Creative ways to spend time with friends this Holiday Season

Creative Ways to Spend time with Friends this Holiday Season that don't involve gifts, cards, or parties.

Are you looking for new ways to spend time with friends this holiday season? 

Are holiday parties and Christmas cards feeling stale? 
Overwhelmed by the pressure to buy gifts for friends?

Today, I want to dive into ways to spend time with friends during the holiday season. There’s a lot of things about the holiday season that I don’t enjoy; the pressure, the hustle, the never-ending to-do list.

The season’s magic can get lost in all the “shoulds,” which is why we can forget all the shoulds for this article. 

Everyone celebrates differently, which is a beautiful thing

I grew up repeating the same traditions for the holiday season. I saw A Christmas Carole with my grandma, visited the gingerbread houses at the Seattle Sheraton, took photos with Santa at the downtown Seattle Nordstrom, spent Christmas Eve with my mom’s family, and Christmas Day with my dad’s family. 

There is something special about holiday traditions and activities.
But, I also appreciate seeing new ways to celebrate, creating new traditions, and learning about other people’s beliefs.

Our friends give us a look at how other families celebrate during the holiday season.

Think about it – going to a friend’s house for dinner for the first time, you realized:

  • Families eat at different times
  • Some families sit at the dining table, others at the kitchen counter
  • Other families eats different foods or buys different brands
  • Your family says grace; your friend’s family starts asks each person to share the best part of their day
Our friends give us windows into different ways to live. 

I need to write a much longer blog post about that sentiment someday. *Adds it to the list.*

Spending time with friends during the holiday season is a great way to experience or learn about the endless variety of traditions, holiday activities, and beliefs in the world.

Friends that celebrate the same holidays as us, and friends that celebrate different holidays both have something to offer.

If you share the same holidays with a friend, you hae the opportunity to hear their favorite holiday traditions, foods, or beliefs. You might even grow up and look back on their traditions and decide to incorporate those into your own celebrations.

If you have friends who celebrate different holidays, what a gift to be able to learn about other holidays first hand, rather than reading a book or, let’s be honest, an Instagram caption. Ask about their celebrations, their traditions, and the stories behind the holidays. Ask if there is a time or way to try some of their favorite holiday foods. Send them a message on the holiday wishing them well (if that is appropriate). 

Screenshot of Tweet from Mohamad Safa that says "A reporter asked me: "Why do I wish people happy holidays?" Because from November 1st to the 15th of January there are aproximately 29 holidays observed by 7 of the world's major religions. And I don't think mine are the only ones that count."

Many people want to incorporate gatherings and celebrations with friends into their holiday season, but I hear the same frustration over and over again — “I don’t have time.”

Which, honestly, is one of the biggest objections I hear about friendship in general, so this won’t be the last time I talk about time.

Finding the time

I get it. 

The Holiday season can get busy.

Too busy. 

Party invites, office get-togethers, kids parties, friend’s parties, cleaning, cooking, shopping, wrapping, actually getting together on the holidays, throw travel in there too, and this sounds like madness. 

If you are thinking, “Alex, I don’t have time to plan some holiday party for friends. My schedule is already jam-packed. I am just hoping I make it to January 2nd. I don’t even have time to wrap the presents I need to buy, let alone whatever you are about to suggest about spending time with friends.”

Stick with me here. Pour yourself something festive and read on. I promise it will have you thinking differently about spending time with your people this holiday season. 

1: Let’s get intentional. 

The first way to make time for friends this holiday season– cut the clutter. 

The holiday season is jam-packed with “shoulds.” 

  • Buying presents. 
  • Attending parties. 
  • Sending holiday cards. 
  • Decorating. 

… the list is about 1000 items long, but I will stop here. 

Spend the next couple of minutes pretending there are no shoulds.

Instead, consider the questions below and how you can start to use your answers to prioritize what matters most to you this holiday season.

  • Are there people you will be sad you didn’t connect with this holiday season?
  • What holiday activities are you excited about?
  • What holiday activities do you dislike/dread?
  • Are there traditions that feel stale? 
  • Can you simplify traditions? Can you opt out but let everyone else enjoy? Do you think everyone would prefer to rethink or cancel that tradition?  
  • What do you need this holiday season? 
    • Some ideas: fun, cozy, tradition, quality time, quiet time, excitement 
  • If you have kiddos, ask, “what does my family need this holiday season” or perhaps, if your kids are old enough, actually ask and let them answer. 
    • What are they most excited about? 
    • What are their favorite holiday traditions? 
    • Holiday activities they are excited about?
    • Holiday traditions their friends have that they think are cool? (Yes. I went there). 
I can’t tell you what matters to you, but here are some things that matter to me and therefore the intentions I use to make decisions during the holiday months.
  • Experiences over gifts
  • Quality Time
  • Connecting with the kiddos in my life and adding to the magic where I can
  • Finding ways to spend cozy time together with the people I love
  • Have some FUN! I love getting dressed up once or twice.
  • Going to the parties, but leaving early enough not to ruin my next day (Also read as “I am in my 30s”). 
  • Cooking some holiday things and sharing them with friends
  • Keep things as easy as possible. Easy =Fewer barriers and objections = friends like they can make it even with a busy schedule. 

Perhaps it’s not that we are too busy, but instead that we are too busy doing the things that we don’t enjoy. You can find the time if you stop spinning your wheels with all the “shoulds” and instead fill your calendar with activities that bring you and your family joy.

Time is slipping through our hands as we continue to follow the same patterns, just for the sake of following the patterns.

Where can you simplify, rethink, cut, add, and adjust instead of repeating the same-old-same-old? 

Strategy 2: What if there is a third answer? 

YES or NO are not your only options.

Consider a third option. 

For example, your company holiday party invite is sitting in your inbox.

You are conflicted. You don’t want to go. You’d rather spend that night with your kids/dog/partner/friends/family/knitting club, but on the other hand, you would like to get together with co-workers and celebrate the holidays. 

YES OR NO?

Perhaps, a third option.

You ask close co-workers if they’d like to get happy hour this month instead. Maybe you tell them to “make it festive” however they’d like.

Get creative. Offer alternatives. They might not always work out, but it’s worth a try to spend time with friends.

Strategy 3: Create Traditions

Traditions are the backbone of the holiday season. We repeat the same traditions over and over again, sometimes without thinking about why we are doing them.

Check-in on your traditions 

Traditions don’t work forever. Some traditions might have an ending point or a pause point.

For example, your childhood traditions might need to end now that you are an adult. Perhaps you create new traditions, and if you have kids, those childhood traditions can come back, as well, or they might get a rework and just be a different version.

Let traditions save you time. 

Once a tradition is established, there should be less planning. You don’t need to find a time to get together or send out a doodle poll to choose this year’s holiday adventure. You might even create a rotation of who is in charge of planning or hosting each year.

If you are still overwhelmed with the planning, check in on why that is.

Traditions are dependable.

Once you’ve picked a date for your annual holiday movie night, friends can plan accordingly. If a friend has a conflict, they have to decide which to attend, but there is no need for the group to replan. However, if a friend can’t attend this year, they know there will likely be a movie night next year. 

Finally, Ways to plan a tradition:

Strategy 4: “Double Up”

Look at your to-do list, then decide, “What to-dos would be better with a friend?” 

It’s easy to default to your partner, sibling, or best friend when it comes to everydat tasks, but I like to think outside the box. 

  • Make a shopping date with a friend or group of friends. I guess this is one way to stop yourself from procrastinating your holiday shopping. 
  • Plan a wrapping night. Everyone brings their laundry baskets full of presents and paper + ribbons to share.
  • Friends love to cook + live far away? Share your favorite holiday recipes in a group text. Everyone will have new recipe ideas and maybe even knock the meal planning off their to-do list. You can all send photos, ask questions, update each other on any #pinterestfails or give credit to your friend when Great-Aunt-Ev proclaims that this year’s cheesecake is the best she’s ever had.
  • Looking to give back this holiday season + heard some friends who also want to give more this holiday season? Join forces with friends to adopt a family, volunteer as a group at a food drive, or serve a youth center meal instead of throwing another holiday party. 

Strategy 5: Stick to “your things” this holiday season

When you enjoy the ways you are showing up, you are more likely to show up — yes, it’s as simple as that.

Let go of how you “should” spend time with friends and instead connect in whatever ways feel right. 

What do you like to do? How can you share that with friends?

  • Love to Cook? Plan a cookie exchange. Invite friends over for dinner. Share favorite holiday recipes. 
  • Always looking for an excuse to host? Throw a party. Offer to be the house for the cookie exchange.
  • Not into going out? Invite friends over for a movie night — sweatpants only. 
  • Self-proclaimed “Best Gift Giver”? Send out a text asking if anyone needs help with ideas.
  • Love movies? Share a list of Must-Watch Holiday movies.
  • Always have friends asking about your holiday decor? Share this years’ finds in a text thread. 
  • Excited about Holiday Sports? Make some fun bets for the Thanksgiving Day games. Bet for bragging rights, $.50, or go big and bet $5. It’s just about the opportunity to connect. Everyone can text throughout the day about the games, the bets, the score, that wild play in the third quarter, and that random prop bet about a balloon flying away in the Macy’s day parade. 

Strategy 6: Do Less

Rethink the ways you’ve always done things. 
  • Plan a holiday party, but festive pajamas only (and yes, you can still do this as a full-fledged adult).
  • Opt-out of giving friends gifts this year, instead donate to a charity and then tell your friends which one you picked and why.
  • Split up the hosting duties. Someone cooks, another person provides the space, a friend decorates, another coordinates, and perhaps a few even help clean up at the end. 
  • Instead of a big holiday party, host a movie night: less decorating, clean-up, and cooking.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. 

Let your holiday intentions be your guide.
Will those extra decorations matter when your intention is to spend quality time together? 
Will a big gift exchange party be any more fun than a movie night? 

Alex, wrap it up! 

The holiday season is all about connecting with loved ones, which stretches far beyond family gatherings and the work holiday party.

Remove the barriers. There are so many “shoulds” that are stopping you from using your time in ways that are meaningful to you and creating memories with those you love.

I’ve got two more articles about the holidays coming soon:  
  • Celebrating the holidays with friends from afar
  • A long list of creative ways to spend time with friends this holiday season 

Be on the lookout for those! 

As always, I want this to be a conversation. 

Do you have favorite traditions with friends?
Any above that you want to try out?
Anything I shared that got you thinking? 
Anything you disagree with? 

Share below or send me a DM

Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm a speaker, thought leader, and soon-to-be author focusing on community and friendship.

TL;DR The friendship paradigm is broken. I'm breaking it down, so we can build a better version.

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