Embracing New Holiday Traditions: 4 Lessons Learned

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” as the song goes. There’s an energy in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Airports are busy with people flying home for the holidays, malls filled with holiday shoppers, countless holiday parties, Secret Santas, and the Santa Claus parade.

It’s a bit magical to watch the city transform, even if you’re not into Christmas. The spectacle of giant holiday trees, holiday-themed storefronts and ice skating under the twinkle of holiday lights. Hot chocolate, eggnog, gingerbread houses and Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas‘ blaring through speakers in just about every store. Don’t forget the hours of driving as people go from house to house visiting loved ones and delivering presents. And it isn’t the holidays without the big family gathering on Christmas day with people all dressed in our holiday best and filled with merriment and good cheer.

Most people seem happier and in the festive spirit this time of year and, it’s hard not to get caught up in it at some point. I can do without crowded malls and the expense and excess that can be symbolic of the holidays but, I’m a sucker for a beautifully decorated tree, and I’m all in when it comes to binge-watching holiday movies and having a holiday playlist on repeat. 

Traditionally, that’s what Christmas might look like for most of us – some variation of that. And this year, I was hoping we’d bring back those old traditions and celebrate like the worst of the pandemic era was finally behind us. 

Sadly, that isn’t the case. The pandemic is once again making the holidays complicated. We are left wondering if we can keep our holiday traditions alive and the people we love safe. 

Keeping Some Traditions and Finding New Ones

There are, of course, some traditions that can still be maintained like, decorating the tree, hanging a wreath and stockings and gift-giving.

Some of us might still have small gatherings and enjoy outdoor activities like ice-skating and checking out holiday decorations and activities in and around the community. Yet, many of us will have to find new ways to mark this time of year. We have to create new traditions to replace the old ones that are no longer feasible because so much has changed. There is a great sadness in that, but also an opportunity too. 

A couple of years ago, I had one of the best Christmas holidays I’d had in a long time. It was not the traditional dinner at my mom’s place with family, a ton of food, and lots of leftovers in what always seemed like endless amounts of Tupperware that could probably take up a lot of self-space in Walmart. This time around, my mother opted to spend the holidays in Jamaica with my sister while my niece and I accepted an invitation to stay with my aunt and cousins. 

I spent three days stuffing my face (my aunt, like my mother, loves to cook and I appreciate that so much!), laughing out loud and enjoying the low-key vibe of the holidays with my fam. 

That was a new way to do Christmas for my family. After years of everyone gathering in one place, we celebrated in smaller groups. My mother and sister spent Christmas with family and friends in Jamaica and I spent the holidays with my aunt and cousins at their home. It was not traditional but as an introvert, having a smaller, more intimate gathering was more comfortable and left me feeling energized instead of exhausted as I typically am this time of year.

Did I miss aspects of our traditional dinners, like seeing my four aunties and mom in the kitchen and hearing stories of when they were younger? Absolutely. But experiencing this new way of doing Christmas also had its benefits like, spending a lot of quality time with people I love in a way that I wouldn’t have done. 

I had no idea that would be the last time I would be around family members like that. Three months later, Covid-19 changed everything. 

Letting Go of the Past by Embracing Gratitude

The following Christmas, it was clear that my mother was hoping to have a small gathering for dinner, but she soon realized that everyone’s health and safety, including her own, mattered more than turkey and stuffing.

She was able to cook and bake for pick-up/drop-off, yes very much like UberEats, because it’s not Christmas if she doesn’t get to prepare a big meal for folks to enjoy, even if that meant not enjoying it together. It kept her busy and provided her with whatever comfort she needed to help get through a pandemic Christmas and to make the holidays a little brighter after months of daily heartbreaking news and days filled with panic and anxiety. 

This new version of the holidays was different, not as fun, but we were all so very grateful to be healthy and well, alive, given the circumstances that it didn’t matter that we weren’t able to be together in person. 

I want to share a few things I’ve learned from adjusting my holiday traditions because of the pandemic and why it wasn’t a bad thing.

4 Lessons from Embracing New Holiday Traditions

Placing gratitude at the heart of it all is the way to go.

If you can take some time to look around, undistracted and reflect on all the things you are grateful for this holiday season, you may surprise yourself with how much meaning and joy you can find with what you still have instead of focusing on what you longer have. Hang on to that feeling and let it fill you up and, carry you through the holidays.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better.  

Sometimes it’s in the smaller gatherings that are significant. It’s an opportunity for you, especially if you’re hosting, to slow down and scale down all the things. With less fuss and busyness involved in preparing for large gatherings, you have more time to focus and be present in the moment. 

With smaller gatherings you get to fully enjoy the time you spend with loved ones without the overwhelm, exhaustion and massive pile of dirty dishes.

Also, a smaller gathering may be beneficial if you have extended family members who routinely annoy you during the holidays.

Meaningful connections can still happen remotely.

Last year I had very minimal contact with family members. I’m talking a saw my cousins for a few minutes outside to exchange gifts. The holidays were all about phone calls and video chats. 

I taught my mother how to FaceTime and my aunties how to use Zoom for the first time and, they had a group chat with cousins in the UK that lasted hours. I stay more connected to my family now than I did before the pandemic. Even by phone or video, the connection is still real and, it’s still meaningful. 

Giving back makes you merrier. 

This time of year we can spend a lot on gifts for our loved ones (and dare I say, on ourselves because holiday sales are irresistible!). However, the holiday is also a time for giving back. And since giving back helps others and has the added benefit of making you feel good, it’s a perfect way to help make the most out of a not-so-traditional holiday season. 

Giving back can lift your spirits, knowing that you are making a difference in the lives of others, even when the pandemic has put a damper on our moods. 

Final Thoughts

It’s been a rough, sometimes depressing period for most of us. The holidays are typically a time for celebration and joy but also a time for reflection and gratitude. So, if you find yourself having to adjust your holiday plans and break once again with tradition, it’s ok. Our holiday traditions are wonderful, and necessary in many ways, but they don’t have to be fixed (the past year has proven that). 

Be flexible and open to finding ways to create new traditions or adjust old ones and still make meaningful memories grounded in gratitude for all that you have.


About cassandra mcd.

World's coolest aunt (so I've been told). I'm all about personal growth and living a healthy lifestyle that prioritizes self-care and mental wellness. I want to embrace aging with swagger (and less gray hair), living life more mindfully and filled with an abundance of gratitude.
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