This holiday season is looking a lot different from years past.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants us to celebrate the holidays within our own households to slow the spread of COVID-19. That means no cross-country trips to visit the grandparents or crowding the malls to sit on Santa’s lap. No holiday work parties or big Secret Santa gift exchanges.
On top of that is the fact that many families are struggling financially as a result of jobs lost and hours cut — leaving not much, if anything, to splurge on in celebration.
But more than ever, we could use a little Christmas joy. Consider these five affordable ways to celebrate the holidays this year.
1. Drop-Off Cookie Exchanges
Cookie exchanges are typically just another excuse for a holiday party — only with more sugar. Traditionally, you bake several dozen of your favorite cookies and swap them with a group of friends so that each person gets to bring home (or immediately devour) a variety of baked goods.
Instead of joining together for a cookie exchange this year, plan to do a drop-off version. Coordinate delivery times with your cookie-baking friends so they’ll know when to expect their sweet package.
If the weather is somewhat mild, you could organize your cookie exchange outdoors around a fire pit. Make sure to serve plenty of hot cocoa.
2. See the Holiday Lights
Decorated streetscapes and brightly lit homes bring a type of magic to the holiday season. This activity is one that naturally lends itself to social distancing — especially if you travel by car with only the people in your household.
This is also a super affordable activity. Some venues or organizations putting on light displays may charge an entrance fee — but you can always drive through local neighborhoods or cruise through your city’s downtown core to see the festive decor.
Check your local newspaper or news station for articles on places with the best holiday lights.
3. Holiday Movie Watch Parties
Whether you like comedies, dramas, action or family-friendly flicks, there’s a holiday movie for you. And video streaming services have made it easy for people in different households to watch together.
Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party) is a free browser extension that lets you watch movies and shows on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and HBO at the exact same time as others outside your household. You can also use a group chat function to type in comments while you watch. TwoSeven and Squad are similar browser extensions.
Remember, if you sign up for a free trial for a streaming service specifically to watch with friends, make sure to cancel that trial before it ends so you don’t get charged.
4. Virtual Holiday Parties
Switch your normal sweats for an ugly Christmas sweater and log into your video conferencing platform of choice for a virtual fiesta.
Engage party guests with interactive games like Pictionary, charades or holiday-themed trivia. You might plan to do an activity together like cookie decorating or building a gingerbread house from a kit. Or perhaps you could take turns singing Christmas carols or showing off your favorite ornaments from your tree.
5. Make Holiday Crafts With the Kids
If you have kids in virtual school, they’re probably missing out on the opportunity to create cute seasonal art projects alongside their classmates. So gather up your art supplies and tackle some craft projects at home.
The arts and craft chain Michaels is offering free kids’ online workshops. You can sign up for upcoming live sessions or view recordings of previous craft lessons.
Crayola has a bunch of DIY ornament ideas for kids to make — plus instructions for homemade gift tags and other holiday crafts. PBS Kids and Shutterfly have more ideas for seasonal art projects to do with the kiddos.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.