Make the most of this weird holiday season
Even home alone can be holly jolly
In the interest of forgoing this holiday season together to ensure many more with our extended families, let’s focus on the good news. Though it might be hard to believe now, the promising vaccine developments suggest the proverbial tunnel finally has a light at the end. We just need to hang in there a little longer.
You’ll likely be able to plan a spectacular family feast for Easter 2021, said Paula Cannon, a virologist and professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. (For calendar-marking purposes, that’s April 4.)
“Come Easter, you can have two turkeys. You can make up for it,” she said. For now, “I think there is no greater way to show your gratitude and give thanks for your family than to forgo the usual family get-together this year.”
In other words: We only have to do this once.
So let’s make the most of it and celebrate everything that makes the holidays special without putting anyone else at risk.
This won’t be the first time for Jacy Topps, a freelance writer who’s written about why she chooses to celebrate the holidays alone.
It started when she moved to New York City and couldn’t afford a ticket home, but she discovered she enjoyed making new traditions on her own, like watching all the “Harry Potter” movies on TV while drinking homemade butterbeer.
After she got married she spent the first few holidays with her in-laws, but this year, she’s opting out. Her wife’s family holds different political views, and she said that although a part of her wishes she could see them and gloat, it’s more important to her to take this time for herself.
Indulging your own wants and needs over fulfilling a duty to be with family (for a potentially contentious gathering) is a radical act of self-care, particularly as a Black woman, she said.
“There is that stigma that you have to spend [the holidays] with people even though you don’t want to see these people or travel or hang out with them or do their traditions. It’s more of a societal pressure,” she said. “Sometimes you have obligations, and that’s fine, and you do those some years, but some years it’s OK to treat yourself and do what makes you happy. Your obligation is to yourself.”
She and her wife are going all-out this year, at home. They trimmed their tree earlier in the season than usual, like a lot of us this year.
“Whatever brings you joy, just find it,” Topps said.
An expert on holiday rituals echoes that assessment. Ovul Sezer, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina, led a study about how participating in rituals and traditions affects enjoyment of the holiday season.
The verdict: “Family rituals improve the holidays,” Sezer said, and add to overall holiday enjoyment.
And they didn’t just look at religious rituals. Things like having a board game night or opening gifts at the same time or eating a traditional family recipe all contributed. These are all things we can try to re-create with the power of phone and video call technology.
So while it might be tempting to skip doing anything holiday-related — to pretend we are merely in late, late, late, late March 2020 — it’s worth doing.
If you are someone with Zoom-savvy friends and family, here are some ideas for staying connected during the holidays from The Times’ We Can Teach You That event:
It might seem like trying to re-create things would make it all worse, amplifying how different it is. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, said America was already in a loneliness epidemic even before the pandemic.
We don’t have a lot of good data yet as to whether getting together on a video call alleviates loneliness, she said. It might come down to personal preference and whether people are comfortable using the technology.
Offline, another critical aspect of alleviating loneliness is increasing the quality of the face-to-face interactions you are able to have, Holt-Lunstad said.
When you have downtime with the people you live with or your pod, don’t spend it all looking at screens. Engaging in hands-on activities together and having real conversations will make you feel more connected to one another than scrolling Twitter simultaneously.
Make a holiday bucket list
MaCenna Lee, whose YouTube channel “XO, MaCenna” has more than 600,000 subscribers, describes herself as “very much a Christmas person.” You can watch her video in which she puts up Christmas decorations in her mid-Wilshire apartment.
“I’m having it big this year. If I can’t do anything else, I’m going to enjoy everything that holiday decorating brings,” she said. Her goal is to “inspire people to welcome in the holiday season indoors and make sure they’re spending time enjoying traditions and keeping up their traditions and not letting them dissipate because they’re not able to see family.”
Her plan for the rest of the season: a “holiday bucket list,” where she writes down all the things she loves doing during this time of year and crosses something off it every day. Activities include making hot cocoa and creating DIY gifts.
Another thing to add to your list: practice gratitude. Holt-Lunstad said research shows that expressions of gratitude are associated with increased social bonding and reduced loneliness. Telling people you appreciate them makes both of you feel better.
And be grateful for the things you can still do while taking pandemic precautions. Cannon, the USC virologist, keeps her backyard set up for COVID-safe gatherings: two tables, spaced 20 feet apart.
“There’s really nothing you can do that’s as safe as moving a party outdoors,” she said.
We’re lucky to live in Southern California, where the weather will stay reasonable through winter, though not exactly toasty, especially if you’re out past sunset.
She just made a critical California-winter investment: patio heaters.