater Party

The original: Show off your most grotesque or gaudy fa-la-la-la-la fashions at a kitschy cool cocktail party.

COVID-safe alternative: Opt for an ugly sweater parade, where guests can strut their stuff and show off their sweaters, then raise a quick socially distanced toast at the end of the line. (Pro tip: There are even invitations specially made for this!)

08 of 08

Holiday Gift Exchange

The original: Whether you call it secret Santa, white elephant, or want to try one of these fun gift exchange options, this involves choosing names and giving gifts (thoughtful or funny!).

COVID-safe alternative: Elf your friends instead! Sneak over to your chosen recipient's house, drop the gift on their doorstep, then hit the doorbell and run (bonus points for not getting caught on their smart doorbell/camera setup). Set a deadline for surprising guests, then have a virtual get-together where gift recipients can discover who supplied their surprise.

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