Holiday Fun in a Tough Year (Mary Strand)

This month we’re blogging about our favorite holiday things. My own main December holiday is Christmas, but I’m all in for celebrating everyone’s holidays! (I’ve been promised a Hanukkah party that’s now postponed until 2021. Still, I can’t wait!)

In 2020, when most in-person events are severely limited or more likely cancelled in the United States, where COVID-19 still rages uncontrolled (wear a mask! keep your distance!), it seems EXTRA important to make the holidays fun.

We start every year, Thanksgiving weekend, by trying to outdo the Griswolds. I won’t horrify you with photos of the whole childish spectacle that is our front yard right now, but here’s our Santa.

I’m not generally into baking (although I’m STELLAR at patronizing local bakeries), but our kids (now 20 and 22) have always insisted we make an exception in December. Thus, rum balls, meringues, frosted cutout cookies, krumkake (Norwegian girl here!), and pies will consume us (and vice versa) on December 19.

How do I know it’ll happen on December 19? Because, for the first time ever, I’ve put together a December “fun” calendar! With input from the whole family, I’ve set aside specific days (usually evenings) for family activities like skiing, skating, sledding, driving around to check out holiday lights (yes, including ours), decorating the house for Christmas, reading and hot cocoa in front of the fire, and hiking at Minnehaha Falls. Sunday nights are set aside for holiday movies. On a few specific nights, one member of the family gets to choose dinner, likely takeout.

The family that skis together ...
okay, still argues about "fun" calendars!

But the holiday season, no matter which holiday(s) you celebrate, is also about helping others. The main activity on which our whole household agreed was “give to the poor.” (Okay, skiing was probably a tie.) (And “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” accompanied by Chinese takeout, made it a three-way tie. But I digress.)

So we’ve chosen two main charitable-giving projects this year. I don’t proselytize, but IF you’re looking for ideas, here’s what we’re doing.

LOCAL: Here in Minnesota, there's an organization called My Very Own Bed, which provides brand-new beds to Twin Cities kids who have recently moved into stable housing. Each bed comes with brand-new bedding and a stuffed animal. (You can donate at the website OR buy specific items to be donated HERE.) They also accept in-person donations of new or gently-used books, and we like to donate actual things when we can (especially books!), so I have a pile of new children's books ready to deliver to a dropoff site in a week or so.

NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL: A recent article in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof talks about impact giving: “gifts with meaning” that change lives. This year’s suggestions include Camfed, which helps send girls in Africa to school, and OneGoal, which helps low-income American students 
— 96 percent of them of color — get through high school and steers them toward college and lifelong success. We’re going to send a donation to both. You can check out his suggestions at

A LOT of people need help, more this year than perhaps ever before. Our favorite charities are usually about feeding, housing, and providing books and education to those less fortunate than us. But you might prefer to directly help a neighbor or friend who’s struggling.

While I’m at it, my favorite year-round charity here in Minneapolis is Foothold Twin Cities, which provides one-time donations to assist low-income families with the unexpected expenses that traditional assistance programs don’t cover. Every dollar donated to Foothold goes directly to a family in need.

Again, I’m just offering ideas to those inclined to take them and run with them. But helping others makes everyone in my household feel good, and it’s way less fattening than rum balls. Not that I won’t have rum balls, too.

May your holidays, whichever ones you celebrate, be merry and bright.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at


  1. Great post. I'm solidly behind giving to worthy organizations, and definitely more so this year.I've ramped it up this December because I feel so fortunate. One of my favorites (with four generations of teachers in my family) is Donorschoose which takes requests from teachers who want to do more, but have no budget and help get those requests filled. I help out a Maine classroom every month.

    1. Thanks, Berek! And Donorschoose sounds like a great organization! We've often done classroom/teacher help in the past. I'll keep that one in mind.

  2. Thank you for sharing what's truly important during this season, Mary. Happy holiday hugs to you and yours! xoxo

  3. Giving feels so good, especially this time of year.

    1. Holly, yes! And maybe especially this year, period!


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