How to Celebrate the Holidays with No Family Around


My husband and I had a plan for our life together after our wedding: he’d get his security clearance granted, and once that came through, we’d move to DC. I’d keep my job because it was remote (before the pandemic), my husband would start his job, and we’d start our married lives in DC. We would feel out the city and enjoy a few more years until we decided to start a family. We never thought about how to celebrate the holidays with no family around!

That’s almost what happened. But it turns out when we moved to DC I was already pregnant. Oops.

In DC, we are not geographically close to either side of our families. My husband’s parents are in Michigan and he has no siblings. My parents, sister, and nephew are in Florida. We had to start our new family without our families around to help out or spend time with regularly. This is especially noticeable when the holidays come around.

We alternate holidays every year – we see one set of parents for Thanksgiving, one for Christmas, and then we switch. But because I have a young nephew, my parents typically spend whichever holiday with him and my sister, then visit us afterwards. Last year, we didn’t spend the holidays with either set of parents because we were concerned about COVID risks.

We had to make the most of our holidays without family around, whether it was due to a pandemic or other circumstances – and in the future, other things may happen that prevent us from spending the holidays with family. We decided to start our own traditions as a family of three.

Making Our Own Traditions

As I think about the kind of memories I want to make in my home, I hope my son will look forward to and love our holiday traditions, and want to keep these going with his own family one day or be inspired to create his own.

celebrate the holidays with no family around
Making cookies!

Here are a few ideas of traditions we want to start:

  • Bake treats for the neighbors
  • Decorate the Christmas tree while listening to Christmas music
  • Have our son pick out Christmas toys for our dog (hey, he’s his “sibling”)
  • Tracking Santa on a fire truck 

The Reason for the Season

Christmas can be stressful, and even sad for families who have experienced loss. This number has likely increased exponentially thanks to the pandemic (that we’re still in!). Plus, the emphasis on gifts can be a lot for me, personally. Because of this, I’m focusing on kindness, and even though my son is very young, we can all partake in holiday charity activities as a family:

  • Wrap a toy and/or donate canned food for a local program to provide a child in need’s Christmas gifts and Christmas dinner
  • Volunteer at a women’s or homeless shelter
  • Deliver a takeout meal, like pizza, to our local fire department
  • Go through old clothes and toys to donate to Goodwill or another charity
  • Check out these other local charities

It doesn’t take a lot to create your own traditions or focus on the less fortunate every holiday season. Your traditions can be whatever you want, or have the energy for. (The latter is what I focus on.) This way, even when extended family isn’t nearby, you and your kids can have a very happy holiday season.

When we celebrate the holidays with no family around, we pivot to what works best for us, our child, and what our current priorities are. It is different and it’s good.