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Home for the Holidays

Travel Home for the Holidays

When life gives you lemons, make beautiful lemonade. It hasn’t been an easy 2020, but there is a lot of reason to celebrate in style. We’ve got eight ideas to make this holiday extra special, in case you’re not headed to Tahiti. (There’s always next year.) From a Feast of the Seven Fishes, where you put everyone in your household to work on a course, to a holiday outdoor run to adding gag gifts as part of a new holiday tradition, you’ll still bring the fun, even if you’re not with everyone you had hoped to be this holiday.

This Christmas is sure to be different than usual. Instead of heading away to ski or find the sun, you might be stuck at home, and not even with your extended family or friends. If you’re like us, it’ll be just you and your pod. Christmas trees are the new toilet paper, and farms and stores are feeling the demand from the flights of families trying to make home a little more festive this year. A tree is great, but if you didn’t happen to score one or if it just hasn’t quite brought the usual holiday cheer this year, we have some tips to make this Christmas at home just as special as if you were traveling the world. We’ve even borrowed some tips from some of the places that do Christmas best, so you’ll feel like you’re there.

Set the mood:

  • Set a festive scene. Light a Yule log in the fireplace, hang a mistletoe somewhere inconspicuous and sing carols. While all of this may sound natural, these traditions are more than just for show and could be worth the extra effort this year. In France, Yule logs sprinkled with wine fill homes with warm and cozy smells and provide a gathering place for families. In Ancient Rome, war enemies would meet beneath the mistletoe when negotiating, and in many cultures, mistletoe is thought to bring good luck and fertility. Caroling in England brought hot meals and fortitude to those in the streets who would otherwise go hungry. Making Christmas festive can be about more than just decorating the house or doing something different. These traditions connect us to celebrations of yore, and this year, when the world feels so disconnected, it’s important to preserve these bonds.
  • While everyone is stuck at home this year — not just for Christmas but likely for the whole holiday season — it might be fun to take a hint from Brazil and start a little game of Amigo Secreto, or as we might call it, Secret Santa. Although we commonly do a single round of gift giving, Brazilians draw out the process. In Brazil, it is common to give small gifts to a designated amigo or family member throughout the whole month of December, waiting until Christmas day to reveal who was gifting whom. This year might also be the year for gag gifts, which are always good to get laughs and bring joy to your pod this Christmas.
  • Give a special gift that keeps on giving. Giving the gift of an experience is always worth it, no matter how big or small. But this year, as travel is limited and other activities are pretty hard to come by, why not give the gift of something fun and fancy to do at home? An at-home cocktail smoker, a pizza oven, a fondue pot or an air fryer may be good options the whole family can enjoy.

Elevate the meal:

  • In Poland, they celebrate a big Christmas Eve dinner called Wigilia. Why not go big this year and serve up a feast you never would have dreamed of? The dinner, not eaten until the first star appears in the Christmas Eve sky, is reserved for close family members, which makes it perfect for this year’s holiday season. Many rituals make up the fancy dinner, which consists of 12 dishes each person must sample. The resulting feast may take hours. First, there is the breaking of the Christmas wafers and wishes for prosperity and good health in the coming year. Carp and beetroot soup are mainstays of the meal, and each dish depends on religious inspiration and seasonal ingredients. Poland has various cultural traditions, and the complex menu often reflects Jewish, German and Lithuanian influences. Another feature is that meat is not allowed, which could be a good ethical choice this year. And, though the savory options may challenge you or your children’s taste buds, dessert calls for gingerbread, which is sure to be a nostalgic and festive crowd-pleaser.
  • In Denmark, Christmas is usually a big celebration on the 24th. This year might be a good one to take a hint from the Danes, as their meal lasts hours into the night and follows special traditions. First, families gather in the living room or wherever the tree is to hold hands and dance around the room. This year, we all need some uplifting and this could be the way to do it. After families get tired from dancing, they begin the extravagant feast of roast pork or duck, potatoes and gravy, and red cabbage. Dessert is where it gets interesting. In Denmark, they have Risalamande, a special rice pudding topped with whipped cream and warm cherry sauce in which they place a single whole almond. The person who finds the almond in their dessert bowl gets a prize or an extra-special Christmas present.
  • Christmas in Australia comes in the summer, so people usually spend it out in the sun surfing, swimming, playing games on the beach and having a good time. In the US, we won’t be able to completely copy a traditional Aussie Christmas, but we can take some of their tips to spice up the American version. For Christmas lunch, Aussies go lighter on their fare, and cooking is often a daylong family activity. In Australia, they love their Christmas ham, but they don’t do it like us. Instead of baking or roasting it, they throw their ham on the barbie along with other proteins like Christmas shrimp, or prawns as they call them. A big barbeque meal might be a fun way to try something different and fun! And for dessert, there’s no heavy Christmas pudding or fruitcake, but rather a deliciously light and sweet pavlova made of whipped meringue, cream and fresh berries. All in all, it’s delicious.
  • Have a full-on fondue dinner. This one isn’t super traditional — yet. But if you’re looking for something fun to do that will last you hours and taste unbelievable with limited prep and cleanup, fondue is the way to go. Start with drinks and a lovely cheddar pot with some crusty bread, potatoes, apples, pears, broccoli, sausage, and even fun vegetables like raw fennel or Brussels sprouts. There’s no going wrong. Fondue is great because you and your family can dip what you want at your own pace, so it’s perfect for both the picky eaters and the adventurous. After you drain the cheese, switch to chocolate and set out the classics like strawberries, marshmallows, pound cake, Oreos, pretzels, or even potato chips and rice crispy treats. Again, the options are endless. And the best part is that both pair well with any wine or drinks you want.
  • And lastly, if this year has been crazy enough without the stress of the holidays, leave your cooking to the professionals. Frenchette is offering a multicourse to-go feast of goose, pork or capon, with plenty of sides, a two-pound lobster and a Bûche de Noël for dessert. Or there’s always Eleven Madison Park which, with every purchase of a dinner for four, donates 20 meals to New Yorkers in need this Christmas.
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