It’s hard to believe we’re rounding the bend on a year of holidays since COVID-19 transformed our lives. In fact, my last social evening out was Purim, last winter. It’s my “before and after” date. I attended the Purim party at my local Chabad center, where I partook of all the fun activities and attractions and wrapped a large boa constrictor around my shoulders. But I should have known things would shortly take a sharp turn for the worse. Ever since the snake beguiled Eve in the Garden of Eden, snakes have meant “Watch out! Trouble ahead!” Sure enough, a few days later, I, like much of the world, was quarantined at home.

Spending Passover by myself was a novelty. Back then, I thought the pandemic would pass quickly, and I’d just have to make do for this one holiday. How naive we all were! Then it was Shavuot, and I was faced with my second holiday alone. But it’s hard to feel depressed when surrounded by cheesecake, lasagna, and ice cream! Next came the High Holidays. By then I was really missing going to shul for services and sharing the holidays with my friends. I knew I’d have to work at making these holidays meaningful and enjoyable. With some planning and a good attitude, they were.

Karen with the boa constrictor at her local Chabad Purim party, March 2020.
Karen with the boa constrictor at her local Chabad Purim party, March 2020.

And now, here we are at Chanukah. Novelty has given way to boredom. Excitement to anxiety. It’s become the staycation that never ends. How can I feel joy during this Festival of Lightswhen I’m home alone again?

Well, for one thing, unlike the other holidays, this time we can use the phone, the computer, and the car. I may be alone in my apartment, but through technology I can visit with anyone, anywhere, anytime (except Shabbat, of course). A big part of Chanukah this year will be spent connecting with my friends and family on Zoom, Facetime, and other platforms.

But for the times I’m home alone (and I'm sure there will be many, many hours of this), here’s my plan:

Avoid Shortcuts

I do not spend the day in pajamas. I don’t settle for challah, a jar of peanut butter, and a bottle of cheap kosher wine for Shabbat dinner. Taking shortcuts makes me feel shortchanged. So, this Chanukah, I’ll set the table with my nice dishes, open the wine I’ve been saving for company, and polish the menorah. I’ll get the kitchen messy making latkes from scratch instead of buying frozen ones. I’ll wear my favorite blouse, even though I have to iron it. My enjoyment of the holiday - and every day - is in direct proportion to the effort I make. Give it your all!

Read: What Are Latkes, and How to Make Them?

Make Light

Although you can only say the blessings over one menorah, you can light as many as you want after that. Many homes have multiple menorahs. Over the years I’ve collected eight of them. I’ll use a different one each night for saying the blessings. And I’ll get extra sets of candles so I can put other ones in other windows. How can there ever be too much light on a dark winter night? The candles will multiply each night, becoming brighter and brighter, until the darkness is banished entirely.

Read: How to Light the Menorah

Turn Up the Music and Be Silly

Nothing resets my mood like music. From Maoz Tzur to the more modern compositions, I’ll rotate through old and new Chanukah classics. I’ll spin like a dreidel and dance the hora, and be a complete klutz doing it, because I’m as graceful and light on my feet as a three-legged elephant. And I’ll sing along with the music, loud and off-key as usual. If the neighbor’s dog isn't howling along with me, I know I’m not singing loudly enough. There’s a level of silly that can only be achieved when no one is watching. That’s what I’m aiming for. You should, too!

Play: Chanukah Music

Food! More Food!

Chanukah, the holiday of oil, is not the right time to start a diet. (Confession: I haven't yet found a good time to start a diet.) Between the latkes and the sufganiyot, this holiday helps you bulk up before the first polar vortex hits. Think of bears, eating non-stop before their winter hibernation. Bring out the frying pan and enjoy every greasy minute of these eight days. If you’re lucky enough to be in a warm climate, you can work off those calories by exercising outdoors, while laughing at all of us whose winter exercise consists of shoveling the driveway and yanking our boots on and off.

Browse: Chanukah Recipes for Everyone to Enjoy


I’ll get myself a little gift to open each day. A pair of snuggly socks. A crossword book. A new spice for the kitchen rack. A bar of chocolate. A scented soap. A trip to the dollar store can keep the cost down if your budget is tight. Just fun, little tchotchkes to use and enjoy. There’s nothing like setting aside something you like and anticipating when you will enjoy it. Knowing it’s there and looking forward to it is half the fun. With the end of the pandemic not yet in sight, and day after day of waiting and hoping, give yourself eight days when all you have to do is wait until sundown for a little satisfaction.

Read: Must I Give a Gift Every Night of Chanukah?

Finally, Give Myself a Break

This year will be different no matter how much we try to make it like other years. I’ll miss the party I always attend, the people I always see, and all the social activities I look forward to each year. When I’m feeling anxious about the future, depressed about the present, or nostalgic for the past, I don’t bury those feelings, or worse, let myself believe that I’ve failed somehow. We’re living in uncharted waters; sometimes it’s smooth sailing, sometimes it isn’t. These emotions are real, and I acknowledge them, but I choose not to make them permanent. It’s Chanukah, a time of miracles, a time to celebrate our history of overcoming challenges far worse than we face now.

Let the lights of the candles ignite sparks of strength, joy, and resilience in you!

Chag Chanukah Sameach!