Unfortunately, too many folks didn't listen to the scientists who warned us about gathering together at Thanksgiving, and we're now seeing the horrific effects of these holiday spreaders.

I'm not here, however, to preach, but Christmas will look much different from ever before because of COVID-19 cases soaring. Therefore, it's more important than ever to remain safe and maintain social distancing protocols, particularly during this festive season and on the eve of the much-anticipated vaccine. And if readers haven't bought or shipped packages to loved ones, it's not too late to let them know how much you care, albeit virtually, and to help all of us stay connected and close to one another.

Forget being lonely on THE day – whichever holiday we celebrate. With the following ideas and your trusty Zoom, FaceTime, etc. app, get ready to celebrate together in an unusual manner, in this most unusual year, compliments of Parade magazine's Jessica Sager.

* Send everyone matching pajamas to open ahead of Christmas morning. Take selfies in the pj's (or other festive outfits) and upload them to a site, such as PuzzleYou. Now create a jigsaw puzzle and have everyone put it together over Christmas.

* Video chat together while opening presents.

* Sip holiday cheer. Package up hot chocolate mix and marshmallows; sip it together while watching a Christmas program or opening gifts. For an extra special taste, enclose a candy cane to use as a stirrer. Along this same line, how about a virtual gingerbread cookie contest? Send everyone a kit with gingerbread cookie mix, a gingerbread person cookie cutter, toppings, icing and candy for decorating. Instruct each "visitor" to make and bake the following and then vote on the best: 1) the best gingerbread self-portrait and 2) the gingerbread cookie that looks most like another guest.

* Bake together. Send an ingredients list in advance and then schedule a time to video chat while baking and decorating cookies together.

* offers several activities to be shared. I especially like the Christmas quiz.

* Write to Santa and help support the Make a Wish Foundation at the same time with Macy's Believe campaign.

* Sing your heart out! The only thing better than singing holiday tunes is doing so with a bunch of friends and/or family. Send the lyrics of a number of songs to your group so everyone can sing along together.

* Have each member of your online group create three on-the-spot quotes about family (literal or otherwise). Individual quotes are then voted upon to find the best from him or her; subsequently, all of you may vote on Best Overall or Best Per Person — the latter to avoid sensitive feelings. Quotes may be humorous ("You can pick your friends but darn sure not your family") or serious ("Having a place to go is a home. Having someone to love is a family. Having both is a blessing.")

And, finally, my traditional close for this time each year: Regardless of your faith, culture, or inclination, have a very Merry (and HEALTHY) Christmas!

Contact Ellen Phillips at

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Ellen Phillips