Every year we write a post on APW on navigating holiday traditions. I’ve written more than decade of these posts (with occasional additions of other voices). I’ve wrote them during my engagement, my newlywed years, the years with tiny babies, the year my dad died, and all the years that we’ve wrestled being a Jewish family that’s part of an extended interfaith family. I’ve written about splitting time with family, and growing into doing traditions on our own.
And in theory this was going to be the year I wrote about our decision to finally give up the last vestiges of (Jewish) Christmas. Except it’s not. This year is the year I’m writing about holidays in a pandemic. This is the year that all of us had the rug ripped out from under us. No matter what we thought we’d learned about our families and navigating and creating holiday traditions, it’s all been thrown up in the air. It’s 52 pickup, but for the holidays.
But I do come into this as a little bit of a pandemic holiday pro. The major Jewish holidays come on a different schedule from American secular and Christian ones (and no, Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday, just the one that comes at Christmastime). One of our major holidays is Passover, that came right at the beginning of quarantine. But the remainder of our major holidays come in the fall. So as a family we have just gone through the sorrow and isolation, and joy and celebration of the holidays in a pandemic. So I have some advice to give—and to remind myself of—as the American holiday season kicks into high gear.
So while I will note in passing that we plan on finally giving up our silver, kitsch, as-Jewish-as-we-can-make-it tree this year, these are the things we’re really thinking about this holiday season.
We all know we’re being asked to stay home this year, and not mix family groups. But, frankly, I’ve been really surprised by how many folks I see… not doing that. The excuses are endless. “It’s just a few family members,” “It’s outside,” “We’re being safe.” But most folx are not quarantining for two weeks in the lead up to holiday gatherings… so I’m concerned. Because if we’re all exceptions, what’s the rule?
So as hard as it is, we’re staying at home this year. It’s extra painful, because my oldest turns eight on Thanksgiving day. But as Jews we’ve just gone through all of our major holidays in isolation, so I know we’ll get through this one too.
Trying To Juggle Everything
Like everyone in America, I am overwhelmed. I am very aware that I’m overwhelmed because I’m being asked to do more than any one human can possibly manage at once. I’m being asked to be an entire society… all while in isolation. So I’m very aware that as much as our instincts can be RUN FULL FORCE TOWARDS THE HOLIDAYS AND DO ALL THE THINGS (like that creepy Overstock commercial where people re-decorate their whole homes for the 2020 holidays, from Christmas carpets to indoor blow up snowmen all with matching pajamas)… doing that is going to break me. And there is a lot more pandemic winter stretching out beyond December, so grinding myself to dust is not an option.
So I’m going to take this thing at a measured pace, and have faith that will be good for my loved ones as well.
Lean into Decorating
I know I just threw shade at that Overstock commercial, and I stand by it. Nobody needs a new area rug for any holiday. BUT. BUT.
During the Jewish holidays, I’ve learned that decoration is one of the things we can lean into, even in a pandemic. And decorating is great for giving us a sense of the passing seasons. So we have liberally changed up decorations, and done tons of craft projects to create festive fun. (This is great if you have kids, but frankly sometimes even more soothing if you don’t have kids.) Yesterday we did a big holiday decor roundup, but I also encourage looking up DIY projects, and repurposing anything you have around your house that you can make celebratory. (Cutting up old sheets, sewing napkins, and dying them to match your holiday color story? I mean why not if you’ve got the time, and need to keep your hands busy.)
And here it’s worth noting: WE ARE IN A CRISIS, and we all cope with trauma differently. I do best when I keep my hands busy and my house cheerful, so I decorate. If that’s not how you cope, NO JUDGEMENT. Holiday decor has no moral value. If it’s fun for you, do it. If it’s overwhelming for you, don’t.
Cooking In Moderation
I’m not the cook in our house, though I do help with holiday menu planning. And what I learned at Rosh Hashanah is that in our house, during the pandemic, we need to pace ourselves. It’s worth it for us to make a few dishes that are personally or culturally deeply important to our family. It is not worth it for us to spend ten hours cooking, have a hour meal with our nuclear family, and then spend three hours cleaning up. Instead, we can cook a few things, and order some other items from a local restaurant that really needs the business. They win, we win, everyone wins.
Connect… A Little Bit
Remember way back in the spring, when Zoom seemed like the answer to everything? Well, over the course of the Jewish holidays, we learned that trying to connect too much leaves us feeling sad. Our nuclear family Passover Seder? Small, but fine. Our big Zoom Extended Family Passover Seder? Stressful AF, and left us feeling the emptiness of the people not with us.
So instead, we’ve learned to set up quick phone calls or Facetime with family to check in, text some pictures back and forth, and focus on what’s right in front of us.
And Everything Else
But the real truth is I don’t have all the answers (even for myself) and none of them are easy. I didn’t mention gifts here, because the thought of adding gifts to my plate totally overwhelms me. I normally love a holiday card, but I haven’t figured out how to manage one this year. That doesn’t mean I won’t do gifts or holiday cards… but that means I’m pacing myself. (And waiting for the great gift guides we’ll be publishing soon.) And I’m getting comfortable with the idea that it’s not all going to happen this year and that’s fine.
While I don’t have high hopes for (at least) the beginning of 2021, I will ring in the New Year proud of the fact that we’ve survived, whatever that survival looks like.
What about you? How are you planning on navigating holiday traditions this year? What problems (and emotions) are you grappling with? Can we just virtually group hug it out for a second? This shit is hard.