How to Enjoy the Holidays In Spite of COVID
Traditions – where do they come from? What’s important about them? Some we inherit and others we create. As I reflect, I am aware that sometimes traditions change as a result of necessity and sometimes because of whim or maybe they no longer serve us.
Throughout this pandemic, I’ve been moved and actually enjoyed watching as individuals, communities and companies reimagine traditions.
I’ve watched the parents of high school and college seniors and school administrators reimagine how graduation was celebrated. I’ve experienced incoming high school seniors create a drive-by parade downtown the night before senior year. There have been drive-by birthday parties and virtual concerts and performances. I’ve watched the Emmy’s, both the Democratic and Republican national conventions and even my own book club pivot in response to this crazy reality we’re experiencing.
What most comes to mind is appreciation and awe. I can’t help but smile about our resilience as people and how creative and clever we become as we rise to the occasion. It also reminds me of some of my own family’s traditions over the years and how they have changed through time.
Every family gathering as far back as I can remember included clam dip. It was my gramma’s recipe. Clam dip at family gatherings was (and still is) a tradition.
At some point in my childhood, the preparation of the dip was passed from my gramma to me. One ingredient I always hated was mayonnaise. Not only did I hate it but, in my opinion, it added nothing to the recipe so I eliminated it. Yep. I modified and daresay improved a traditional recipe.
To this day, my family still eats my modified version of clam dip at every gathering and now my daughter has taken over the preparation. Yes, the dip changed, but my memories of my gramma and the enjoyment my family derives from devouring the dip hasn’t changed even a little. My daughter, at 2, is even quoted as saying ‘It’s not a party without clam dip!’.
Funny thing about traditions, when we follow blindly doing the same thing over and over, there’s a chance the tradition will become burdensome. We’ll do it by rote not really enjoying the original intent or spirit but just checking the box. As with everything, times change. People change. Needs change. Circumstances change.
All this has led me to explore how my family will celebrate our holidays in 2020 and I’ve created a list of ideas to help you pivot this holiday season as well.
This is the year to break with traditions you don’t enjoy and potentially create some new ones. But fair warning, not everyone will be on the same page so starting these conversations sooner than later is advisable. Remember to take the time to mourn and grieve knowing holidays will be different. Additionally, on more occasions than I choose to remember, I often have an amazing idea just a bit too late to implement. Starting your conversations now will allow everyone involved to brainstorm new ideas and process the differences. I strongly recommend you not do this alone, but instead enlist all family members so everyone has say and ownership. This will also relieve you of the very heavy lifting of making what could be very difficult decisions.
I know some people may have more time this year and others even less than normal. There’s something here for everyone. I’ve also noted action items when appropriate for tasks that might require more preparation and planning. The intent is to glean as much enjoyment as possible and I certainly don’t want you to run out of time or get frustrated when your ideas don’t come to fruition as easily as planned. Yes, I speak from experience.
Move the celebration outdoors. Yes, I know – weather. But a friend who grew up in Germany shared a German saying “There’s no such thing as bad weather; just bad clothing.” – ACTION ITEM – order heat lamps, firepit, warm coats or some combination.
Release a tradition you don’t enjoy – if there was ever a time to do it, this is it!
Something different you’ve been wanting to try? Give it a shot!
Eat your Thanksgiving dinner as leftovers or in courses. It’s challenging getting everything on the table at once and let’s be honest, turkey is always better as leftovers. So cook and eat it when it’s convenient and when you will most enjoy it. I’m trying to get my family to agree to this one.
Watch old family movies – ACTION ITEM – transfer family movies from videos to viewable format.
Let each family member pick a favorite movie to watch each day or back-to-back. ACTION ITEM – start conversation so people can track down where to access said moves.
Create an Advent Calendar scavenger hunt. ACTION ITEM - hide something each day and tell the kids what to find or create a prepared list of holiday-themed clues and have the kids search for one daily. OK, seriously, some adults (me) would like for someone to do this for them.
Spend a full day baking. ACTION ITEM – gather all your recipes ahead of time so you can shop and have all your ingredients so no mad dash to grocery store required.
Bake one item each day during the holiday season.
Don’t bake at all this year.
Deliver baked goods to neighbors, friends or family.
Mail your baked goodies to those you’ll be zoomin’ with so you can enjoy together or to those you just want to share the love (aka butter, sugar and calories). ACTION ITEM – get your boxes from the post office sooner than later so you’re ready to go. The pre-paid, flat-rate boxes are super convenient and you can order them online and even print your labels at home so all you need to do is drop packages at the post office – contactless – woot woot!
Bake something more time consuming than usual. A friend makes stained glass cookies. I probably still won’t attempt these, but you might.
Let every member be responsible for one dish for the holiday meal. Teens can cook themselves. Younger children may require some supervision/assistance. Even the young ones can have a say in which dish they pick and can help prepare to some extent. Make it fun.
Cook something more ‘special’, time consuming or expensive than you normally would when having to feed a large group.
Cook something simple that brings you and your loved ones joy since you don’t have a group to impress. My daughter is experimenting with different mac and cheese recipes to make at Thanksgiving…that’s a new one for us.
Prepare a traditional recipe from another culture (e.g., homemade raviolis, tamales or Challah).
Look back at old family pictures of holidays past. ACTION ITEM – find family pictures.
Create a slide show from holidays past to run in your background for yourself or share during zoom celebration. ACTION ITEM – find software and start scanning pics if needed. Pull online pics into slide show software.
Have each person share a favorite memory of the holiday.
If you’re zoomin’ mail packages so everyone has them in time and you can take turns opening. ACTION ITEM – you’ll need to shop and mail early to make sure everyone receives gifts in time.
Tired of having to buy so many gifts? Introduce a gift exchange where each person pulls the name of just one other person instead of shopping for everyone. ACTION ITEM – do this no later than Thanksgiving so everyone has time to shop/mail.
Wrap gifts in white or brown paper and let kids (or adults) decorate the packages.
Modify existing traditions. Do you normally have a big dinner and a light breakfast because you have to prepare for guests? Perhaps this year you do brunch and a lighter afternoon/evening meal.
Create a special exchange this year (e.g., something handmade, a gesture or action. What about just saying what you especially love about each person?)
Scale back your decorations.
Go over and above with your decorations.
Drive around neighborhoods and view decorations. You can even check out different neighborhoods on different days to prolong the experience.
Get out for a leisurely stroll since there are no guests expected later.
Go out foraging for pine cones, evergreens or branches to use in your décor or on gifts.
Splash in some puddles or build a snowman then take a warm bath, sit by a fire and enjoy some hot chocolate.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s to get you thinking. Be creative. Think out of the box. Approach the holidays with the awe of a child and the appreciation of what’s most important.
We will all grieve something we miss but we have an opportunity to make these holidays memorable and maybe even better. We get to reconnect to the pure essence of what’s most important and who knows, maybe your family will create new traditions that are even better. You can be sure my family will be enjoying clam dip regardless.
For anyone wanting to experience my family's clam dip, here are the ingredients you need. Using a mixer, combine all ingredients including the juice from the clams and add ingredients to taste. Fair warning, my son says "Normal people don't like it." I'm not exactly sure what he's inferring by that remark although he contends that everyone to whom he mentions it or friends who have tried it are not as smitten as we are. Enjoy!