Two people holding sparklers together with a blurred background.

For many of us, this year has felt isolating. This may be especially true if you aren’t able to celebrate holidays with your friends or family at home. During this time, it’s more important than ever to take care of ourselves by staying connected with loved ones, even from afar, and finding creative ways to celebrate.

Here are a few ideas to help you ring in the holidays away from home.

Create new traditions

Spread of cinnamon cookies in holiday shapes surrounded by festive pinecones and potpourri.DIY Cinnamon Decorations

Feeling crafty? Create your own ornaments or garland! These cinnamon decorations will also warm up your home with great holiday scents.

Get the recipe

Exploring and creating new traditions can be a great way to feel festive, even if you can’t be close to all of your loved ones. You can use your family’s current traditions as inspiration or do something entirely new. Here are a few ideas to try by yourself, with friends or family:

  • Holiday light shows. Go for a drive and admire the holiday decorations and light displays around your home while listening to your favorite holiday music. (Some neighborhoods also offer coordinated light displays that follow along to a specific radio channel.)
  • Cozy night in. Enjoy a night in with hot chocolate, holiday movies and your favorite festive pajamas.
  • Holiday crafts. Create homemade decorations to put up around the house. These can include paper snowflakes, origami stars or other DIY creations. 

Head to the post office

If your family or friends typically exchange gifts over the holidays, consider setting up a secret gift exchange by mail. There are free sites like Elfster that can help you easily set up the exchange online. This is a great option if your family or friends are spread out across the country. Simply invite people to participate and join the randomized drawing. If money is tight, be sure to set a limit on spending or opt for homemade gifts like candles or baked goods. Sending letters, postcards or holiday cards is another great way to celebrate on a budget.

Engage in community care

While it’s important to practice self-care over the holiday season, it’s also important to engage in community care. Unlike self-care, which focuses on how we take care of ourselves, community care emphasizes how we take care of each other. Engaging in community care activities helps us foster connection, support and purpose, which can improve our mental health. This can be especially helpful if you are unable to celebrate the holidays with close family or friends. 

Not sure where to start? Here are a few ways to begin practicing community care:

  • Host a potluck swap. While we can’t enjoy in-person potlucks this year, we can still get into the holiday spirit by doing a potluck swap. Invite your neighbors or friends living close by to participate by cooking their favorite dish to share with the group. Box up servings in tupperware and drop them off at each house or schedule a time to meet up outside and trade. This can help reduce the burden of cooking a whole holiday meal by yourself.
  • Volunteer. Giving back to the community is a great way to engage in community care. Not only will you be helping those less fortunate than yourself, but you can also create lasting connections and friendships. If you’re still in Boulder, be sure to check out the Volunteer Resource Center to explore causes and upcoming opportunities.
  • Donate to local charities. If you’re able to, consider donating to local charities. Many organizations host holiday drives and accept a variety of donations. Consider donating to places like animal shelters, toy drives or other causes. If you’re looking for alternative ways to give back, consider dropping off baked goods or care packages for local healthcare workers. 

Make virtual fun

After months of going virtual, you may feel Zoomed out. However, calling family members over the phone or through video is one of the safer ways to connect with one another this holiday season. Consider these fun activities to spice up your virtual gatherings:

  • Decorate cookies. Join a Zoom call to decorate cookies with your loved ones, whether it’s sugar cookie snowflakes or gingerbread houses. If your family and friends are competitive, turn it into a competition to see who has the best decorating skills. You can also ship cookies to your loved ones to enjoy.
  • DIY ugly sweaters. Listen to holiday music and craft with friends or family to make your own ugly holiday sweaters. If your budget is tight this year, consider thrifting decorations or sweaters, or use what you already have around the house.
  • Create a caroling group. Belt your favorite holiday tunes by forming a virtual caroling group. You can help spread holiday cheer by singing for friends, family members or neighbors over Zoom or over the phone. 

Get outside

Don’t let the cold weather stop you from venturing outside! Spending time being physically active or simply enjoying yourself in the outdoors is a great way to lift your spirits. This can also be a great opportunity to explore different hobbies or activities you may enjoy, like building a snowman, sledding, snowshoeing, hiking or enjoying a walk around your neighborhood. If you’re still in town, you can also check out outdoor attractions like Denver Zoo Lights, Blossom of Lights at the Botanic Gardens or the Boulder Star. If you choose to visit the star, remember to stay on designated trails to ensure the park is protected from environmental damage. 


If you or someone you know is struggling, Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provides mental health support for students, including mental health screenings, brief individual therapy, workshops, consultation services and crisis support. Some services are limited to students in Colorado. If you are currently outside of Colorado, please visit the out-of-state student resource page.

For a comprehensive list of Health and Wellness resources available over break, visit Wellness Wherever You Are.

More Health & Wellness Articles