Celebrating the “Family” Holidays When Your Family is Far Away

You don’t need a huge group of family to celebrate the holidays in a special way!

Celebrate Family Holidays When Family Is Far Away

When I was 18, I couldn’t wait to move across the country and be on my own (sorry Mom!) I was so excited for “greener pastures” and all the exciting opportunities ahead. Until recently, I have never lived close to my family– they were at least a 12 hour drive away. Now, at age 40, I live only 3 ½ hours away from my dad, and that’s the closest I’ve ever been.

Most of the time, our little family of five celebrates family-centered holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas alone.  With age I’ve grown sentimental; I often wish we could celebrate with our extended family, and that my children knew their grandparents and cousins better. Unfortunately, the time and cost of travel is too often prohibitive on both sides.  So, we’ve learned to celebrate holidays alone and still make it special! If you’re in the same boat this holiday season, here are some ideas we love that might work for you:

Invite friends to share the holidays

The next best thing to family is friendship, and it’s fun to celebrate with close friends.  When I lived in Phoenix, we spent many holidays with our best friends, who also happened to live far from family.  Or, maybe you know someone at work, church, or school who will be alone this holiday, and you can invite them to share in your festivities!

Skype, Facetime, or call

When family members live far away, schedule a time to get in contact with them on the holiday. We always plan this in advance due to different time zones and activity schedules.  My dad celebrates Christmas with his wife’s family, so we always call them in the evening, while I might call my brother or sister Christmas morning after we open presents.

Start (or maintain) your own traditions

I grew up far away from grandparents and cousins, too, so we have always had our own traditions each year.  On Thanksgiving, we went bowling in the morning. On Christmas, we always saw a movie in the afternoon. Now here in Cedar Rapids, we’re making it a tradition to walk or run in the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning; my husband runs, I walk!  What are some of your family’s holiday traditions?

Celebrate Family Holidays When Family Is Far Away


You don’t need a huge turkey, or even have to serve turkey at all!  When you celebrate with a small family you don’t need as much food. Have each family member choose a favorite dish, and keep your menu limited just to those favorites.  It’s also fun to get the kids involved in cooking. We love to make this Roasted Turkey Breast instead of making a whole turkey–it’s perfect for our small family and still leaves us with leftovers to enjoy!

Celebrate Family Holidays When Family Is Far AwayOr, Go all Out

Bust out the fancy china.  Drape the table in a nice tablecloth.  Eat by candlelight. Let the kids drink juice in a wine glass.  Make that fancy meal you never have time to make. Make the pie nobody else will eat but you (and enjoy it without guilt!)  I always loved Thanksgiving at home with my small family because my mom made it fancy, and that just made it seem extra special.

Celebrate Family Holidays When Family Is Far AwayPlay tourist in your town

When company comes to town, you usually have to show them the sights around the city, especially if they’ve never been there before!  Well, why not visit some of those same sights as a family? Try out a new museum, make a day trip to a fun destination, or check out the holiday events in town.  We might be tempted to sit home and watch football all weekend but it’s fun to get out and do things we might not otherwise do.

Get a head start on the next holiday

Since you don’t have to entertain company, get a head start on the next holiday!  Have your kids make out a Christmas gift list on Thanksgiving, or make a craft to display with your holiday decorations.  After Christmas, write thank you notes or a list of goals for the new year.

To be honest, celebrating as a small family is pretty fun!  Sure, we miss Grandma and Grandpa, but we sleep in our own beds, follow our own schedule, and still spend lots of family time together celebrating the holidays!  

How do you celebrate with your family?


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