Everyone is worried about the holidays and while I’m sad I can’t see my extended family I am also looking forward to this year because it is like the holidays of my childhood.

Having moved 3 hours away from all of our family when I was entering first grade and my parents quickly realized that the stress of holiday travel stole all its magic we spent every holiday with my immediate family – my parents, me and my 2 brothers.

I married into a big Italian family and I love big family dinners too and all my friends can attest to the fact that I love nothing more than cooking for an army but I also miss those quiet holidays. So I’ve decided to create a quick how to list for those struggling to figure this out:

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It’s still a holiday

Make sure you house is clean and ready for a celebration (it will be important for number 2) maybe you don’t dust the ceilings and the moldings  or put 4 leaves in the table, but make sure the table is cleared, the clutter gone and the floors are clean. Decorate like you normally would or do less or do more because you have the time. Make it feel special. This is also a great year to let the kids go crazy – let them make napkin rings and centerpieces and whatever else they want.

For years, Thanksgiving meant me wearing my flower girl dress and a white apron – I was a dressed up pilgrim. I came up with the idea and loved the tradition and it made it feel special. If sweats make it feel special than have at it. But if you’ve been in sweats and yoga pants for the last 9 months, dress up a little. Put on the nice leggings and tunic, let your girls wear fancy dresses, and if your boys love to dress up grab those khakis - just make it feel special. We dress up to show our respect for the celebration, the meal and the company – that doesn’t stop because we are home with our family.

Use the good china or take out candle sticks or put on the nice tablecloth – if it makes you feel special don’t let COVID stop you.

It’s not just a regular day

Yes, it’s a holiday (see above) and yes, you are home all day,  but today is not the day to tackle the basement or organize the back bedroom. It may seem like every other day but it’s not. That’s why cleaning up before the holiday is so important. Don’t let that file of to be put away stuff ruin your holiday – today is not the day to do the chores you’ve been missing, it’s a day to relax and spend with your family doing fun things.

After 9 months my home feels like one long to do list – the holiday needs to be a day that the to do list is put away. Make a holiday to do list, get it done (or mostly done) and then shove it in the drawer until the holiday ends.

Eat the food you love

Does Aunt Mary love your sweet potatoes but they take hours and no one else eats them. Send Aunt Mary the recipe this year and leave them off your table. Do you love a rib roast but it’s always too expensive for 20? Then this is your year – rib roast for 4 may be pricey but it’s a bargain compared to the meal you usually make.

This is the year to indulge in your favorites and let the rest go. Ask every member of your family what is the one holiday must have, commit to those and scrap the rest. Does that mean a meal of sides? It’s COVID, just go with it.

Make traditions

My favorite Christmas tradition? One I haven’t done in probably 20 years – devouring a book that I got that morning, sometimes I would read more than one in my teen years.

This year Thanksgiving will be competing marathons of football and Christmas movies in my house and I can’t wait.

Try a puzzle or board game or a Star Wars Marathon or family reading day. What do you wish you had more time for – do that.

Be creative when it comes to friends and family

This year is hard but there are always ways to celebrate with family. What we know is that indoor unmasked gatherings are risky, we also know that life is short. So rather than live in fear, let’s live in kindness – take reasonable precautions now so we can all stay safe and be together in the future.

Plan a family hike or stroll – meet everyone on the holiday or the days surrounding it to enjoy the outdoors together, masked and safely distanced.

Celebrate outdoors- gather for appetizers or dessert by the fire pit on the holiday or just afterward. Make it a daytime celebration so you have the fun and the warmth of a fire pit or a heater.  Or if you have a movie screen pick a (short) holiday favorite to watch together – is it the Peanuts Christmas or maybe the Grinch ? Pair it with some hot chocolate and everyone will have a brilliant new memory.

Create family game zoom night. Not just a time to chat but maybe try something new – how about family game night? Try Pictionary or Cards Against Humanity or whatever your family enjoys. Just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean it can’t be special.

This year’s holidays will be hard for everyone, but rather than dwell on what we’ve lost we should refocus on why we celebrate. Give thanks for the things we have – whether that’s health, or a job or laughter - we are here. 2020 will be ending in a little more than a month – that seems like something we can all be thankful for.