Office holiday parties, the big dinner with extended family, waiting in line to see Santa at the mall — these are the holiday traditions we’ve become accustomed to that are being upended by the pandemic.

While it’s natural to miss those mainstays, now may also be a good time to create some new traditions that can feel just as special — and in some cases, could even save you money. Not sure where to start? These six families share the budget-friendly ways they’re changing holiday traditions during COVID-19.


“Last year I created an Advent calendar that, instead of candy, had a different holiday activity for every day in December. While many of the activities are already COVID-friendly, like drive-thru light viewings or sledding, we’re switching some up. For example, we used to go to a holiday concert and go see indoor decorations. This year, we’ll substitute in a holiday-themed indoor picnic movie night and more crafts. I know they’ll still be special memories — and they’ll cost less to boot.” – Deni Klingforth, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin


“We love going out for an evening of shopping and eating at a festively decorated restaurant. Since my family doesn’t feel comfortable doing that this year, we are going to create our own restaurant at home. I’m going to let my kids choose their menu, make a grocery list and then prepare the food — with supervision, of course. I know my kids will be so excited about the whole process, and we’ll be enjoying a restaurant-quality meal for a fraction of the price.” – Melanie Musson, Belgrade, Montana


“My extended family usually makes gingerbread houses together, but this year we realized the only way to do it safely was online. We’re going to connect with five other families on Zoom every Sunday night in December. The first week we’re going to build our gingerbread houses, and the following week we’ll bake gingerbread men to live in them. On the third Sunday, we’ll share our creations and choose a winner. We are hoping to make it a new tradition that will allow us to be together even when we are apart.” – Janni Nilsson, Greensboro, North Carolina


“My extended family loves a big Christmas Eve party. We've had to cancel those plans this year, so my husband and I are going to put together a Christmas Eve box for each of our kids with a pair of PJs, hot chocolate, cookies and a Christmas movie. We’ll let the kids open them and spend the evening watching the movie in their new PJs and enjoying their treats. While it’s not the large family gathering we’re used to, we're hoping they’ll enjoy the new tradition just as much.” – Mollie Newton, Columbus, Ohio


“Each holiday season my family and three others in the neighborhood gather for some fun in the park and then come back to my house. In order to keep everyone safe this year, we’re going to hold a drive-in movie night. We’ll put two huge projectors in the garages of the houses in the middle, so everyone has the best seat in the house — in their own driveway. We’ve decided on a Christmas-themed double feature of ‘Noelle’ and ‘Get Santa’ — we figured we better go with something funny since we could all use some laughter.” – Robert Johnson, Windsor, Connecticut


“Like many families, we usually do the traditional Elf on the Shelf, but we realized it had caused us unnecessary stress in years past — one night we forgot to move the elf to a new location and my son thought he had misbehaved. This year, we heard about a twist on the tradition called Reindeer in Here that doesn’t require the same level of parental involvement, and it goes everywhere with the kids as a friend. Our reindeer made an early appearance to give our kids extra comfort this year.” – Mykelle Fair, Los Angeles

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