At first the idea of celebrating the holidays without family made me very sad. But then I got myself right and realized that creating new holiday traditions was its own gift!
It’s no secret that this pandemic has been tough for me. I’m going to guess it has been for you, too.
It sucks. But I can’t change my circumstances. I can only change how I feel about them. And changing my feelings and thoughts about the situation means I can change my actions.
You can, too.
This shift in perspective seems small, but it’s pretty seismic in terms of your mental health. Instead of seeing the sadness in being separated, look at it as an opportunity.
For one, there’s no fighting over whose house to spend which day at. If you’re usually the host, there’s no stress over cooking and cleaning for company. There probably won’t be a terrible office holiday party to worry about either.
These are all wins!
I decided that I could be angry about Pandemic Christmas ™ in 2020 or I could relish the freedom to create new holiday traditions. Since 2023 is coming to an end now too, why not revisit some ideas that I came up with back then?
I invite you to explore this as an opportunity for you and your family, too. No matter how big or small.
Because let’s face it: this may not be the last or only time we’ll have to create new holiday traditions—or any kind of traditions!
This can happen almost any time in life. A divorce, death of a loved one, cross-country move, or even the kids moving out/getting married/having their own kids can put a huge crimp in how a family celebrates the holidays.
Let’s grab some resilience while we have it because this shouldn’t be a sad time. There’s power in adopting something new.
My family typically gets together to make pastels (a Puerto Rican dish). Since that’s impossible this year, I came up with a coquito recipe to share instead.
My brother has already told me he’s using white rum instead. Sure dude, it’s all good!
Instead, my husband and I are going to eat pasteles leftover from last year (they freeze exceptionally well!) on Christmas Eve, and maybe we’ll find ugly sweaters and drink mulled wine or coquito. It’s all up in the air because now we have so many more choices about how to spend our time.
I’m so excited!
I asked around about what others were planning to do this year, and got some great responses. My friend Beth had a brilliant idea of creating a drink and cookie pairing. So far she’s had snickerdoodles with egg nog and blackberry thumbprint cookies with hot apple cider. I’m hungry just reading those words!!
(I highly recommend getting on her mailing list if you want more of these incredible pairing ideas!)
Beth is also connecting with family over Zoom to bake cookies in tandem. At the end of the call, everyone has a batch of cookies to enjoy for themselves! What a great way to connect with people near or far AND have some edible merriment.
Still at a loss for how to mix it up this year? It’s a great time to metaphorically step outside of your bubble and explore how other cultures celebrate. Here are some ideas from around the world:
New Holiday Traditions to Explore from Around the World
In the Netherlands, children leave traditional clogs by the fireplace filled with hay and carrots for Sinterklaas’ horse. Imagine doing that instead of hanging stockings.
Forget playing Elf on the Shelf! Take a page out of Iceland’s traditions by enjoying the Icelandic tradition of jólabókaflóð and read a book!
In Mexico, Las Posadas reenact the tradition of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter, only to be turned away. You can skip the rejection and just make tamales and break open a piñata instead!
Or celebrate Noche de los Rabanos like the Oaxacans and carve radishes!
As an aside, did you know that poinsettias date back to the Aztec empire of pre-Columbian Mexico?
If enjoying Chinese food for the holidays is also on your list, seek out a recipe for tangyuan which is sticky rice balls in a sweet soup. These are made to honor ancestors.
In Japan the winter solstice or toji is welcomed with soaking in hot springs. Even if you can’t get to a hot spring, a warm bath is a perfect way to connect with your partner or yourself over the cold winter.
Fried chicken is also huge at this time of year in Japan.
If a more robust festival atmosphere is what you need, get into the spirit of Junkanoo by learning some Bahamian dances. Even just watching videos of the grand parades and hearing the music should help change your state of mind.
Who doesn’t love a dance party in the living room?
Although celebrated later in the year, you can still capture the festivities from the Venice Carnival by creating masks at home.
It’s okay to be sad that things aren’t going to be the same this year. They might never be the same again. You can grieve that too. Hell, burn an effigy of the devil like they do in Guatemala! It might help incinerate those cords tied to grief.
But don’t let it keep you from trying something new. Who knows, you might like it!
For more unique ideas from other cultures, check out these lists:
- Newsweek: 10 Holiday Traditions Celebrated Around the World
- Afar: Holiday Traditions Around the World That Might Surprise You
- Travel+Leisure: 11 Unique Holiday Traditions From Around The World
- Country Living: 20 Christmas Traditions Around the World That May Surprise You
What new holiday traditions will you incorporate this year?