We’ve celebrated many holidays in other countries. Sometimes we skype/call and sometimes we didn’t. We like to think we’re pretty good at spending holidays in “isolation” or holidays without special people. 2020 Sucks, statistically you’ve lost family members to it or are just having a shit year. The holidays are really going to highlight how different things are. We’ve had different holidays and while this year is different with a global pandemic the concept is the same.
Tip #1: Don’t try to recreate the holiday 100%
When you focus so much on making it “normal” or “the way it always is” you’re only going to end up drawing attention to how much it’s not like “the way it is supposed to be.” It’s like: don’t think about penguins. Now you can only think about penguins. When you try hard to recreate it exactly the way it should be you probably won’t get it right. This maybe sounds a little sad to some people but I promise you’re saving yourself heartache down the road. People gave us this advice and we ignored it at first. The disappointment of a person being missing, a special recipe not coming out right or a tradition falling flat hurts more than just ditching it/adapting it. Holidays are stressful enough and there’s a chance a cake coming out tasting weird could lead to tears.
I’m not saying abandon traditions all ye who enter. I’m saying pick 1-3 critical things that you need to feel good on that day and focus all energies on them. If grandma always makes the turkey and the stuffing consider just making the stuffing while playing her favorite music. Don’t bust your butt doing this complicated and new thing that may not turn out very well.
Do some soul searching and think about what you need for that holiday to be special. See if you can execute it or…
Tip #2: Adapt, improvise, overcome
When living in Germany we couldn’t buy pecans for pecan pie. So we had walnut pie instead (they don’t have corn syrup either so it was wildly different).
When we visited Italy we wanted to cook our own dinner so we grilled pasta (you read that right).
Korea didn’t have cranberries so we used, gulp, grape jelly instead of cranberry dressing. Our third year in Korea we were pros at Korean thanksgiving but I got super bad pneumonia so we just ordered pizza.
These make fantastic stories and memories now. At the time it was pretty funny, too. Go into this holiday season with a sense of open minded creativity. If you can’t have uncle’s famous toast can he prerecord it for you? Can he sign in for 2 minutes to give it over skype? If he’s gone can you make a family madlibs of what his toasts usually sounded like? Or maybe this is something you don’t need to try to recreate.
Adapt – what can you change a little to make your holiday special but easier/better? I always recommend ditching the turkey because they suck to make and with smaller family gatherings what are you going to do with all of that?? We’ve always done small chickens, drumsticks or Cornish game hens. You can adapt anything that doesn’t serve you this year. Even if that means ditching cooking completely.
Improvise – don’t know a recipe or can’t find something with grocery store panic-buying? Like the grape jelly: improvise. See if there’s a similar recipe online or just literally improvise, just go in accepting any result and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Overcome – see tip #1. Maybe you have to just accept that this isn’t a normal year and that you can’t/shouldn’t have XYZ this year.
Tip #3: Create 1 new tradition
So far all these tips have involved ditching an old favorite or changing it. Sounds like you’re going to have fewer things to look forward to. That’s why you should aim to have at least 1 new interesting thing you’re going to do this year. No I don’t mean “skype your family.” Sure, you’ve never done that before but that’s adapting the tradition of your family coming over. I’m talking about something completely new. One year my Grammy decided she wanted to cook rehydrated “Amish corn” for fun and we’ve had it ever since. Traditions pop up organically all the time, make 2020 a little better by purposefully introducing a new tradition.
Years ago we decided to celebrate Christmas Eve with “Grinch Night” we cook only green foods and watch the Jim Carrey Grinch movie. Recently Halloween has become nacho night for some reason, so every year we set out a nacho bar and watch a scary movie.
Some new traditions could involve
- a new food. A new dessert, appetizer or drink. Pinterest has tons of ideas.
- ancestral family traditions – even if you’re guessing. If you have German ancestry try to find a cool German recipe to incorporate.
- a movie – even if it’s not holiday related. My friend would always watch all the Lord of the Rings on the first major snowfall of the year. Some of my students are going to have big Marvel and Star Wars movie marathons this Thanksgiving.
- crafts – sure you’re an adult but when was the last time you tied a friendship bracelet? This year we got into Perler beads. We left one on a table and when someone was cooking or cleaning the other person would add a some beads to it until it was done.
- a new game – find a new board game or app you can play with others (strangers or family)
- random acts of kindness – give money to a stranger on Go Fund Me, donate to any number of charities, go shopping for a neighbor (or pick up extra groceries while you’re shopping and donate them). Think about your essential workers and what you can do for them (leave snacks out for delivery people or organize meal donations to medical workers). Plenty of people are in the hospital this year, see if there are any virtual visiting hours or things you can do for them.
- exercise – plenty of people do Turkey Trots. Lately virtual 5Ks have gotten popular. There are hundreds of different themes, if you sign up you even get a shirt and a medal just like a real 5K. You don’t even have to run, most are open to walks and bikes.
Tip #4: Accept/embrace the sadness
You’re probably going to get bummed at some point. Maybe you should just accept that that’s going to happen. Don’t try to fight it with a manic smile or by working super hard to avoid thinking about it. Accept it. The only way out is through. Just give yourself a moment to cry or sulk or be angry. Don’t push that shit down. Deep down you know something is off/missing so you really can’t pretend it isn’t the whole time
An example of this is that I purposefully listen to the saddest songs I own when I leave a country. I ugly cry my way through the plane taxiing and taking off, then I’m good for the next 15+ hours of travel. I kinda just try to get over the melancholy early. I know I’m going to be sad about it so I basically schedule a time to be upset. I board that plane and read the crappy inflight magazine but the second we get close to take off I turn that sad stuff up and get through it. A few minutes later I’m good to go. This doesn’t always work with holidays. And I don’t recommend getting cripplingly upset all at once. Just know yourself and know that if you’re mixing stuffing and you start getting upset to wash your hands and go be upset. The stuffing can wait.
Tip #5: Take care of yourself
Holidays are crazy stressful and depressing even in normal years. Like accepting the sadness or weird you need to be good to yourself this year – both physically and mentally. About a hundred studies just came out about vitamin D fighting covid, dementia and depression (what I’m saying is stop reading this blog right now and order some vitamin D). Exercise releases endorphins, endorphins make you happy (and happy people don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t). If you’re happier other people around you might be happier too (you won’t take things out on them).
Mentally you need to do some stuff for yourself. Tell people “no” to requests or invitations that you don’t want to do. As much as we would love to go have Thanksgiving (we haven’t had Thanksgiving in America in 7 years) we had to say no to this one after I was exposed multiple times to Covid.
It’s your civic duty to not kill your grandparents/parents/children this holiday season.