Any number of things can pull a loved one away from family and friends during the Christmas festivities: military deployment, work obligations, illness, surgery, pregnancy, a newborn baby or anything else that makes it impossible to hop on a plane or into a car for a long trek. According to 2017 Pew surveys on religion and public life, 86% of Americans planned to attend friend or family gatherings on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
"Don't forget that saying 'Yes' to one family's Christmas festivities will often mean saying, 'Not this year,' to an entire other side of the family," says Annie B. Taylor, social worker. Almost "everyone has a long-distance element to their holiday events, for loved ones and perhaps for themselves."
But not to worry. You can go "to great, creative lengths to share the festive spirit," Taylor says. Stave off the holiday blues by preplanning some alternative ways to lessen the miles and create a sense of closeness and inclusion for all family members.
We're quite lucky that technology can connect us no matter the distance, from mountaintops to jungles, from boats to big cities. Look back at Christmastime during World War II, when packages often took weeks to reach their destinations and it took weeks to hear back. Now communication is instant and most often high quality, bringing joy and comfort as we simulate being with relatives or having them with us.
One special way to send your love is video greetings. "We do our own 12 Days of Christmas with different video greetings from family and friends," says Dreanna DelGado, whose daughter is on her third military tour overseas. "This year, we've all chipped in to order a video greeting from her favorite reality show star, personalized to her, from Cameo.com. She's going to freak out when we send it to her for her second to last Christmas video greeting. Our entire family will be the final video greeting, with a song."
*Many Occasions for Connection
Give faraway loved ones multiple opportunities to look forward to during the season. Many family gatherings adhere to particular traditions and timing, so it would mean a lot to them if you would, for example, commit to a FaceTime call during Christmas Eve dinner prayer or toast and another call to sing along during carols by the piano.
Plan ahead and send fixings for cookies or cupcakes. You all can bake them for a group cupcake toast on video chat. Include sprinkles, mini umbrellas or other decorations for their creation. If baking isn't an option, switch to candy bars.
Family recipes are especially nostalgic around the holidays. If your child is away at college or your kids recently moved away, send recipes for them to recreate signature dishes instead. "Be sure to include everything, or allow time to shop for all ingredients, so that your thoughtful sending of recipes doesn't turn into a big disappointment," says Taylor.
In recent years, as many as 65% of Americans have sent Christmas or holiday cards, according to Pew. Because of how digital communication is these days, "getting a handwritten, print card ... thrills the heart," says DelGado. Just one card is tremendously thoughtful, but if each family member or friend sends a card or two to far-off relatives in early December, it will rain season's greetings all month prior to the main celebrations.
*Creative Gift Giving
Include your loved ones in gift exchanges, Secret Santas and the like. Leaving them out could make them feel even farther away from those they love and miss or feel intentionally disregarded. Set the parameters for the exchange a few weeks in advance so they have time to ship the presents over, and you can video conference them in to participate in the live exchange.
*Open Your Celebrations
Be mindful of others around you who may be far away from their families. DelGado says: "We ask our daughter to include any friends who may be lonely at that time of year as well. We're happy to send extra cookies, candies, giftcards, gifts, and we'll also record a video greeting for them."
The holidays can be a difficult or emotionally loaded time, and expressions of kindness and thoughtfulness toward long-distance loved ones are especially appreciated. Plus, the holiday spirit is a gift that keeps on giving. "You never now who else you'll inspire to reach out to their own loved ones after seeing your kind and creative efforts," says Taylor. Don't miss a chance to spend quality time and make everyone feel loved, no matter what ends of the Earth you're on.