“Isn’t he afraid of falling ill?” she asked.
Mallory’s mother, Kelley Miller, said she was taken aback by her daughter’s questions. Like so much about the pandemic, there were no obvious answers.
She told Mallory that Santa Claus and his reindeer would be wearing masks and would move very quickly when they visited the Millers’ house in Ashburn, Va., A suburb of Washington, DC.
Mallory thought about this for a while and concluded that leaving out the milk and cookies would be a bad idea. “We don’t want him to take his mask off in the house because he has traveled,” she said. Her mother agreed.
So they decided that this year, instead of treats, they would give Santa a hand-decorated disposable mask and a large bottle of hand sanitizer.
This holiday season is going to be a little weird. The best selling pandemic themed Christmas ornaments. Family reunions are drastically changed or canceled entirely. It is forbidden to go to the local mall to take an annual photo with Santa Claus. Some Jewish families are considering lighting the menorah above Zoom. And church services, like those held during major Jewish Holy Days in September, are held outdoors, online, or with other modifications.
In order to feel safe and create some semblance of the holiday spirit, families are redefining traditions and rituals they don’t normally think will change.
Talesha Savage, 39, who lives in a suburb of Atlanta, will not be attending a big Thanksgiving party with her extended family this year. Instead, three family members will visit her home for a quick, socially distant tasting of their favorite desserts. They will eat a poundcake that Savage bakes every year in memory of his mother, who died at the age of 9, and taste his stepmother’s “ooey gooey” chocolate cake, with a rich center that tastes like ‘a half-baked brownie.
“I think about things differently,” she says. “How can we maintain our traditions while adding a touch?”
At first, she said, the prospect of such an abbreviated celebration left her feeling “very sad and lonely.” She and her extended family usually spend a lot of time together, and they miss it.
But of late, as coronavirus cases have continued to rise, she has started to feel relieved that they have decided to prioritize safety and avoid a potential family reunion event that has turned super-spreader.
Their focus on Thanksgiving dessert also means a lot less work, less stress, and less trips to the store, she added.
“One thing Covid has forced me to do is be more present and in the moment,” she said. “I really had the opportunity to slow down.”
In some areas, families will need to follow new state rules when creating their vacation plans.
New York has limited indoor and outdoor private gatherings to 10 people. In California, state leaders have told residents not to reunite with people outside their homes and to resist visiting relatives during the holidays. And on Monday, Washington state banned indoor gatherings with people from more than one household (unless attendees meet specific quarantine or testing requirements).
Alexandra Gunnoe, 40, who lives in Seattle, plans to visit her parents on Christmas Eve. (Her family will be quarantined for two weeks and get pre-tested for Covid-19.) Usually her extended family would arrive by plane so they could all spend Christmas together. And her children – aged 7 and 17 months – would normally see their friends throughout the month of December. But this year they had to improvise and find different activities.
“It’s tough, but I think the bigger picture is to face it for a year, to try to get this under control, and if it saves lives I feel like I’m all for it,” she declared.
Even in areas of the country that do not have restrictions on indoor gatherings, many families remain cautious. Krista Kearns, 40, who lives in Missoula, MT, said she hasn’t seen her in-laws since Thanksgiving last year, which has been difficult even though they still see each other on FaceTime .
Because they can’t visit loved ones this year, Kearns, her husband, and their two children plan to air a Thanksgiving talent show on Zoom. She would like her extended family to be on the show, but some of them “might need some restraint,” she said.
“It feels good in the sense that everyone is doing whatever it takes so that when it’s safe to be together, we’re all there,” she said.
Finding new ways to create stability and connection is important, especially during the pandemic, said Dimitris Xygalatas, associate professor of anthropology and psychology at the University of Connecticut, who has studied rituals for two decades. .
The predictable and rigid nature of the rituals helps allay anxiety and build social bonds, he added.
“This is precisely the time when we need these rituals or traditions more than ever before, and this is exactly the time when we cannot have them. It creates a lot of additional anxiety, ”said Dr Xygalatas.
Even before the pandemic, people were changing the way they spent vacations. In recent years, more and more people have identified themselves as atheists or agnostics and therefore no longer participate in religious rituals as much as before, said Mike Norton, a professor at Harvard Business School who is working on a book on rituals of daily life.
“You could say it’s because people don’t want rituals, but rather because people clearly do it because now they’re creating all kinds of new rituals,” like yoga and spin classes, said Dr. Norton.
And over the course of a lifetime, milestones like the birth of a new child or a marriage will change not only who we celebrate with, but often the way we celebrate, he added.
The sudden changes this year are sure to seem a little shocking. But there is always the possibility that the holidays will feel special.
Pooja Makhijani, a New York Times contributor, recently wrote about how she wouldn’t celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival, as she usually does: This year her family sent their treats instead of hand-delivering them , and they created new traditions, “like planting bulbs in the back yard that will bloom in the spring to represent the passing of another year,” she wrote. Despite the changes, she added, she was eager to feel the comfort and joy that Diwali brings.
Kelley Miller, whose daughter leaves Santa with a hand-decorated mask and disinfectant, decided this year to incorporate a holiday ritual from her own childhood.
When Miller, 45, was young, she scoured the Sears catalog and carefully noted the item numbers and descriptions of the toys she wanted. Her parents then set the list on fire in the fireplace. He was told that the smoke rising from the chimney would make its way to Santa’s house at the North Pole and magically transmit his wishes.
Miller’s daughter thinks it sounds like something Harry Potter would do and is excited to try it out. A win-win, allowing the family to skip their annual trip to visit Santa in person.
“It’s pretty bright,” Miller said. “It really saved us this year.”