by Katie Julius

It is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of running from one activity to the next during the holidays. Circumstances this year have forced us to slow down a bit and focus more inwardly, making plans with just immediate family or a small group of friends. It has also given us the perfect opportunity to find a few traditions (whether they are established and treasured or new to us for the first time), to spend preparing for and celebrating Christmas with those loved ones.

However, with the current orders in most California counties causing many of our usual Christmas season traditions to be cancelled or pared down, finding things to do can be difficult. We’ve compiled a list of some ideas of pandemic-friendly activities for you and your family to try together this season.

Whether hiking, an afternoon at the beach, or a quick visit to the local park and playground, getting outside this time of year (especially if the weather is nice) is one way to create memories. This last weekend we had king tides in Southern California. Our family ventured down to a local beach known for its tide pools during low tide and had a fun afternoon of adventuring together. We explored the rocky tide pools and found a variety of ocean creatures we captured on “film” to identify later (check for science that day!).

While shopping is limited these days, outdoor (and indoor, if you’re comfortable) shopping malls are still open and most are decorated for the season. Head to your local shopping center to walk around and people watch. Grab a snack to go and eat on the way home, too. Our family went to The Grove in Los Angeles this holiday season and spent an afternoon walking around, browsing everything at American Girl Place, and enjoying the dancing fountain show.

We don’t see as many Christmas light displays as usual this year, but there are some neighborhoods with brightly decorated homes. I recently read a blog about a new way to make viewing Christmas lights exciting for the entire family, or even between families. Make it a scavenger hunt! Create a checklist of things to find. Then grab your favorite hot beverage and festive snack and head out to your local neighborhood light displays. Your immediate neighborhood is enough. Set a time limit and offer a small prize for the winner. This may be an entertaining idea for a small group of families or even your co-op group.

Watching Christmas movies is always a favorite. Cuddling up under blankets with popcorn and hot chocolate is a memory that is sure to stick with your kids for a long time. Is your family into cartoons like Frosty the Snowman or A Charlie Brown Christmas? Maybe you and yours prefer live-action films like Home Alone or The Santa Clause. With so many to choose from, no doubt you can find a family-friendly Christmas film that is sure to please the entire family.

An annual tradition for our family each year is to watch an outreach youth performance of The Nutcracker. We are certainly missing that this year. However, I have noticed dozens of free or low-cost virtual viewing opportunities come across my Facebook feed. An online search will yield some options as well.

This time of year is one of the most common for charity and service. Sadly, the pandemic restrictions have changed the way we participate in many of these opportunities. Our American Heritage Girl troop traditionally carols at a local nursing home. Of course, that’s not an option this year, but we were able to put together care packages for the employees of the facility; individually wrapped baked goods, lotion, fuzzy socks, chapstick, and gum or mints. We also made some decorations and cards to brighten up the residents’ rooms. First responders are also a worthy group to serve this time of year. Snacks and goodies are always a much-appreciated way of showing your support and thanking them for all they do.

What traditions does your family have this Christmas season? How are you adapting them during these unusual circumstances?