The holidays are much beloved not only for their spiritual significance, but also for the sense of togetherness they instill. Indeed, the time-honored traditions, seasonal foods, and momentary respite from work and school help set the stage for love and laughter with those we hold dear.
However, if you’re far from home this holiday season, or your loved one can’t be with you due to ongoing pandemic measures, don’t despair. You need not be geographically close to create those connections. With a little effort and imagination, you can bring long-distance loved ones into your heart and home all season long.
Technology is your friend
When you can’t be together in person, webcam conversations and video chats are the next best thing. Virtual face-to-face contact via your smartphone, laptop, or mobile device can’t replace a warm hug, but they do help bridge the distance.
Military spouse Krystel Spell, a mom of two and Army Wife 101 blogger, spent more than a few holidays far from home when her husband was deployed overseas. She stayed connected with technology. “We did a lot of Skyping while opening presents,” she wrote in an email interview. “We'd find the time that worked best for both time zones and let grandparents watch the kids open their presents or even just chat while they were playing around, so it felt like we were spending time together even though we were apart.”
If video chatting while your kids open gifts is distracting, you can also film their reactions and send short clips to loved ones later in the day with a big “thank you!” Others compile private digital photo albums, where they share photos and short videos with friends and family. And don’t underestimate the power of a good old-fashioned phone call or handwritten letter.
“Whether or not it’s possible to see one another, it is important to make a solid effort to talk with one another on holidays and special occasions,” wrote Chelsea Lynn, in “Long-Distance Relationships and Holidays,” a 2017 article that appeared in Pairedlife.com. “This will help you feel more connected to one another, and will also ensure that you get to wish each other a happy holiday for whatever occasion you have to be apart.”
Throughout the holiday season, she suggested, share details about what you’re going to do for the holidays and swap stories after it’s over. Also, rather than pining for your far-flung family members, spend your time planning the next opportunity to get together, or discussing how you’ll spend the holidays when you get the chance to be together again. “Discussing future holiday plans will keep you from feeling trapped in the moments when you are apart and also cheer you both up in general,” Lynn wrote. “It’s an uplifting way to plan for the future of your relationship, and to keep your holiday spirits high.”
Keep traditions alive
What’s another good trick for cutting distance down to size this time of year? Keep traditions alive.
Perhaps your family always watched the 1940s classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Christmas Eve. Or your grandmother served her famous potato latkes at her annual Hanukkah party. Recreate the magic in your own home. Just knowing that you’re celebrating the holidays in the same way, on the same day, helps create a visceral connection. (Related: George Bailey’s insurance policy)
That said, don’t be afraid to start some new traditions of your own as well, especially if you live abroad, where customs may be different.
Keep them in the conversation
As you decorate the tree with your son, or light the menorah with your spouse, reminisce about the holidays you spent with family members in years past. The memories you share make it possible to include your loved ones in the moment – even those who are no longer here.
Hannah Curtis, an expat blogger who lives in Japan with her husband and two daughters, makes a special effort to keep her family back home in the conversation. She puts everyone’s names into a hat (including grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews) and all four in her family take turns drawing names until the hat is empty. For each name drawn, they then sit down and write a handwritten note about why that person is special and send it to them to open on Thanksgiving Day, kicking off the holiday season. Such personalized notes, which let her family know they are loved and remembered, can also be inserted into holiday cards.
Embrace the ones you’re with
Being far from home during the holidays isn’t easy and it can feel isolating. However, just because you can’t share this season with the ones you love, does not mean you should sit at home.
Shop for gifts with new friends, host a holiday party, or bake cookies to share with coworkers. Don’t be afraid to accept invitations to celebrate with a friend’s family, wrote Tori Reid in “How to Have a Happy Holiday Living Far From Family,” an article on Lifehacker.com.
Indeed, the best way to take your mind off what you’re missing at home is to celebrate and be present with the ones you’re with.
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This article was originally published in December 2017. It has been updated.