Holiday Traditions in a Year of Pandemic

This year, looking back may help us move forward.

Me, age 3, indulging it the photo with Santa tradition. This was at Macy’s in NYC

In 2018, I recorded a podcast about holiday traditions. It is now 2020, and a pandemic is keeping many of us apart, resulting in changes of plans.

Perhaps this year is the time to look back at those traditions you took for granted or left behind in your box of holiday memories.

As I look back at what I had to say about this in 2018, I invite you to remember holidays gone by, and maybe write about your memories and traditions too.

Next year, we might just get to gather and share those annual rituals again.

December 2018

I wouldn’t be your strategic humor facilitator without telling you that laughter is a big part of my own holiday survival plan. Some of my favorite memories are of a fun, crazy, tradition of the family holiday photo. Most of you think of that as a sometimes high stress battle of fancy clothes, a photo studio, and babies who cry, puke and poop. Even more fun is that photo shoot with Mall Santa. Ahh, good times.

I added a different spin. In fact, it was a different spin each year. The first time I asked my extended family to gather for a holiday theme photo, it included matching green striped sweaters that had cost me exactly $1 each. And they lasted for about a dollar’s worth of time, just long enough to snap the picture. The following year, it was elf hats, then light up red noses, then color coded scarves for each branch of the family tree. The young cousins also took their own version of the shot — piled on the couch, dancing with each other. The last year we took a photo — the year before the weddings and moving to other states began, I asked everyone to hold out a hand, into which I superimposed a spot of light — a star for each of them. These pictures occupy a collage frame on my living room wall.

Now, the “cousins” are spread out around the country.

But, as they say in the song, if the fates are willing, they will be gathering in the future to take some more crazy holiday photos.

In the meantime I asked family and friends to describe some of the holiday traditions they currently practice. Maintaining meaningful traditions that you enjoy can go a long way to reduce holiday stress — giving you a kind of holiday road map. The same decorations, the same foods, the same family gatherings at the same places can all be a soothing comfort. When some of those traditions start to feel forced, uncomfortable or insincere, it may be time to have honest family discussions about changing things up a bit. In fact, you could even have a tradition of being non-traditional — for example, pick a different theme for decorations or parties and have fun coming up with new ideas. I’m not sure what we were thinking, but one year, we decorated our tree with toy alligators on skis, wearing teeny tiny hats and scarves.

From Mary: I like decorating! But with so many possibilities squeezed into so little time I’ve learned NOT TO DO anything I really DON’T WANT TO do!

From Donna: We kick off our Christmas season by watching “White Christmas” on Thanksgiving evening. We’ve seen it so often, we now practically recite the movie as it plays and, of course, sing along to each musical number! Then, one day in December, we have sugar cookie day complete with an anatomically correct gingerbread man or woman! Donna, I’d like to see some photos of your work!

From Cindy: We Watch the movie Christmas Story. We can’t get enough of it.

From Linda: have lights everywhere. The lights for me mean hope, love and celebration.

Several people told me about some nontraditional visitors to the family nativity set up:

From Tina: Last year, the Tardis and Godzilla visited my nativity scene…we’ll see if they return this year

From Julie: We also have a Nativity Dragon. When my daughter was 2 or 3, she was playing with the Nativity figurines. I shooed her away. I kept looking at the Nativity set thinking something was off, but never got to examine closer. This went on for a week. I finally realized she had left a Dragon in the Nativity scene. We’ve kept the Nativity Dragon ever since.

Those creative home Nativity scenes remind me of something we did for a number of Christmases when my children were little. We would all go over to Nona’s house around the corner for the traditional Italian Christmas Eve feast of fishes. Nona was friends with a German couple, Max and Trudy. Both were Holocaust survivors, and Trudy would often contribute latkes to the Christmas Eve table. They adored our children, and the children loved them, and considered them part of the family. So much so, at midnight, they would gather with us around Nona’s tree, to place the Baby Jesus into the manger. That could not be done until the youngest child brought the little baby around to everyone to kiss. Max and Trudy would kiss the little figure just like the rest of us, then drink a toast with some pretty strong anisette.

Years later, I think of those Christmas Eves, when love and camaraderie were the most important traditions — religious and cultural differences had no place, and the laughter of children and adults rang out.

Nona, Max, and Trudy are no longer with us, and my children now have children of their own. They are creating their own traditions, but sometimes we stop to remember the Christmas eves where an Italian Fish feast was attended by an Italian widow, Holocaust survivors, Irish-Italian children, and a dog who might or might not talk at midnight. We laugh, as we laughed then, because laughter is the anchor that holds memories tight.

So, take time to laugh this holiday season, your brain, and your heart will thank you for it.

Noreen Braman is the author of “Treading Water,” and is a keynote speaker & workshop facilitator. https://njlaughter.mailchimpsites.com

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