There’s no question about it. The holidays feel weird this year. Usually, the thought of the holiday season approaching brings a calendar chock full of fun activities, festive gatherings and even a dreaded family obligation or two. But in a year like no other, our calendars feel sparse and empty.
How do we deal with the strangeness of this season and still feel connected to the people, places and things we love to associate with this time of year?
It’s Different than Usual
As the holidays approach, we typically begin to make plans to travel. Whether by train, plane or automobile, we journey near and far to see our families and friends. Last year in the United States alone, almost 116 million people traveled during the holiday season. This year, however, with the steady rise in COVID-19 cases, we’re being advised to stay home and limit our celebrating to those who we live with.
It’s a hard pill to swallow for many of us. Not only do many of us have virus fatigue at this point – we are tired of the life changes it’s asking of us. It’s also quite normal to feel a sense of sadness over the break with traditions occurring this year. And there is the sobering reality of loss that many of us have experienced. As psychotherapist Matt Lundquist puts it, “One feature of this [season] that’s very present is grief. So many different aspects of grief. Grief at a missed opportunity, grief relative to time that feels increasingly precious as parents get older, children get older, we get older.”
With these various factors and emotions in mind, it’s not surprising if you may be putting off a conversation about upcoming holiday plans with the people in your life. But don’t despair. Even if your holiday schedule is drastically different than the norm, there are still ways to feel optimistic and connect with your loved ones in a positive way during this time of year!
Remember Now as a Blip in Time
One of the things that has been helping me cope with the pause of traditional holiday plans is to remind myself that this season is just a blip on the radar of life. These changes are outside of our control and while we don’t know how long they will last, we do know that they won’t be permanent. This period of time is an anomaly and a sense of normalcy will return.
In the meantime, document it like any other holiday season!
While it may seem to be counterintuitive to memorialize your experiences during a pandemic, it’s worth remembering your life during this period of time. Whether it’s taking pictures while visiting Grandma through a window or journaling about the hot cocoa evening you enjoyed with neighbors from your respective driveways, these are likely experiences you’ve never had before.
One day, you’ll appreciate having documented the stories about living through this unprecedented time.
Every year, I faithfully put together photo albums of my family’s experiences. This year, I’m having even more fun with it. I’ve made it a point to add more background information and describe the pictures more in-depth than I usually do. This way, when my children look back at our photo albums from 2020, they’ll remember that despite how different life looked for this period of time, there were still plenty of fun stories and good memories made.
Adapt your Traditions
To feel connected with friends and family while celebrating apart, be open to modifying traditions. This way, everyone can have similar experiences across the miles.
You may not be able to have a meal together, but you can do the next best thing! For family that’s nearby but still celebrating apart, for instance, consider ways you can still share a meal. Perhaps bake an extra batch of cookies and deliver it to their doorstep, or assign each household a traditional side dish to bake, spilt and swap with your loved ones.
For those whose family and friends are spread across several miles, consider foregoing the traditional meal and ordering the same foods from a delivery service to prepare at your respective homes. You may not be together, but your experiences will be shared nonetheless.
Studies show that sharing good experiences with others help us to feel greater happiness and satisfaction. And that still holds true for 2020.
If there are certain activities you look forward to doing with your friends or family every year around the holidays, you may still be able to do them. However, you’ll need to be a little creative in how you approach them.
If family toasts and blessings are important to you, arrange a time to FaceTime or Zoom with the people not in attendance to share this moment together. Maybe enjoying the holiday lights is an annual tradition for your family. This year, instead of driving around to look at them together, make it a contest. Look for holiday lights that fit a particular theme, whether it’s funniest, most overdone or most beautiful and share what you find.
When everyone is committed to sharing the best of the best, your experiences can be similar and memorable, even if you are not together.
Plan for the Future
While this year is a no-go for travel and getting together, it’s not going to be this way forever. Use this time apart from your loved ones to make a concrete plan for the future. When we have something to look forward to, it can put our present day negative emotions into perspective. In fact, a recent study showed that having something to look forward to better enabled participants to delay their preference for short-term rewards.
Perhaps you plan ahead and commit to a beach vacation with your extended family during the holidays of 2022. Or maybe you decide to take a road trip to meet at a national park halfway between you and your loved ones next summer. The options for unique and memorable experiences are endless. Settle on one for down the road and know that there is light at the other side of this pandemic tunnel!
How are you planning to make the most of your unusual holidays this year? Visit us on our Facebook page and let us know how you plan to keep cheer in the season!