Create New Meaningful Holiday Traditions During COVID
As the COVID pandemic continues to drag on across the globe, we start hitting the holiday season. Traditionally, holidays are a time of large family gatherings, parties, and religious gatherings. All of which are highly advised against this year by the CDC. And thus COVID is making us become creative and come up with new holiday traditions for our families.
And I know that this reality has created a lot of anger and sadness in people. People’s behavior ranges from complete isolation, to pretending that the virus does not exist. And I’m not here to tell which response is right and which response is wrong, but merely to pose a question:
“What if instead of fighting this situation, we use it as an opportunity to create something new? How about we use the time give to create new meaningful holiday traditions?”
How My Family’s Life Change Since the Start of the COVID Pandemic
I fondly remember early March 2020. That very first weekend was the last plane trip I took. I went to see an old friend for a much needed girl weekend. Since then, I haven’t set foot in an airport.
It doesn’t mean we haven’t traveled this year, we have. But it does mean that we haven’t even considered going back to California where a lot of our family and friends live. And it also means that we haven’t had many playdates or get togethers with friends. It’s been lonely for sure.
We did our best to fill our time during the summer, and adjusted pretty well to the new normal. But I do have to say that we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of our activities back, which allowed us to feel fine with everything else. Our eldest went back to his preschool in late May, and our community pool opened up in the summer. So, we were able to enjoy it on the many hot North Carolina days.
But my husband and I definitely miss our date nights out. We used to go out to a restaurant at least a couple of times a month. Since March, we went out to a restaurant once for our 10 year wedding anniversary. It was an outdoor lunch and we felt relatively safe, but weird being around so many people. And I’m not sure either one of us feels ready for indoor dining. It feels like an unnecessary risk that we are not willing to take. We also haven’t taken either one of the kids to a restaurant since March. And our grocery shopping is mainly done sans kids because our youngest won’t wear a mask.
And while those are not the most positive adjustments, there have been some great things that have come out of this whole quarantine situation for us. We’ve become better at keeping in touch with our friends. Scheduling semi-regular virtual dates has now become a welcome habit. Being forced to be at home allowed for time to start and maintain a simple mindfulness practice. And that in turn led to a lot of self evaluations. Which then led me on a path to self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-improvement. Overall, I feel like I have become a much more flexible person and parent. Both of which led to a much more peaceful and pleasant home atmosphere.
And I’m looking forward to having this new found flexibility transfer to holiday celebrations this year.
How To Prepare Yourself Mentally for Creation of New Holiday Traditions and Not Be Resentful
Now that I’ve shared my pandemic story, I want to give you some tips on how to become more flexible this holiday season and actually enjoy it. I’ve found that being more open to new experiences and approaching them without judgement allows me to truly evaluate them for what they are.
- Check in on your feelings – you may be experiencing any sort of feelings towards the holidays this year. You may be sad and disappointed that you are not celebrating with your whole family. You may be angry that you can’t celebrate the same way you’ve always celebrated. Or you may be confused and conflicted because you’re not sure that things are really bad enough for you to need to change your holiday plans. But you may also be feeling relieved that you don’t have to do what you’ve always done. You may have been waiting for an excuse to not go to your giant family gathering for years, and now you have one. Whatever the feeling may be, just check in on it and recognize it.
- Accept your feelings – now that you’ve checked in with yourself and recognized your feelings, it’s time to accept them. Whether it’s a negative or positive feeling, accept it for what it is – a valid feeling unique to you. You don’t need to dwell on it, or do anything with it. No need to feel guilty or conflicted about it. Just accept it as is.
- Reframe your feelings (if they’re not positive) – if the feelings you are experiencing are sadness, confusion, anger, listlessness, powerlessness or anything else negative, it’s time to see the situation from a different angle. While it is incredibly disappointing to not have the same warm family gathering you look forward to each year, it’s important to note the opportunity given by this unique moment in time. You are finally allowed to say no to old traditions (without any real penalties) and try on a new tradition for size. You can start a holiday tradition unique to you and your immediate family. I call that a blessing in disguise because a lot of us are scared to get out of our comfort zones without a push. And right now, we are all being pushed into something different and uncomfortable. And instead of fighting it, we should just lean-into it. Like a tree swaying in the wind, but not breaking. The worst that’s going to happen is that the new tradition will suck and you’ll return to your old ways next year (hopefully). No permanent damage done.
- Welcome the new experience without judgement – once you’ve checked in with yourself, accepted, processed and reframed your feelings, it’s time to focus on the new experience. Welcome it without judgement. Don’t go into creating new holiday traditions with the mindset that they won’t measure up. And don’t go into them thinking that you will come up with the most amazing traditions and everyone in the family will love them. Set no expectations and just give these new traditions a try.
Now that you have a framework for working on your flexible mindset (if you want to learn how to develop a flexible mindset, read The Benefits of Developing a Flexible Mindset for Parents), I hope you will start to feel a little better about it. I’ll be honest, I’ve never been the most flexible person. I like things comfortable, and the way I’ve always done them. Change makes me feel anxious. But working on having a more flexible mindset has allowed me to feel more at ease with uncertainty and a different way of being. It’s been incredibly freeing and creatively empowering. I feel like I can tackle whatever curveballs life throws at me. And I’ve begun my tackling with brainstorming some new holiday traditions.
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New Traditions for a COVID-Safe Halloween
I think for most people the thought of Halloween immediately brings up ideas of little kids in monster costumes going door-to-door trick-or-treating. Which is, unfortunately, not a very safe activity this year. I will have to say that I am not one of those people. You see, I came to the US when I was almost 13, and the idea of going to strangers’ doors and asking for candy was preposterous to me. So I’ve never learned to associate Halloween with this activity. Instead, I’ve gotten into Halloween as an adult. And that meant decorating and parties.
So, you can imagine that this year, I am low-key happy that I can tell my son that we’re not going trick-or-treating. But instead we will get together with another family that has become part of our social distance bubble, and will have a frightfully spooky night (within reason given that my 2 year old is easily spooked).
I am planning on adding some extra decorations to the inside of our house like spiderwebs, a fog machine, some wall decals, maybe special lighting to make it look spooky, but not scary. I’m also planning on purchasing and making some simple Halloween games – like Halloween themed corn hole, ring toss, bingo, and make your own monster. The house will be filled with spooky kid appropriate Halloween music. And I will serve Halloween themed food. Overall, I’m hoping this will be fun for both adults and the kids.
In truth, the kids may be interested in Halloween themed activities for about 10 seconds, and just play their usual games instead. But I will be happy having created this haunted world, while staying safe in our home bubble.
Returning To The True Meaning of Thanksgiving During COVID
Thanksgiving is a big one for a lot of people in America. It’s a huge family gathering and also a huge day of football. Overall, I feel like a lot of people will be missing the large get togethers that are a Thanksgiving norm. But, I think it may be for the better. In the chaos that is Thanksgiving, we often forget what it’s really about – Gratitude. And you don’t need to have a ton of people around you to express your gratitude.
We used to be the people who celebrated Thanksgiving twice – once with family and once with friends. But this year will look a bit different. It’s very likely that it may be just us this time around. But I’m not despairing. I’m looking at it as a great way to make the day feel less stressful and focus on gratitude.
I’m planning to do a gratitude tree activity with my kids. It’s super simple to do. Just grab a large piece of white paper, and draw a tree. Next, grab some construction paper and cut out leaves (I’m thinking 3 per person, but you can do as many as you’d like). Then each person gets to write down what they’re thankful for this year. And despite everything going on, there are absolutely things to be thankful for. And we should not forget it. If you’re not in the crafting mood, you can simply buy some premade trees on Etsy.
Another thing that I really enjoy on Thanksgiving is getting exercise. And I want to make it a family tradition. We’re a fairly active bunch (thank you boundless energy dogs and toddler boys) and so nature walks are a thing. I’m planning to make the Thanksgiving walk more special by going to a local park and doing a Fall Scavenger Hunt or Fall Bingo. We will also be collecting natural material to do a Fall Leaf Project. Nothing fancy, just gluing some leaves on paper with colorful glue and putting them up next to our Gratitude Tree.
And of course, I’m planning to do a delicious meal for us all. My kids are not big on meat but they will eat Meatloaf. So I’m planning on picking up a turkey one from Trader Joe’s to save me some cooking time. I’d rather spend time baking with the kids. It’s always a special activity in our house.
A Quiet Family Centered Christmas or New Year’s Celebration
So, I’ll be honest, we do not celebrate Christmas. We come from a former Communist country where religion was not celebrated. On top of it, neither my husband, nor I are Catholic, so we have no connection to Christmas. We do, however, celebrate New Years. And, for us, it’s celebrated the same way Christmas is celebrated in the U.S. minus any biblical references (a way people got around Christmas celebrations under Communism). So, New Years for us is as big a deal as Christmas is for everyone else.
It’s not only a huge family holiday, it’s also a holiday to be shared with close friends. It’s a night of non-stop entertainment, food, drink and celebration. And of course, presents for the kids from Grandpa Frost (again, looks and behaves exactly like Santa Claus, but is completely secular). And this year will probably be just us and the kids. Kids will go to sleep at their normal hour, and my husband and I will probably have a few drinks, watch the ball drop, and go to sleep.
I’ll be honest, this one makes me a little sad. I’ve always looked forward to the New Year’s celebration because it was so special. And I can’t say that I feel the same way this year. But I’m still trying to make the most of it.
I’ve always loved Christmas Trees, so this year I will make sure to reserve a few special ornaments to put on New Year’s Eve. I’ll try to hype it up for my sons and make it a big deal. And hopefully, we will continue doing it every year to build up some anticipation regardless of what is happening.
Next we will proceed to cook and bake. I’ve stocked up on a bunch of Christmas themed baking pans and cookie cutters, so I’m looking forward to using them. It’s going to make all the baked goods that much more special.
I’m also going to go down the nostalgic road and put on some old Soviet New Year’s movies. We will dress up for our dinner, take some cute pictures, and play Christmas/New Year themed games. It’ll be fun regardless.
So, if you’re looking for something different to do this year, you can take my New Year’s celebration as a model for your Christmas celebration. Just watch Christmas movies instead. And in the morning put on comfy Christmas pajamas, have an easy and delicious breakfast, and gather up around the tree to open up presents. Put some Christmas music on, light a winter scented candle, and enjoy the slowness of the morning.
Final Thoughts on New Holiday Traditions During COVID
I really do believe that all the holidays can be done on a smaller scale, and still feel just as special. So many of us spent this year thinking about what we’re missing out on, that we’re not actually paying attention to what we’re gaining. For many of us, we’ve never spent so much time together with our spouses and kids. We never had the time to truly look into ourselves. We didn’t have to figure out how to do more with less.
We’ve been given these amazing gifts and we should appreciate them. And always remember that being flexible in situations is much better than breaking.
What new holiday traditions will you start during COVID?