Celebrating special occasions during a pandemic has been a struggle. Most of us teeter back and forth between trying to do anything possible to make it feel at all special and just giving up altogether. After going through every holiday at home this year, I am surprised to look back on each one with joy. Each day was different and exciting in its own way, and I’m excited to hopefully inspire this same joy in your special occasions with this list of ideas as we all continue to quarantine through this pandemic.
Move in Nature
A great way to start any special occasion is by moving in nature! This past Thanksgiving my hubby and I made breakfast and then we drove out 30 mins and hiked! We live in the middle of LA so finding nature and open space is always a struggle. But starting our day by hiking up a gorgeous mountain, lush trees spilled out all around us, was magical.
Another sweet memory is my birthday. We were going to hike, but it started pouring rain and would have made all the trails muddy and slippery. So instead we just walked around our city in the pouring rain for hours. Despite getting completely soaked, our city looked absolutely magical as it glittered and reflected all the water and light. Not a soul was on the street so we got to take it all in, just the two of us. We came back, made a hot pot of coffee, and bundled up. It was the perfect start to my day.
The terrain you move in will depend on where you live, but other fun ideas are yoga on the beach, pilates in the park, going on a walk or run by a river walk, renting bikes and cycling around the city, rollerblading around your neighborhood, hiking through a canyon, or anything else that just gets you outside and moving! Getting your blood flowing will invigorate your day, and the fresh air, vitamin D, and endorphin boost will set your special day up to be as wonderful as it can be!
Make Or Order A Favorite/Seasonal Meal
There’s nothing like a hot steaming plate of your favorite dish right in front of you. Something about feeding our stomach exactly what it wants soothes our souls and brings an unbridled warmth to our days.
One thing I have found to be particularly exciting this year is making a dish that feels appropriate to the special occasion and in line with seasonal produce. For example, this past Thanksgiving I made roasted delicata squash with gala apples, pumpkin seeds, and a drizzle of rosemary-thyme sauce on top. For Halloween, I made it a big pie day with a big, winter-vegetable pot pie for dinner and a creamy pumpkin pie for dessert. Earlier this year for my husband’s birthday, I ordered him his favorite thing in the world, New York-Style Cheesecake. And on our 1 year wedding anniversary, we made pasta from scratch and our most favorite Italian sauce with local tomatoes, garlic, and heaps of parmesan cheese made in Italy.
I remember each meal with such reverence. Making each special occasion cyclical around what we were going to enjoy, who we were going to buy ingredients from, and what was in season/would taste especially fresh, made each day so unique. I also know that when we celebrated my husband passing a certification he was working on all summer, we didn’t feel like doing all that work and ordered about six sushi rolls for just the two of us. We ate in bed and passed out in a total sushi food comatose. It was awesome.
Make A Drink Of Choice
And of course the other side of the coin, drinks! We all love a good drink. Which doesn’t necessarily mean alcohol. A hot, piping, cup of coffee will always be my first pick.
Planning out how and when to have a great drink in hand makes every special occasion delightful. This can be a themed cocktail with your favorite liquor or stove-top hot chocolate with a movie at night. But having something delicious to sip on makes every moment even more luscious and feel-good.
My recent drink of choice has been mulled wine. On Thanksgiving afternoon, I made a fresh pot of it and poured it into jars to share with neighbors. We drank them at the park outside (10 ft apart) and really enjoyed ourselves. It made a day without family still brim with warmth, community, and a really delicious drink.
Make Something Fun
This one might be my favorite. As kids, we are taught to build, create, paint- do anything and everything tactile. But for some reason as adults, we resign to food and screens. To make a special occasion really special, ignite your senses and return to a hands-on experience.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to be an artistic genius. There are all kinds of exciting things to make. Like cheese! I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like cheese. There are some really cute and simple cheese making kits on Etsy and Amazon.
Other ideas to make are: candles (which you can fill with all your favorite flowers and essential oils), ice cream, lip balm, lotion, sushi, succulent terrarium arrangements– the list goes on and on. You can find all kinds of DIY ideas on Pinterest and kits on Etsy/Amazon to make for your home, body, or stomach! Another fun idea is a paint by numbers kit. Pop open a bottle of bubbly, find a park or nice outdoor area, and start painting!
You can also make this hands-on activity themed or seasonal. Of course, there are the classic seasonal ideas like painting eggs on Easter, carving pumpkins for Halloween, and making ornaments for Christmas. But you can take this one step further, like making homemade chocolate-raspberry truffles for Valentines (Alternately could do a favorite flavor like rose or lemon for an anniversary ) or creating some pretty earrings for a loved one’s birthday!
For my hubby and I’s anniversary, I found a beautiful custom-cheese board kit at Target. I was able to burn our names into it with the stencils provided, and surprise him with a lovely wine & cheese set up on our new custom cheese board! The kit was $18, including the wine & cheese the total cost was about $40. Not bad and super fun to make!
Play a Favorite Game!
A lot of people feel like they aren’t “game people”, but I feel like they’re remembering growing up with forced family Monopoly nights. That’s not what I’m talking about (unless Monopoly is your thing).
I’m talking about something that actually sounds really fun to you! On my hubby’s birthday we played Cards Against Humanity online (yes there are online versions) with a couple of our best friends on zoom and almost spit out our drinks we were laughing so hard. By the end of the night, my cheeks desperately hurt from laughing and smiling so much. What an incredible problem to have in this dreary year.
Other ideas (depending on your household size) are Heads up (Just download the app! Great game to play on zoom with family), murder mystery parties (THESE ARE SO MUCH FUN. But only do this if your immediate household is 5+ people. Full kits on Amazon), Settlers of Catan (my hubby and I’s most favorite game, and able to play just 2 people!), chess (have you watched Queen’s Gambit? It’ll get you excited to play), Rummikub (another great 2 person game), Yahtzee (Surprisingly thrilling, and perfect no matter how many people are playing), and Pictionary (also possible on zoom w/ the whiteboard).
Games make special occasions extra special by giving everyone something to do that isn’t just eating or watching something. It’s a highly interactive way to have fun and stay engaged and laugh until you cry, whether it’s just the people in your household or with loved ones over zoom.
Movie of choice
What better way to end the day than kicking up your feet and getting lost in your favorite flick? If you’ve done some or all of the things on this list, then you best be READY to kiiiiick baaaack.
I won’t explain how to watch a movie, but I will say if you can’t find something you want, be open to sharing streaming logins with friends or family if you don’t already. This is an easy way to find that favorite Pixar tear-jerker or random 90s comedy. Warner Brothers will also be releasing a slew of WB movies on HBO max in 2021, so there is even more content to be enjoyed coming very soon!
Make a Zoom Date!
No matter how fun you make your special occasion, there’s nothing like connecting with your loved ones. I know we are all screen/zoomed out, but taking 30 mins to hang out with your friends or fam makes all the difference.
I love ending all quarantined-special occasions with a happy hour on zoom with my family. No matter how many hikes I take or fun things I make, time with my family brings me incomparable joy. For my hubby’s birthday, I scheduled a few different zooms. It ended up being a total of 2 hours on zoom which was a lot, but he got to individually connect with each of his friends and family members, which made the time so much more special.
I can’t tell you how many awkward zoom birthday parties I’ve attended this year where no one knew anyone and we were all just staring at the screen trying to make conversation as the birthday guy/gal awkwardly tried to moderate it and introduce everyone. I give them props for creating an easy way to see all their friends, but after almost a year of this, I’ve found individual chats to be so much more enjoyable (for everyone involved).
Schedule a time to connect with loved ones, or schedule it for someone in your household that you want to surprise!
And finally, decorate! I know decor can seem silly, but there’s something about decorations that makes everything feel so much more festive! Having a celebratory aesthetic is surprisingly impactful, not just for the holidays but even for birthdays & anniversaries!
You can go super simple with some fresh flowers in a vase. Alternately, there are some beautiful, easy decor kits on Amazon under $10 that come with banners and balloons (I also recommend getting a balloon pump so that you don’t die blowing them all up). You can go as simple or involved as you want!
I must advise against the balloon blow-ups for each letter spelling out “Happy Birthday” or whatever the message is. They look adorable but you’ll be ready for a stiff drink by the time you’re done putting them up (they’re unnecessarily complicated). Keep it simple and fun. A few balloons and a birthday banner take minimal effort and can make your loved one feel so special and celebrated.
I hope this gives you some exciting ideas to celebrate whatever special occasion is coming up in your life! 2020 has been a struggle, but we deserve to keep the special days extra special, particularly in these times. It’s so possible to stay at home and keep everyone safe while still having a joyful day and connecting with loved ones. Tell us your favorite ideas and how you celebrated your special occasion this year!
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Writer | Bibliophile | Podcast Enthusiast | Self-Admitted Coffee Addict | Working Cat Mom | Lifelong Storyteller & Optimist | LA-based | Writer for Society19 & Thrive Global | More @ ashawrites.net. | Sign up for my mailing list: https://tinyletter.com/ashanoeliyer