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Makeshift Holiday Celebrating When You Are Still Unpacking

Thanksgiving, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa—almost everyone has a holiday to celebrate in the next couple of months. It’s a time of planning, shopping, and entertaining. A time of traditions and expectations. We want to do things the way they’ve always been done. Go to the same places. Eat the same treasured family favorites. But when you’re living out of boxes during the holidays, sometimes you need to be open-minded about your game plan. You need not to lower your expectations, but you should be flexible with them.

Identify your deal breakers. Think about what your nonnegotiables are for a “proper” holiday celebration. Of all the physical items you own associated with the holidays, which few things are the most important to you? Is there a special ornament your spouse sent home from a first deployment? The carving set your father used to carve the turkey? What would most be missed? If you’ve not yet finished packing up for a move, make sure to set these items aside to travel with you rather than being packed and shipped separately. If you’re already staring at boxes from a recent move, find these items now and worry about unpacking all the other things later.

Now repeat this same thought process for the intangible things. What do you need to include as part of any celebration or entertaining over the holidays? Is it certain music? A large or small gathering of people? A football game? You can find or create the essence of what you want without replicating a “typical” celebration. Once you have clarity on what that essence is, it will be easier to find the people, places, and experiences that can make this season meaningful for you.

Host a potluck meal. Leave the good dishes in the boxes and spring for some paper plates and plastic utensils. Offer to provide the venue and the beverages and have everyone bring enough of their favorite holiday dishes to share with a crowd. Assign each person a specific thing and you can pull off a four-course meal. Leave them to their own designs and you can enjoy a dessert-only smorgasbord. (There are worse ways to celebrate the holidays than with too many brownies.) Make sure to extend an invitation to local service members or military families separated from their friends and family this time of year. It’s a particularly difficult time to be away from the ones you love.

Get out into the community. Here’s a great way to become more actively involved in your new community: Ask your neighbors how the locals celebrate the holidays. Who has the house with the over-the-top decorations? Is there caroling in Victorian-era outfits? A local menorah lighting or live nativity scene? A 5K Turkey Trot you might be interested in running? Participating in local events not only gives you warm fuzzy holiday feelings, but it also gives you a new sense of community. And that is a gift that will last beyond the holidays.

Embrace the local traditions. Are you familiar with the tradition of hiding a glass pickle ornament on a Christmas tree? The person who finds it gets to claim a special prize. There’s some dispute about the history of that particular tradition; it has often been associated with Germany, but some attribute it to a Civil War soldier who was fond of pickles. Did you know that Berrien Springs, Michigan proudly proclaims itself the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World? Find your new town’s Christmas pickle equivalent. Buy a local-style tree (like in Hawaii where they cut the top 5\’ off of a 200\’ Norfolk pine tree to decorate). Order KFC like many families do in Tokyo. Sculpt radish figures like they do in Oaxaca City, Mexico. Wherever you now call home, take in all the unique traditions and experiences and make them your own.

Go on a family adventure. You could also throw away any notions you might have about what a holiday season must look like. You could decide that the best way to entertain for your family is simply to spend time together. Throw your children, partner, and pets in the car and set off on an adventure. Sleep under the stars (or in a fancy hotel). Go hiking. Go scuba diving. Go antiquing. Whatever it is that your family considers quality time—do that.

Give back. No matter where you call home, make sure to include some way of giving back in your plans for the season. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen. Knit booties for babies in the hospital with a crocheting group at the community center. Encourage any guests to bring canned goods when they visit to donate to your town’s food bank. Open your doors to those who have no one to share the holidays with. People caring for each other—that is what makes this time of year truly magical.

Living out of boxes can be frustrating. It can force you to change your plans for celebrating as you usually do. But it can also open doors to new relationships, new experiences, and a bigger world for you.