Katy Clark, contributing writer

THIS YEAR THE holiday season may look different. Masks and social distancing have put a damper on the usual gatherings at schools and in our communities. My own kids are sad that their holiday concerts have been canceled.

Don’t despair! After all, it is still the most wonderful time of the year! Why not take this opportunity to rediscover the joy of slowing down and savoring the season right where you spend most of your time? Here are seven sweet and simple ways to celebrate the holidays at home.

1. Send cards in the mail. Now is a great time to rediscover the tradition of sending Christmas cards. There are many online photo sites that allow you to personalize photo cards, or simply ask your kids to draw or paint handmade greetings. No matter how fancy or simple the cards may be, just imagine how much joy they will bring the recipients, especially grandparents who love getting good oldfashioned mail!

2. Bake. Spend time together cutting out sugar cookies, decorating gingerbread houses, or making a special recipe that your family treasures. Tell your kids about the relatives who wrote the recipes in cursive on those cards passed down from generation to generation. Maybe you can drop off your homemade treats to essential workers, homebound seniors, or veterans in your neighborhood.

3. Make music. The usual school holiday concert may look different this year, if it can be held at all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t host one in your own home. Have your child play a solo in front of the family or be like the Partridge Family and encourage everyone to pick up an instrument for a holiday jam session. Sing your favorite hymns or holiday classics. Most lyrics can be found online.

4. Read together. Channel your inner Clark Griswald and his clan in Christmas Vacation and gather round to read The Night Before Christmas. There are also classic audio books your family could listen to as you wrap gifts or unwind after work or school. Books are the perfect way to learn about different holiday traditions, too. Ask your local librarian for recommendations of books about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Lucia Day, or Three Kings Day.

5. Watch holiday movies. Going to the movies may not be feasible this year, but that only inspires me to create a cozy movie night in my own living room. My family likes to don holiday pajamas, snuggle up in throw blankets with snacks and hot cocoa, and laugh away at Elf and A Christmas Story. There are so many great shows and movies celebrating the season that your family is sure to find one that inspires festive spirit in everyone!

6. Celebrate outside. Go for a walk and listen to the wind whistling through bare trees or whipping around buildings. Get warm by a backyard bonfire or stargaze on a frosty evening. Go sledding or build a snowman. Surprise the kids and join them in making snow angels or having a snowball fight. Nothing delights children more than when their parents join in on playtime!

7. Go Virtual. Whether it’s Facebook Messenger, Zoom, or Skype, there are a myriad of ways to extend season’s greetings to friends and families. Reaching out and connecting, even in a virtual format, benefits everyone, especially during the holidays.