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Adapting Holiday Traditions During COVID-19

This post was originally presented as a workshop by Lori Longo, M.A., a parent educator at Parents Place Center for Children and Youth, a program of JFCS.

It’s tough to be far away from your grandchildren and adult children during holidays and special events. Now more than ever it’s important for our well-being to find ways to connect with family and create meaningful and enjoyable celebrations. Gathering around a computer screen rather than around the table may be one option during this difficult time.

Here are some issues to consider when adapting your holiday celebrations to the new restrictions imposed by COVID.

Adapt to a different way of celebrating holidays and special occasions

What will replace the hugs, smiles, laughter, and conversation? There is such angst around holidays because family members have different viewpoints on the safety of gatherings and it’s hard to let go of the traditions we’ve been enjoying over the years.

  • Not one way fits all families
  • Limited travel; risk vs. reward decisions
  • It will not be the same – let go of the usual, embrace the different and difficult
  • Decide together how to create new traditions, making new family memories

Look on the bright side

  • Model for grandchildren how to adapt in times of adversity; show how you overcome disappointment.
  • Take the long perspective; trust that this will be over at some point.
  • Demonstrate hope, confidence, and kindness.
  • Smaller gatherings allow more conversation and interaction across generations.
  • Relieves stress and anxiety when there is less need for preparation (smaller, simpler, less emphasis on food.)

Make it memorable

Be creative. Keep it simple. Identify one tradition that signifies the holiday for you (recipe, ritual, object or activity)

  • Connecting and celebrating while physically apart
    • Use online communication that works best for your family members/age of grandchildren
    • Coordinate an activity for your online time together
      • Everyone put on a scarf or ugly sweater or hat; dress up for the holiday
      • Light a candle all at the same time
      • Show and tell a meaningful or favorite object
      • Everyone makes COVID-themed nametags
      • Share a good deed you plan to do for the holiday.
  • Create a slide show of past holiday gatherings. “Look how much we’ve changed!”
  • Share a story about the funniest time or a challenging time during a holiday (Dog at the turkey, cat in the tree, etc.)
  • Mail a package – box of ingredients, special pan or gadget needed for the recipe
  • Send a card to each grandchild expressing how much you love them, are proud of them, and how important they are to you. Include a memory of something you did together. For young children, you can draw a picture or send a photo.
  • Plan and prepare for your online celebration in advance. Ask grandchildren to suggest a topic for discussion or an activity — scavenger hunt, 20 questions.
  • Sign on to a virtual experience at the same time: a concert, movie, AirBnB Experiences
  • Ask a tech-savvy teen to teach the family how to make a fancy virtual background that could include a past family holiday photo.
  • Have the budding actor in the family create a short play or write a script for all to participate on Zoom.
  • Everyone takes a turn imagining what their ideal next year’s celebration will look like.

Celebrating in-person while staying safe

  • Masks, distancing, handwashing, hugging, size of the gathering, time frame, work out the “ground rules” in advance
  • Simplify: fewer people, less food, shorter time, outdoors
  • Gather on several days with different sets of people. Let go of holiday being on “the” day
  • Staying at home is still the safest. “Not giving grandma COVID-19 is the best gift of the year.”

Take care of yourself

Find ways to acknowledge and then overcome feelings of disappointment or sadness to help keep up your mood. Don’t try to smooth over or diminish real sadness.

  • Have a plan. Be flexible and creative while outlining how your holiday will unfold. A plan gives us something to look forward to.
  • Decorate for the season with something that gives you joy when you look at it.
  • Candles add warmth and a cheerful glow.
  • Do something for a neighbor, friend, someone who is alone. Kindness to others lifts our mood.
  • Call or contact a friend you have not talked to in a long time.

Holidays are so often filled with traditions and memories. This is an exceptional year. It’s also an opportunity to create new memories that will be handed down through the next generation. It’s an opportunity to remind your grandchildren that you are a resilient family. Keep it simple, fill it with joy and gratitude.

Lori Longo is offering two free workshops for grandparents in 2021: January 21 — “Navigating the Delicate Relationship between Grandparents and Parents” and February 12 — “Staying Connected While Physically Apart.” For more details check the Center for Children & Youth website.

2 thoughts on “Adapting Holiday Traditions During COVID-19”

  1. Great suggestions! This Thanksgiving, my family and friends who normally gather at Sea Ranch held an online Talent Show. Some people pre-recorded their performance and some performed live during the zoom meeting We all had so much fun and had a close sense of community.

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