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Drive-By Cookie Swaps And Virtual Secret Santa: Here Are 5 Ways To Make Merry While Apart

This article is more than 2 years old.

Yes, Halloween was a bust this year. But parking lot trick-or-treating and online costume contests managed to morph the festivities into a new, albeit odd holiday. Then came Thanksgiving. Many of us couldn't travel to reunite with our loved ones around packed dinner tables, but we persevered and attempted to create new traditions that may or may not be repeated ever again. Now that December is here, we're grappling with the big, end of year holidays. Maybe you're struggling to find ways to get festive and make merry with faraway loved ones? If so, you're not alone. Here are a few safe and fun ideas for coming together while being apart.

Drive-By Sweets Swap

From rugelach to molasses cookies, making holiday treats to share is an annual tradition for a lot of families, friends and neighbors. This year, you could keep it going with a drive-by! Try creating a shared, digital sign up sheet with people that includes everyone's addresses and the cookies they want to bake (to avoid repetition). Then agree on a designated swap date for distanced, one-at-a-time drop-offs and pickups outside each household. In the end, each participant will score a bounty of different holiday treats for their tables. Take it a step further and host a Zoom cookie tasting where everyone can talk about the story behind why they chose their recipes.

This Sept. 11, 2015 photo shows honey nut cookies in Concord, N.H. These cookies are from a recipe by Alison Ladman. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)
This Sept. 11, 2015 photo shows honey nut cookies in Concord, N.H. These cookies are from a recipe by Alison Ladman. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Virtual Secret Santa

I'm actually trying this with a bunch of friends and it seems pretty simple and fun. We're using the free, online generator DrawNames that helps you pull names from a virtual hat. The company has been popular at workplaces for 10 years, but because of COVID-19, it added a new feature so people can enter mailing addresses for the gifts. There's also an option for Live Name Drawing and “Unwrap Live” events via video conferencing. My posse is just going to use Zoom for our Virtual Secret Santa opening party after all the gifts have been delivered.

Zoom Ugly Sweater Contest

As the story goes, the first ugly sweater party took place in 2002 at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, Canada. Regardless of when the tacky trend started, these annual events can be outlandish and amusing, and who couldn't use a little silliness at this point? If you're looking for levity, you could organize a virtual ugly sweater party or contest. Maybe encourage friends to match their gaudy sweater with an even uglier Zoom background. It's just so 2020!

Holiday Movie Watch Party

Choose a favorite chestnut like "It's a Wonderful Life," "The Muppet Christmas Carol" (so good!) or "Home Alone" and use the watch party feature available on many streaming sites. It synchronizes video playback for you, your faraway friends and family and also offers a live, group chat function so you can add comments during the screening. You can also have a phone or Zoom call afterward to talk more about the film and relive memories of previous viewings and holiday gatherings.

Make A Festive Holiday Playlist

Choose a dozen of your favorite holiday tunes and create a Spotify playlist that captures the season's spirit, send it to your friends and family, then designate a time when you can all press play simultaneously — perhaps with some egg nog in hand. You can revel in having a shared experience even if you're not in the same room. Another fun idea would be to have friends contribute songs so you can create a communal listening experience. It could help ease the sense of loneliness people are feeling, especially folks who live by themselves.

If you have ideas for making merry from afar we'd love to hear them. Tweet us at @WBURartery.


Andrea Shea Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.



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