The past couple years

have challenged us in new, unexpected ways, but some things never change. We’ve still got sad stories to tell, and others that we can barely get through without erupting in raucous laughter. There have been births and deaths, triumphs and failures. Still, we made it to a new season and back to our people. For many of us, this will be the first time we’re getting together in a long while. …

Cue all the feels.

From gifts that give back, to the dos and don’ts of the family get-together, to better-for-you recipes, we’ve got your

Holly Jolly Holiday Guide



Mind Your Manners

How to navigate potential pitfalls of holiday conversations

Resetting the Table

A few feel-good recipes that will please your kids and your vegetarian friends

Making it Your Own

New tradition ideas to help simplify the season

Doing Double Duty

Gifts that give back


Mind Your Manners

How to navigate potential pitfalls of holiday conversations


Spend All Your Time Talking About COVID.

Listen, we’re exhausted. Aren’t you? It’s apparent by now that this virus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. We’re being forced to live with it — but that doesn’t mean we need to spout on about it constantly and bum everyone out. If we’ve learned anything over the last 17 billion months, it’s that time with the people we love is precious. Don’t waste it. If the conversation lags and you need alternate topics, might we suggest:

  • Your upcoming vacation plans
  • A recent dream you had
  • Something new you’re trying in the bedroom

In all seriousness, still be respectful and responsible. If you’ve got reason to believe you’ve been exposed or if you’re experiencing symptoms, be transparent with your family.


Be Afraid to Ask for Space.

Whether you’re in the crowded bar stage or still grocery shopping in latex gloves at 7 a.m., your comfort level is valid and should be respected. If you’re not quite ready to dole out lingering hugs or would rather if people didn’t drool all over your baby, feel empowered to request space from your family and friends.

It might be a little awkward at first, but people get it. Send out a group text ahead of time asking that people love you from afar by way of air kisses or elbow bumps. And we’re not just talking physical space. Protect your mental peace as well. If you need a break to walk around the block or eat a piece of pie alone in your car, take it.


Set Up Relationship Checkpoints.

You’ll know they’re getting married when they send you a save the date. And you’ll know they’re having another baby when she shows you an ultrasound photo. It’s tempting, but don’t pry. It may feel like you’re just making conversation, but you could be wedging open a junk drawer that they’d rather not deal with during such an otherwise joyous time. Maybe that couple is breaking up and just trying to get through the holidays. Or maybe she’s been trying to get pregnant for a year with no luck. Or maybe everything is fine, and it’s just none of your business. Now, of course, there are certain close relationships where invasive questions like these are welcomed. But if it’s your wife’s second cousin by marriage, maybe just don’t.


Have the Tough Talks.

Don’t come in guns blazing and demand that everyone (kids included) deliver an oral report on systematic racism, but do be prepared to call out crap when you see or hear it. But remember, preaching and attacking will get you nowhere fast. You love these people, right? Talk to teach and listen to learn. And if the air is a little funky, clear it early. Did your uncle post something gross on Facebook that’s been bugging you? Rather than leer at him from across the cranberry sauce, pull him aside privately and get it off your chest.


Remember Lost Loved Ones.

Maybe your family lost someone, and this is the first time everyone is coming together to grieve. It’s awful, but who better to lean on than the people who are right there with you? You’ll know what’s appropriate given the time passed and the circumstances, but take this as an opportunity to remember that person and make them a part of the festivities. Sit the little ones down and tell them those stories they’ve never heard before, or bust out the photo album after dinner. There will be tears, but also, hopefully, laughter and lots of love.


Sweat the Good Stuff.

Holidays can be stressful, what with the shopping, planning and peculiar personalities, but these are good problems to have. Take a breath and be grateful to have made it, scars and all, through another year. So, your brother brought that girl who’s a bit too much? And the turkey’s a little overdone? Whatever. Who cares? You’ve got presents, food and time away from work. And the people you care about most are there, too. Bust out the booze and the board games, and be merry!


Resetting the Table

orging ourselves on food that tastes great but isn’t so great for us is a peak holiday. Don’t worry. We wouldn’t dare dream of asking you to nix the mac ‘n’ cheese or the fat-flavored green beans altogether, but if the past couple years have taught us anything it’s how to embrace change and that healthy bodies matter. 

Plant-based Chicago chef and educator Katie Simmons inspires us with a few feel-good, vegan recipes to slip in alongside those guilty pleasures. Her advice to avoid eye rolls and preconceptions: “Don’t tell them it’s vegan.” 

Gluten-Free Carrot Spice Muffins 

Wake the kids up with freshly-baked muffins.


  • 1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk
  • ¾ cup pitted dried dates
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ cups oat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ cups finely shredded carrots
  • 1 ½ cups pecans pieces, plus 12 halves for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-muffin tray with parchment paper liners. If using traditional paper liners, spray them with oil to prevent sticking.

In a blender or a deep bowl, combine the almond milk, dates, ½ cup of raisins, the banana and vanilla. Puree until completely smooth (45-60 seconds), scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. 

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the oat flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry. Whisk until well combined. Fold in remaining raisins, shredded carrots and pecan pieces. 

Portion the batter evenly, filling each cup nearly to the top. Garnish each with a pecan half, pressing it into the batter lightly.

Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool for 10 minutes before serving or storing.

Vegan Smashed Potatoes

Oil- and dairy-free, but fluffy and flavorful.


  • 3 pounds potatoes, mix of red and Yukon Gold
  • ½ Tbsp. onion powder 
  • 1 tsp. granulated garlic
  • ½ ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 cups plain, unsweetened almond milk
  • ½ parsley bunch
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast 


Wash and cut potatoes into large chunks about the same size. Place potatoes in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. 

Boil potatoes until tender (7-10 minutes). 

Wash and chop parsley.

Drain potatoes when done. 

Immediately place potatoes back in hot pot. Mash them using a potato masher while allowing steam to release (the drier the fluffier). 

Add onion powder, garlic, pepper and salt. Continue mashing until garlic becomes aromatic (about 30 seconds). 

Add almond milk, parsley and nutritional yeast. 

Keep mashing until well combined and creamy. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve warm.

Butternut Squash Apple Bisque Soup 

Keep it comforting and guilt-free.


  • 1 medium butternut squash; peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 1 apple, cored and cut into chunks
  • 1 small sweet onion, cut into chunks 
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh sage 
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • Dash ground black pepper
  • 4-6 cups water, as needed
  • Broccoli or kale microgreens (optional garnish)


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place butternut squash, apple, onion, rosemary and sage in a large baking pan. Cover with water, filling pan two-thirds of the way. 

Roast for 45-60 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes until squash is completely tender. 

Remove from oven, add salt and pepper, and let cool for at least 5 minutes.

Transfer roasted mixture into a high-speed blender. Blend and add hot water as needed for a smooth, pourable consistency. 

Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Pour into bowls. Garnish with microgreens and serve immediately.

Vegan Cooking Tips

A bowl of buttered noodles on the holiday table isn’t going to cut it for vegetarian or vegan family and friends, but that’s sometimes the easiest go-to. Plant-based chef and educator Katie Simmons offers advice.

Unsweetened almond milk or soy milk can replace cow’s milk pretty easily. You’ll also find vegan butter, cheese and cream cheese in most grocery stores.

Mushrooms are great because of their umami — or “fifth flavor” — which makes food comforting and satisfying. Play around by swapping the meat for mushrooms in your favorite dishes.

Nuts make everything richer. Skip the cream and instead try cashews as the base for that “cream” sauce or add pecans to vegan cookies. Instead of sprinkling parmesan over Brussels sprouts, try toasted hazelnuts.


Making it Your Own

Simplify the season of giving

One of the best things about the holidays is introducing your kids to the traditions that defined your childhood. Grandma’s sweet potato pie recipe, your dad’s philosophy around the “right way” to string lights — it’s all great. But one of the best things about having a family of your own is starting new traditions, ones your own kids will connect to you and pass along.

Allow us to offer a bit of inspiration. Listen, the classics are the classics for a reason, but we love a quirky newcomer.

Try a Recipe From Another Culture. In Mexico, it’s all about the stuffed poblano pepper, and, in Italy, fish is prominent on the Christmas dinner menu. Get the kids in the kitchen and learning about other cultures and countries by trying out a nontraditional holiday recipe. Preserve the memory and light up your timeline by recording your kids’ reactions as they try the finished dish. Hilarity guaranteed

Let the Kids Take Photos. Sure, they grab your phone for nostril-forward selfies all the time, but give them the true green light to be the creative directors. From styling to posing to props, it’s up to them. Your cell will work just fine, but if you’ve got a camera laying around, even better. They’ll have a tinsel-fueled ball, and you’re sure to get some gems and priceless memories in the process.

Decorate a Frame or Photo Album. Enter Part 2 of the photo shoot. Pick your favorites of the kids’ photos and have them printed (the outtakes can go on social media — or in the trash folder). Dig out an old frame or pick up a cheap one from the dollar store, and then let the little ones run wild around a crafts store grabbing glue, glitter, stickers and whatever else they need to finish their works of art. Keep it going and see how good they get over the years; you might have the next Annie Leibovitz on your hands.

Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen. You say you’ll do it every year. Why not make this the year? Get the whole family into the spirit of giving, and remind the kids that not every table looks as plentiful as theirs during the holidays. A quick Google search will pull up meal centers in your area, and don’t feel like you need to squeeze it into the hubbub of Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. The need is always there. The tiny humans will likely have questions, but you can use those to open dialogues around economic inequality, mental health and more.

Put on a Costume Fashion Show. Give those Halloween costumes a second life. We bet the extended family only got to see how teeth-rotting sweet your kids looked on Halloween via social media, so give them the live show. When everyone comes together, ask the grown-ups to pack along the kids’ costumes, and, after dinner, have the little ones transform into Iron Man or Peppa Pig and put on a fashion show.

Make it a Movie Night. Bridge the generational gap with your kids and show them a favorite movie from your childhood. It can be holiday-themed or not, but make it a big deal. Cozy up in pajamas, and get popcorn, candy and those sugary drinks you avoid all year. You’ll have a blast as they laugh at the special effects you thought were so sick and wonder, “Why is her hair like that?” You’ll get a rush of nostalgia, and your babes will get to know the young you.


Doing Double Duty

Amazing gifts that go beyond the unwrapper

Americans spend billions on holiday gifts every year. The joy on your kids’ faces or giving Aunt So-and-So that thing she’s always wanted is priceless, but wouldn’t it be nice if your dollars could reach even further? We’ve rounded up our favorite gifts from brands that are all about making an impact.

Cherry on top: You’ll have the perfect excuse to open a dialogue around those important issues.


Grandma’s favorite gift comes with a do-good feeling. Shop comfortable and quality socks, underwear and T-shirts, and when you buy one, it donates that item to a homeless shelter. Socks, underwear and T-shirts are the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 most requested clothing items at shelters. The packs of baby socks just make our hearts swoon.

Sand Cloud

Make lounging on the beach or around the house that much sweeter. Shop beach towels, bath towels and even athleisure, and 10% of profits go toward marine conservation efforts. We’re super into the two-and-one, shark-detailed piece that goes from beach towel to backpack in no time.

The Giving Wick

With names like Leather Pants, Heels & Brandy and Perfect Man, who could resist stuffing a stocking with one of these coconut or soy wax candles? If you’re not convinced, they’re Chicago made, come in reusable jars and tins, and 15% of profits are donated to various charities, orgs and foundations. 

Jenga Ocean

This classic tower game is an oldie but goodie, and now you can do more than just raise blood pressures. This collab with Bureo — the organization committed to ending fishing net pollution — is made from 100% recycled fishing nets, responsible for 10% of plastic pollution in the ocean. Each block features a threatened marine animal.


Help save a phone and make the world a better place. It donates 50% of grip sales to causes that impact everything from wildlife to global health to equity and inclusion. Search by PopSocket or by charity. Proceeds from a certain funkadelic flower design benefit The Jed Foundation, which aims to protect emotional health and prevent teen and young adult suicide.

Fawn & Foster

Adorable baby stuff sells itself, but these pajamas, swaddle blankets and bibs are made from organic cotton and other premium materials. Founded by a foster and adoptive family, 50% of profits are donated to orgs and nonprofits who directly impact the lives of children in the foster care system.


Yes, your loved one really does need another water bottle — especially if it’s this one. These durable, insulated and very sleek options from a Chicago-built brand can also handle hot drinks with ease. Better still, 20% of profits are used to help deliver clean water to underprivileged regions. 

The Right to Shower

For people facing housing insecurity, a hot shower can make all the difference. Shop cleansers made from natural ingredients like honeysuckle and avocado and help aid this brand’s mission to bring mobile showers, hope and dignity to Americans experiencing homelessness. They donate 30% of profits.

Tiesta Tea

What’s better than a hot beverage on a cold morning? Knowing that there’s a cause behind your cup. The teas from this Chicago-based brand promise to boost immunity, aid relaxation or increase energy. Its Tiesta Tea Foundation works to help locals struggling economically, increase acceptance of those with disabilities and provide clean, safe drinking water to developing countries. 

Jiggy Puzzles

This brand’s tag is “puzzles worth framing.” Each one is a unique work of art crafted by a female artist, from colorful jungle scenes to abstract portraits. Your pieces will come in the cutest reusable glass jar, and with puzzle glue and a spreading tool. We really love “Anathi’’ by Mozambique-raised Mafalda Vasconcelos.

New York Times – A History of Civil Rights

This collection of New York Times articles and imagery covers the American fight for racial equity and freedom, from Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King’s funeral to Colin Kapernaeck’s choice to kneel as a call to stand. From each sale, $5 goes to Black Girls Code, a nonprofit that teaches computer programming and technology to girls of color.

Read More Stories from the November/December 2021 Issue

Where to See Holiday Lights in Chicagoland

Light up your holiday spirit with all that's merry and bright.

Native American Books for Kids

Check out these Children's Books about Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples to read for Native American Heritage Month.

Why Do Babies Stare?

Find out what it means if your baby watches strangers while out and about.