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The holidays are going to look a little different this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the season with lots of love, joy and togetherness (even if some of it happens via Zoom). From Christmas tree campouts to virtual snowmen building competitions, here are 25 ideas for new holiday traditions that will make this festive season the best one yet.

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kid playing chess
Elva Etienne/Getty Images

1. Host a board game tournament

Small talk, sit-down dinner, nap-inducing mashed potatoes, repeat. The holidays have always had a way of leaving your family in a party rut (and that was before you’d all spent the last six months cooped up together). A game tournament can change that. In an effort to get everyone’s attention to focus on something other than Instagram, create a line up with new takes on the classics, like Reverse Charades ($15) or Telestrations ($26) and watch how a little friendly competition changes the whole night. Don’t forget to pick a prize for the top (board) gamer.

2. Throw a holiday movie marathon

Whether you’re searching for a kid-friendly classic to enjoy with the family or a festive rom-com to give you all the feels, we’ve got you covered with the best holiday movies that you can stream right now. And with clever apps like Houseparty and Gaze, you can easily watch together with your loved ones, even when you’re apart. Set aside an entire day for the event and bring on the bottomless eggnog.

christmas gifts under tree
Twenty20

3. Do a mystery gift swap

If you have a large family, you know the struggle: Between your brother’s longtime girlfriend and your newly minted sister-in-law, your gift-buying list keeps on growing…and your wallet keeps on shrinking. That’s why we’re fans of the mystery gift swap. Each family member picks a name out of a hat and is only responsible for giving a gift to that one person. It may seem like you’re getting gypped at first, but because it’s just one gift, you can make the monetary limit substantial. Meaning, everyone gets one super amazing present, instead of three pairs of socks and a tie (again).

4. Host a holiday reading

Bummed that you’re not celebrating with your niece who lives across the country? Or are you sorely missing your uncle who’s quarantining? Send everybody a Zoom invitation and host a holiday reading of a classic. Make it extra festive by cozying up to the fireplace (or streaming a yule log on the TV), playing some soft tunes in the background and reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas ($9) or Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins ($18). The more dramatic the reading, the better.

hot chocolate in holiday mug
Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

5. Do a mug swap

Since most people use a mug (or three) every day for their coffee or tea, opt for a mug swap in place of the traditional cookie swap. Rather than assigning each person to someone specific, keep things interesting with a white elephant mug exchange. PSA: There are many different ways to play white elephant (including a few online versions that allow for social distancing), so just be sure to go over the rules clearly before the swap, that way everyone knows which version to expect.

6.Listen to a festive audio book

In the lead-up to the holidays, queue up a classic holiday story (like The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, $11) and snuggle in for a nightly audio session with your pod. It’s a fun way to build up the excitement for the holidays, plus you’ll get to tackle a book that you’ve always meant to read.

friends standing around piano
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

7. Put on a talent show

If you want to go all out, put on a full-blown talent show. In order for your show to be the best it can be, you’ll need to let guests know ahead of time so they can properly prepare. You don’t want Aunt Madge left up onstage awkwardly whistling her favorite tune…but then again, that might be pretty unforgettable. Don’t forget to set up your computer so that you can stream the show to friends and family who aren’t able to attend.

8. Make your own holiday decoration or game

Whether you DIY a tree ornament, craft your own dreidel or create a modern Kinara, kids (and grown-ups, too) will love tackling a festive project and showing off their hard work in time for the big celebration.

9. Hold a snowman building contest

Get your friends and family on board with this contest by asking that everyone makes their own fake snow (if there’s none to be had outside) and pick a day. When everyone’s ready, set the timer and give your group 30 minutes to complete the task. When the time is up, everyone has to snap a photo of their creation (or film it) and send it to the group chat and vote for their favorite. May the best snowman win.

holiday traditions thumbprint cookies
Photo: Liz Andrew/ Styling: Erin McDowell

10. Bake a holiday treat

Is it even the holiday season if we’re not indulging in sweet treats? Gather your nearest and dearest and try your hand at homemade sugar cookies, jelly doughnuts, thumbprint cookies and more. But make it your very own special holiday tradition by adding your own signature touch (like extra chocolate chips or crushed candy canes). Then give your treat a name (“the Smith family’s Spectacular Snickerdoodles”) and whip up the same sweet every year.

11. Donate to those in need

Make it an annual winter tradition to help those less fortunate. There are many ways to do that, but here are some ideas to get started with: Go through closets and donate gently used clothing (coats are especially useful) to a local shelter, check with your local library or school and find out if they are hosting a toy drive, seek out the nearest food bank and figure out what nonperishables they need or donate money to a cause that’s close to your heart.

12. Make a holiday card

Even if you can’t be together this year, you can still show grandparents, friends and colleagues how much you miss them with a handmade holiday card. This unicorn holiday card is super easy to pull off but why not try something a little more ambitious like this Christmas tree shadow box card? If you want to spread the cheer beyond just your nearest and dearest, send a few homemade greetings to the nonprofit Cards for Hospitalized Kids to distribute to children who could use some cheering up.

holiday traditions gingerbread
Elva Etienne/Getty Images

13. Make a gingerbread house

If making your own slab of gingerbread sounds too ambitious, don’t worry: There are tons of great kits that you can buy online (you can’t go wrong with this mini gingerbread village, $27) and we’ve got a few gingerbread house floorplans to help you think outside the (candy-covered) box. To make it socially distant-approved, mail the same kit to your sister and brother who live across the country and ask that everyone snap a photo of their final creation.

14. Remember those who can’t be there

A lovely way to honor loved ones who are no longer with us is to make a favorite recipe of theirs. You can also do this for family members that are unable to celebrate with you this year due to Covid-19. While you’re tucking into nana’s famous chicken casserole, talk about how much you miss her and reminisce.

15. Check out the holiday lights in your area

Hop in a car and go for a drive around the neighborhood for a fun, socially distant and festive way to celebrate the season. Just don’t forget to bring some snacks for the ride.

holiday traditions family pajamas
Hanna Andersson

16. Get matching pajamas

Stay warm and cozy in style this holiday season with a set of matching pajamas for the entire clan. Cheesy? Definitely. But who cares when you’re this comfortable (and the kids look that adorable)? You can’t go wrong with this Hanna Andersson’s organic cotton set ($46; $33) or L.L.Bean’s classic Scotch plaid design ($45).

17. Write a holiday letter

You could send out a holiday email blast but it’s so much more fun to get a letter in the mail, don’t you think? Have every member of the family contribute to the letter by including one thing that they’re grateful for this year—and don’t forget to have everyone sign with a marker in their favorite color.

18. Hide the Christmas pickle

Presenting the weird but wonderful Christmas pickle tradition: The night before Christmas, an ornament shaped like a pickle ($8) is hung in the tree secretly. And when everyone wakes up on Christmas morning, it’s a race to see who will be the first to find it. Whoever locates the pickle gets a special gift.

holiday traditions smores
Photo: Liz Andrew/ Styling: Erin McDowell

19. Have a hot cocoa and s'mores night

No fireplace? No worries. You can make s’mores in the oven or buy an indoor s’mores maker ($20). Just don't skimp on the marshmallows and consider trying out a variety of chocolate flavors.

20. Count down with an advent calendar

Whether it’s filled with beauty samples, chocolate treats or mini bottles of wine (hey, mama could use a drink), there’s an advent calendar for everyone in the family. Because who doesn’t want to receive a treat each day of December?

21. Pick Out A Tree

Choosing and trimming the tree for the holidays is a highlight of the season. Bundle up and visit a local tree farm to find the perfect one, making sure to stream some classic holiday tunes on the way.

holiday traditions decorating the tree
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

22. Have a Christmas tree campout

Once you’ve found your tree, it’s time to decorate it—but why not make a night out of it? After all the ornaments have been hung with care, bring the sleeping bags into the living room so that you can snuggle by the tree and admire your hard work. Don’t forget the hot cocoa.

23. Throw an ugly sweater party

Keep it intimate with your quarantine pod or throw a virtual affair by sending out an invitation on Zoom. Make sure to include all relevant details including date, time and dress code. And remember—the uglier the sweater, the better.

Sponsored sara lee all butter pound cake
Photo: Andrew Zeiter/Styling: Kaitlin Wayne

24. Pound Cake Decorating Contest

Instead of decorating gingerbread houses, start with a base that’s even easier to prepare: Sara Lee All Butter Pound Cake. Put a whole bunch of toppings (homemade whipped cream, fruit, candy, nuts, etc.) in separate bowls and give each of your guests a slice of pound cake to decorate. You can either let everyone’s imagination run wild or come up with a few guidelines, like a time limit or a theme. The winner may get all the bragging rights, but everyone gets to enjoy their confections.

25. Throw a virtual holiday scavenger hunt

Here’s how it works: Find a holiday-themed scavenger list online or make your own and invite friends and family to the event using an online meeting platform like Zoom or Google Meet. Once everyone is signed in, you (the host) tasks attendees with finding items on the list (like “a Santa hat” or “a kinara”). Whoever manages to find and show off the most items on the list, wins.

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