Today’s Solutions: March 01, 2024

The Norweigian city of Tromsø sits 200 miles north of the Arctic circle, yet for the large part, the residents don’t experience the sort of seasonal depression you might expect with so many months of darkness. A big part of this successful wintertime living is what psychologist Kari Leibowitz calls a “wintertime mindset.” 

To test her theory, Leibowitz designed the “wintertime mindset scale,” which asked participants to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “There are many things to enjoy about the winter” or “I love the coziness of the winter months.” On the opposite side, there were statements like “Winter is boring” and “There are many things to dislike about winter.” 

Tromsø in the winter

What she found was that participants’ answers predicted their wellbeing over the coming months; the more they saw the winter as an exciting opportunity to enjoy a glacial climate, the better they fared, with high levels of life satisfaction and overall mental health. This mindset is common across many nordic cultures. The Danish term “hygge” refers to the feeling of coziness and comfort in one’s home and the concept is also credited for helping the Danish survive harsh northern winters. 

As we head into more pandemic lockdowns and face the darkest months of the year in the northern hemisphere, embracing this “winter mindset” of comfort and security, rather than claustrophobia or gloom, is key to keeping up our spirits. And what better way to get into a cozy holiday mood than with the start of the holidays?! So warm up some hot chocolate, grab your favorite blanket, and get cozy with our holiday solutions guide!

Keeping holiday magic alive

As we celebrate the start of Hanukkah and look forward to Christmas just a couple weeks away, it goes without saying that this year’s holidays don’t feel the same. Fortunately, there are still ways to cultivate the spirit of the season and send love to those you can’t be with in person. 

As my family cannot be together this holiday season, we are participating in a large send-by-mail cookie exchange. Although we won’t be together to smell the wafting scents of cookies baking or gather around the tree together to savor Christmas morning, it is a small comfort that in a year when the holidays feel very different and sometimes distinctly less merry, communities and families are finding ways to keep the joy of the season alive. 

In today’s holiday solutions guide, we bring you the best of our holiday tips and tricks including how to safely mail holiday cookies, where to look for sustainable gifts, and the best way to connect to your community even from a distance. 

Making holidays alone less lonely

If you’re spending the holidays alone, perhaps for the very first time, this holiday season can feel sad and isolating, but there are strategies to cultivate a sense of holiday spirit, even if you’re distanced from those you love. We have five fool-proof ways to celebrate the distanced holidays

  1. Make family recipes. There are few things that bring us as much comfort as home cooking. Choose a couple of your family favorites or holiday classics to whip up to warm your belly and your soul. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even put together a digital family recipe book to send out so everyone can enjoy some comfort food. 
  2. Plan a video chat. Organize a video chat with family and friends to share a distanced meal, cook together, or simply acknowledge what you’re grateful for this holiday season. 
  3. Deliver food to your community. Want to make a family recipe, but worried about having way too many leftovers? Wrap up homemade goodies and bring them to neighbors or friends to share the deliciousness. Many shelters and food banks are also facing increased demand this year and would love non-perishable donations.
  4. Visit a place of nostalgia. This could be a Christmas tree farm, your family’s favorite beach, or just your local coffee shop for some hot chocolate. Plan a visit to whatever destination spurs your holiday spirit. 
  5. Put together care packages. Sending out care packages to those you love can feel almost as good as receiving one. Think about others who may be spending the holiday season solo and send them a box of treats like cookies, festive candles, and a list of holiday movie recommendations. 

Mastering mailed goods

If you’re going to be mailing baked goods to relatives near and far, it’s important to package them safely so they arrive fresh and intact! 

First things first, it’s important that the food is being prepared in a covid-safe manner. If you or someone in your home has tested positive for the virus, been exposed, or is experiencing illness of any kind, it’s a good idea to wait until everyone is healthy to send out delicious treats. Although there is no evidence of Covid-19 being transmitted through food, other diseases can be transmitted through food. 

Step two is picking what to make. When it comes to desserts durable enough for travel, denser options like pound cakes, pies, and brownies are a great choice. Things to avoid include fresh fruit and delicate creations, like merengues, which won’t withstand the journey. 

Packaging your food is one of the most important components of mailing food. Try to put the goods in a container with rigid sides, like tin or Tupperware, and make sure it can’t slide around inside the mailing box. If your items are temperature sensitive, like pie, consider wrapping ice packs in bubble wrap and including them. This way, your food stays cool, but the melting ice packs won’t damage the cardboard box. 

Scents and flavors from home are scientifically known to make someone feel happier, so sending homemade foods is a great way to experience that taste of home while we can’t travel this year. Good luck with your care packages!

Gift local 

If you are mailing gifts to friends and family this year, it’s also a great opportunity to buy those gifts from local stores to give back to small businesses. Here are our best tips for supporting small and local this holiday season:

  1. Shop early. Shopping early helps give small businesses a bit of a cushion as they head into a financially demanding time of the year and is especially helpful for online retailers who face a rush of orders to ship in the last couple of weeks of the year. 
  2. Be patient. Remember that businesses are dealing with slowdowns due to the pandemic as well as supply chain disruptions and shutdowns. Remember, small business owners are parents and partners too who are dealing with online school and pandemic stress just like you. 
  3. Use your voice. If you don’t have the financial resources to support local businesses, or even if you do, you can still advocate for them with your voice. Share your favorite small business products on social media or leave positive Yelp reviews for local establishments. 
  4. Just browse. Feeling uninspired with your gift-giving? Visit a local business to get some ideas and just browse. Most likely, you’ll find something you love. If you can shop safely in person, that’s great, if not, see if your local stores have an online presence. 
  5. Make room for local eateries in your holiday meals. Our holiday dinner tables are going to be smaller this year, but you can still make room for goods from local eateries. Need holiday ingredients? Source them from local shops and farmers’ markets. You can also buy delicious local goods and mail them to relatives and friends who you can’t spend the holiday with. 
  6. Get creative with your shopping. If your nephew wants a specific toy set, check out similar alternatives that you could get locally, rather than ordering the generic product from a big retailer. 
  7. Look for extended Black Friday deals. Many local and small businesses extend their holiday deals well into December. Check out these sales and make the most of your holiday budget. 
  8. Talk to owners. Looking for a specific product you can’t find locally? Talk to shop owners and let them know what you want. Most often they will be willing to look into sourcing the product you’re interested in. 
  9. Shop with values in mind. Consumer preferences drive market behavior. Where and when you spend your money has the power to keep small businesses afloat and promote more ethical business practices. 

When you buy from a small business, you’re helping a local family buy their own holiday gifts, you’re getting fresh and local ingredients, and you’re helping your community thrive, so as we head into the holiday season, use these tips to shop small and local.

A more sustainable holiday

Buying local is a great way to reduce the environmental impact of your purchase, especially if it’s made locally. Unfortunately, the holidays can take quite the toll on our planet as we’re buying more and throwing away extra leftovers.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, American household waste increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – equating to 1 million tons each year. Much of the waste over Christmas has to do with the gifts – acquiring more stuff, and the packaging and wrapping that goes with it.

In the spirit of the season and with consideration for the environment, we put forward a couple of sustainable gift-giving ideas for you to try and make this year’s holidays a bit more wholesome for the planet too:

  1. Play the re-gifting game: This works well for office parties. Everyone who comes must select, wrap, and give something (in new or very good condition) that they already own.
  2. Stuff stockings with vegan treats: Pick out vegan chocolates or a gift certificate to a vegan restaurant. Animal agriculture represents 15-20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Plant-based gifts are better for your health and the environment.
  3. Give experiences: As we get older, we don’t really need as much stuff. Gift your friend or family member single or season tickets to sports or musical events. Help them learn something new by gifting swimming, piano, dance, or cooking classes. Buy them a membership to their local museum or theater.
  4. Aim for durable and unique: Try to find items that your friend or family member is likely to use and cherish for a long time. Be mindful about purchasing from local stores or handmade shops where I know they have a good record for Try exploring local or ha responsibly manufactured—without slave or child labor, and with some thought given to the environment. 
  5. Write from the heart: Give your loved ones a letter that makes clear how much they mean to you. A hand-written version will be appreciated even more than something printed, especially if you add any artistic touches (and it matters not at all if you think you can’t draw).

If you want to take your sustainable holiday pledge one step further, consider renting a live Christmas tree this season, rather than buying a cut or artificial tree. If you live in California, The Living Christmas Co. offers customers the best of both worlds with a potted, live Christmas tree you can rent and return after the holidays. 

During the remainder of the year, the trees are kept in a warehouse. Since they have their own soil, the company says the trees are surprisingly easy to move. Different families want different sized trees, so as they grow, they are simply perfectly suited for another family. If you love your tree, you can even tag it and receive the same exact one next year. Once trees are too large for Christmas use, they are donated to tree planting initiatives. 

The company is highly eco-conscious, but they’re also passionate about giving back to the communities they serve. They look to the Veterans Affairs office to hire many of their staff and also employ individuals who are intellectually differently-abled. They even collect used clothing and toys for donation along their delivery route. Unfortunately, it looks like the company is all sold out for the year, but keep them on your radar for future Christmas trees to come!

However you plan to celebrate the holidays this year, giving back to your community is one of the best ways to foster a sense of purpose and help someone who is truly in need. Check out our guide to safely giving back during a pandemic for ideas on the best ways to get philanthropic this holiday season.

The foundational pillar of the holidays is to cherish those we love and what we are grateful for. For some this may include religious practice or perhaps just connecting to our more spiritual selves. This year, rather than looking at the holidays as a shell of their former selves, let’s take the opportunity to express love for those around us, support local businesses, and commit to keeping the spirit of the season alive, even from a distance. 

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