Five Ways to Connect With Friends During the Holiday Season

Cover Graphic for Episode 9 of the Friendship IRL podcast. Episode title is Five Ways to Connect with Friends during the Holiday Season. Episode URL is friendshipIRL.com/episode9. Image at the top of the graphic is Alex, a blonde haired woman in her 30s, sitting on the bottom stair in a house. There is holiday greenery garland and lights on the handrail.

Podcast Description

I used to be a bit of a Grinch around the holidays. My family of origin story is not the best – and in fact, this season used to give me panic attacks. 

Luckily, I’m well past those days, and part of the reason is I began spending the holidays with friends. For a long time, I tried to be subtle about my lack of holiday plans, casually asking friends what they were doing, seeing if they’d invite me.

But once I was finally HONEST about my situation – saying something along the lines of, “I don’t want to go home for the holidays. Can I go with you instead?” – it completely changed the holidays for me.

This is typically a family-forward season, which is great, but you probably have other people in your life who you’d like to make memories with during the holidays. So, for today’s episode, I’ve compiled a list of tips for how to make time with friends this time of year.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • Five ways to connect with your friends this holiday season
  • Ways to “opt out” of the things you’re not interested in or would feel burdened by  
  • How traditions can actually save time and help you feel like you belong
  • Three different formats to create a tradition (pick it all, pick a date, create a series)
  • Doing “the necessary” to-do list items with friends (for example, holiday shopping, wrapping presents) instead of going at it alone
  • How to make sure you or your friends have a place to go for the holidays 

Reflection Question:

Are there holiday traditions that feel burdensome to you? If so, how can they be modified so you have more time to do the things you’d LIKE to do this season?

Notable Quotes from Alex:

“I used to be so hesitant to be honest about the fact that I spend my holidays with friends. But now I’m not. Because at the end of the day, feeling good, not having panic attacks, and being happy matters SO much more to me than the stigma of whether or not you’re with your family on the holidays. So if you are like me, maybe consider being a little more vocal this year. Maybe consider even just straight up asking or being honest.”

“The holiday season is full of to-dos, invites, and RSVPs; yeses, nos, traditions. It can be really overwhelming. But at the core, the holiday season to me is really about connecting with loved ones. And that stretches so far beyond family gatherings and the holiday work parties. There are so many ways to connect this time of year, and if we just remove some of the barriers – some of the ‘shoulds’ – then we can really use our time in intentional, meaningful ways to create memories with people we love. And that really, to me, in the end, is all that matters.”

Resources & Links

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More about Spending Holidays with Friends

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Until next time…

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Episode Transcript

Podcast Intro  00:02

All right, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers.

Podcast Intro  00:02

Hello, hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends, they would tell you I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you too.

Alex Alexander  00:18

How are we here? And by here, I mean, the end of the year, the holiday season, before we know it, the new year. wasn’t it just summer? Is it just me? I don’t know, where 2022 has gone. But as the holiday season is surely here, because my house has some decorations in it. And it’s cold outside, and I have holiday parties on the calendar. I don’t know about you, but for me this time of year just feels like it happens so fast. It is so easy to get swept up in doing the same things, saying, “Yes, sure!” When really you should have said no. And being in rooms full of people and feeling lonely sometimes. And then we wake up in January. And we vow next year it will be different. But the year flies by and we don’t take any time to stop and reflect on what matters to us, how we spent our time during the season, what felt good, and what our intentions are, what memories are we making. So today, I want to talk about five ways to connect with friends during the holiday season. And I want to talk about friends, obviously, because, well one, as I will explain later, I know very well, but this is a very family forward season. And that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with this being a family forward season of the year. However, do you have other people probably in your life that matter to you, that you care about, that you would like to potentially make some memories with during the holiday season? And second, because we talk a lot about friendships and community and the support. But one form of support is fun. And I don’t think that’s discussed enough, that the way somebody might be supporting you is by bringing laughter and joy, and nostalgia and magic and fun into your life. And I’m hoping we all have some friends who do that. And that tapping into those friendships and those connections during this time of year can add some of that joy and fun and laughter to a season that can fly by. So the first way I want to talk about connecting with friends is by adding another thing. Number one. 

Alex Alexander  03:40

Now, you might not currently have really ways that you’re connecting with friends during this time of year, which is why we need to add something. And if you’re going to add to this already busy time of year, my suggestion just like anything else, is to stick to your ways. What holiday things would you like to add to the mix? So if you love to cook like I do, perhaps that looks like planning a cookie exchange, or simply setting up some sort of virtual way to do a cookie recipe exchange. If you are a great gift giver, and you really like to show off that talent and help people this time of year, perhaps you set up a text chain with a bunch of friends or you offer to brainstorm gifts. If you love movies, you could share a must watch holiday movie list. And let me tell you nobody wants me to do that. At least not Michael. Michael doesn’t want me to do that because apparently all my movie choices are terrible. And if you’re going to add another thing when it comes to friends this time of year, you also probably need to take a step back and look at where you can opt out. Where can you say ‘No’ intentionally this time of year? 

Alex Alexander  05:02

And something that I don’t think we talk about enough is the third option. So quite often, I think we get, you know, asked something, especially this time of year, and it feels like you only have a yes or no. So let’s, for example, say that a group of your friends wants to do like a gift exchange, RSVP, yes or no. But you could come up with a third option. You could say to everyone, “You know, I’m not a great gift giver. That’s going to add a lot of stress, but I want to partake what if I hosted at my house, and that’s my gift to everybody?” And then everybody else can do the gift exchange. Or, “I would love to donate to a charity, in place of partaking or adopt a family.” There are all sorts of third options to still be involved. But maybe not add a burden that just feels like it’s not your style. But you are adding another thing, but you’re just kind of controlling and setting boundaries on the thing that you are adding. So the second way to connect with friends, is the nostalgia, traditions. This time of year is overflowing with traditions. And just like anything else, that probably means that we all should be checking in on our traditions. Are they still serving you? Are they still serving the group who attends? Have people aged out? Does that not feel right anymore? How can you modify? So first, check in on any existing traditions you have. But if you want to create new traditions, especially with friends, I like to think about traditions in a couple of ways. One, over time, they feel nostalgic. Because you’re doing similar things year after year, so you can remember the 10 years ago version. Who was there, what you did. And that’s a beautiful way to create memories. But in a more practical sense when it comes to traditions, because I love the practical, they save you time. And they’re dependable. So they save your time, because you already know maybe what that gathering looks like, you even maybe know what weekend it happens every year, you know who is invited. And they’re dependable. So that group that you are partaking in the tradition with, they know that they’re gonna see you at that every year. It creates consistency. And every friendship thrives with more consistency. 

PODCAST EPISODE! Listen to the Three Types of Roots here.

Alex Alexander  07:52

And in the end, you know, these traditions, they remind you that like you belong with that group, you are a part of that. And if we’re looking at the roots have it, you know, you’re creating those shared experiences, you are adding emotional intimacy roots through those memories. So, you are strengthening your friendships with those traditions. But you’re… after the first year or two, you’re removing the work of having to do maybe all the planning or the picking of the date, because you’ve set that. It’s now dependable. People know. So when I’m creating traditions, I like to think of these three different formats. The first one is, you kind of pick it all. You pick a date, and you commit to an activity. So it’d be gingerbread house decorating on the first Saturday in December every year. Everybody that you invite, you tell them, “We’re going to do this every year, first Saturday of December.” And now they can depend on this, they can schedule this in their calendar, they’re expecting it. And over time, they’re going to have that nostalgic feeling because this is how they start the holiday season. 

Alex Alexander  09:04

The second option is just to pick a date. So you could say, “This group of friends, we are going to pick an activity every year on the first Saturday of December.” And then you can choose different activities every year, but you already know that it’s happening. And then the third way is a series. So this could be saying, “You know, our house is going to have… watch a Christmas movie every Sunday at 7pm. You are welcome to stop by any Sunday of this month.” It creates some flexibility. It creates some predictability. This could also be with an ongoing, quote unquote “Series” you already have. So maybe you have a movie group that gets together every Sunday or one Sunday every month. And this is just the holiday edition this year. I think that there should be more traditions with friends during the holiday season. I think that it’s a really beautiful way to create some consistency with people that you care about and remove some of that planning that can be a burden and a reason that you do not make these things happen, especially this time of year when the to-do lists are so long. 

Alex Alexander  10:28

READ MORE: Learn more about creating holiday traditions with your friends in this post.

Now, if the fun things and the traditions, it’s just too much, too much, I get it. I get it. We’ve all had those years. So the next one is what I call the necessary. And that is there is a lot of work that goes into the magic of the holidays. And you don’t have to do it alone. You don’t have to do it alone. So you could reach out to your friends and say, “Hey, you know, I would have loved to have time this year to host a holiday party. But I just don’t. It is not that year for me. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t do some of the necessary things together. Who would be interested in going to clear our holiday shopping lists together this weekend?” And you can set up a time and a date and a location to meet. If you live far away, you could even do like a virtual shopping get together whether you message or you hop on a FaceTime call, and you clear all your to-do lists off. But you can chat about it, you can get ideas. You know, if you are in person, you can grab a cup of coffee or get lunch, spend some of that quality time together even if it is crossing something off your to do list. 

Alex Alexander  11:55

Another idea would be a wrapping night. I’ve brought this up before, but this could just be sending them a message saying, “Hey, I have all this wrapping paper, I got tape, I have scissors. Bring your presence over and we are going to listen to holiday music and get all these presents wrapped. Show up anytime between 03:00 and 07:00. And again, instead of sitting around on the floor by yourself wrapping all the presents, you could do it with friends. Another idea for this would be a holiday recipe swap or like a holiday meal plan thread. So, creating a text thread and sharing your favorite holiday recipes, what you’re planning, questions and knock all that out. You can even maybe do it in a few hours. 

PODCAST EPISODE! Excited about this idea, but overwhelmed by the idea of hosting. Listen to this episode. + Consider hosting it Open House Style!

Alex Alexander  12:49

And then a final one that is kind of like the fun, the feel good, but also potentially the necessary, is deciding as a friend group to give back together. So coordinating whether it is like an in person activity for the holiday season, or maybe adopting a family, choosing a charity and coordinating a way that you can get back together. Okay, and then the final one is the actual day of connecting with friends during the holiday season and actually spending the holiday together. Now, I bring this up, I have mentioned before that my family of origin situation is not the best. And I actually used to be kind of the Grinch. And that’s just because I didn’t have a lot of great memories on the holiday season. In fact, holidays gave me panic attacks back in the day. And I laugh about that now because I am much past the panic attack days. But the way that I got there was by opting to spend the actual day, the holidays with friends. And for a long, long time, I tried to subtly do this. I tried to kind of casually ask friends what they were doing, see if they would invite me. I didn’t want to outright say, “I don’t really want to go home for the holidays. Can I go with you?” But the thing is that once I did that, it completely changed the holidays for me. 

Alex Alexander  14:35

I love the holidays now and I have been so open and honest about this with my friends that I think this year we had, I don’t know, like, six seven places we could go for the holidays. So, I went from having nowhere I felt good to having endless options. So, I want to talk a little bit about some ways to go about this. Whether you are the person who wishes you had somewhere to go, somewhere that felt good for the holidays, or perhaps you are somebody who has space, who has ‘Feel good’ holidays. And you might just keep an open mind the people around you, who could use somewhere to go. There’s a couple of ways. One, you just invite them in. You know, this used to happen, I feel like, in college. It was much more common when people didn’t have somewhere to go home. That was an easy ask. And when people aged out of that, there’s not an easy way to communicate that you would love to spend the holidays with someone without a lot of questions. 

Alex Alexander  15:57

You know, I still get questions like, “Oh, you’re not spending the holidays with your family?” “Nope.” So instead of asking that question, if people are making it clear that they might be by themselves, that they are not looking forward to where they are going, that they would like somewhere relaxing, enjoyable, somewhere that feels good, invite them in. And that can either be actually just inviting them for the whole day, or it could be inviting somebody for kind of the before after. And I’d like to throw this out there, because you don’t even know how much of an impact, if you haven’t experienced it, this can make for someone who does not have a feel-good holiday. Whether they go to the place that doesn’t feel good or not, having somewhere to start or end the day can be really meaningful. What do I mean by that? Perhaps you invite a friend for breakfast. And that might just be the tiniest snippet of your holiday. But to somebody that doesn’t have anywhere that feels good to go, or that’s going to be alone, that might be their day. And that might feel so good to have somewhere to go. 

Alex Alexander  17:24

Another option would be to invite somebody to join later in the evening. And especially if they are going somewhere that doesn’t feel good, having somewhere to end your evening on a positive note can be so impactful. I am saying from first-hand experience. I used to be so hesitant, to be honest, about the fact that I spend my holidays with friends. But now, I’m not. Because at the end of the day, feeling good, not having panic attacks, being happy matters so much more to me than the stigma of whether or not you’re with your family on the holidays. So if you are like me, maybe consider being a little more vocal this year. Maybe consider even just straight up asking or being honest. If you feel uncomfortable about spending the whole day, then consider those early morning like breakfast or late night closing options. And if you’re someone that has a great holiday, if you love being around the people that you’re going to spend the holiday with, maybe consider offering up a little bit of that space. Whether it’s the mornings or the evenings or the whole day, I can’t even express to you how meaningful that is to somebody, and how deep you are caring for someone that maybe doesn’t have somewhere they feel like… feels good for them to go to offer that up. That is such an act of care to someone during this holiday season. 

PODCAST EPISODE! Learn about Social Wellness. Listen now!

Alex Alexander  19:19

All right. Now that I got all serious, I just want to reiterate, you know, the holiday season is full of to-dos and invites and RSVPs, yeses, nos, traditions. It can be really overwhelming. But at the core of it, the holiday season to me is really about connecting with loved ones. And that stretches so far beyond family gatherings and the holiday work parties. There are so many ways to connect this time of year. And if we just remove some of the barriers, some of the shoulds, then we can really use our time in intentional ways, meaningful ways to create memories with people we love. And that really, to me, in the end is all that matters. So, thank you for going on this journey with me about the ways to connect with your friends during the holiday season. I hope that you all take a moment to consider how you’re spending your time this time of year. And even if your to-do list is full, maybe tackle that to do list with some other people that you love. Talk to you next week.

Alex Alexander  20:43

Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here! Send me a voice message. I created a special website to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram. My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.

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Hi! I'm Alex.

I am just a person who has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to understand some of the relationships that I hold most dear. I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

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Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm just a gal who cares deeply about community + friendship. Why? Well, I didn't have a healthy support system growing up.

So I built one... out of friends. I believe a healthy support system is the ultimate self-care.

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