Outdoor table
Take it outside: A party alternative Floridians can appreciate. Photography by Avery.

Holiday Party Planning: How to celebrate, 2020-style

Contrary to some reports, the holidays haven’t been canceled. Adjusted, yes. Revamped, for sure. But not called off. 

This season, with its Mount Crumpit-size challenges and uncertainty, could be a catalyst for a new kind of celebration. We might not be able to safely embrace friends and family who are far away, but we can create ways to come together and experience the grace and joy of the season more intimately, more meaningfully. 

“There’s just so much we need for our souls that we haven’t been able to experience this year,” said Betsy Byrd, owner of The Stuffed Mushroom catering and boutique in Safety Harbor. “People are desperate to be with loved ones and celebrate. We need it.” 

And with a little care and imagination, we can make it happen.

Dr. Marlene Bloom, a Tampa psychologist, suggests taking a fresh approach to holiday planning: Think about the pieces of your traditions that truly matter. “For Thanksgiving, it’s likely not literally about eating the turkey, right? It’s gathering with your loved ones,” Bloom said. “It’s talking about what you’re thankful for. It’s sharing time.”

So this year, focus on ways to get together safely. Just for 2020, set aside the idea of piling into Nana’s house with 30 relatives down from Ohio. Think cozy and intimate. Less Grinchian chaos, more Miracle on 34th Street.

Lounge in your own back yard. Photography by Avery.

“If you’re creative and look at what you can do, rather than what you can’t, the potential is there to have really nice holidays,” said Bloom. “And if you present the changed traditions to your children as a fun way to be imaginative, rather than as a loss, they’ll go along with you.”

Teens are harder, of course. “They’ve lost so much this year, and they’re aware of it,” said Bloom. “So engage them right away with the holiday planning. Make them a part of discovering a new way to celebrate.”

As you begin to plan for the season, start with the basics. What are the guidelines in your community regarding wearing masks, limiting the size of gatherings, and other considerations? Within those parameters, how can you ensure your family and friends feel safe and comfortable? 

And if you’re able to move your celebration into the backyard or poolside, do it. Revel in the glory of our Florida winter weather. Because in 2020, outside is safer — and it’s spectacular. 

A few ideas to help you celebrate:

Double-dip Thanksgiving. Break the holiday into two events: brunch with one side of the family, and dinner with the other. “Smaller groups are safer, so split the day in two and celebrate twice,” said Jessica Ralph Bova, founder and executive planner of Parties a la Carte. “You can create a beautiful table with a fall theme, and have a double-shift holiday.”

A fall table on the patio. Photography by Avery.

Park it. The Tampa Bay area is rich with outdoor spaces perfect for an elegant holiday picnic. Call ahead to reserve a park pavilion with plenty of tables for social distancing, and invite a few families to join you and bring their own meals. “Decorate the space, or have an event designer create an environment for you,” said Bloom. “This kind of gathering can be even more meaningful than going out to a restaurant, where you generally just talk to the three people near you at the table. Outside, we can mingle safely with everyone, the kids can play, and everyone can relax.”

A pavilion in Lake Seminole Park. Photo: Pinellas County Parks.

Backyard picture show. What’s better than cozying up under the stars for a drive-in holiday movie? Not having to leave home to do it! Rent a big screen, or just project the film onto an exterior wall of your house. Spread out beach chairs and individual s’mores kits, and light up the fire pit. “Your guests can bring their own blankets and pillows, and everyone will enjoy a safe night of Christmas classics,” said Bova. Some faves suitable for kids: Elf, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Home Alone.

Just add popcorn! Photography by Avery.

A catered affair. Are we tired of cooking yet? In pandemic life, many families are preparing most meals at home. And let’s face it, it’s getting old. Instead of your traditional week of prep for holiday meals, this year have your special days catered. You’ll give yourself a well-earned break from the kitchen, and support local businesses at the same time. Caterers will work with you to meet your comfort level. “We’re now typically serving food in a buffet-style situation as opposed to guests serving themselves,” said Byrd. “Our servers wear masks and gloves, and we’re taking extra precautions.”

A table set with Arte Italica’s “Natale” china, a beautiful winter pattern. Image courtesy The Stuffed Mushroom.

Here we come a-caroling. Reboot this timeless tradition with a few close friends — masked, of course, and don’t get too close. Select a few holiday favorites, print lyrics for all, and set out in your neighborhood to spread good cheer. Map your route so that you start and end with tasty cocktails at an open-air bar or your own back deck. 

The giving season. This year has been brutal for so many. Help brighten the season for someone in your community who may be alone because of travel restrictions or financial circumstances. “Cook a nice dinner or get takeout from a local restaurant and share a meal with them,” Bloom recommends. And there’s no shortage of organizations in our area in need of support. Among them: Metropolitan Ministries; Pinellas Opportunity Council; St. Petersburg Free Clinic.



• The Stuffed Mushroom, 825 Main St., Safety Harbor, 727-726-8686

• Parties a la Carte, 6679 Treeland Ave., Largo, 727-710-2511


• Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation, 813-744-5595

• Pinellas County Parks and Preserves, 727-582-2100


• Metropolitan Ministries, 2002 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-209-1000

• Pinellas Opportunity Council, 501 1st Ave. N., Ste. 517, St. Petersburg, 727-822-4492

• St. Petersburg Free Clinic, 727-821-1200, stpetersburgfreeclinic.org


Florida Dept. of Health, COVID-19@flhealth.gov, 866-779-6121