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Missing out on family traditions is one more downside of the pandemic

This holiday time is particularly difficult for my husband and me. We love family traditions and the pandemic has robbed us from them. Since we are in our late 60s, we have had many years to establish our long-standing family rituals. Among other things, we miss our Christmas shopping; sending gifts in a box is not quite the same. Although we know that there will be an end to the pandemic, we still have to get through the holidays. Any tips to make this easier? B.D.

Dear B.D.

Losing tradition can feel like an attack on our soul as each holiday and tradition gives us the opportunity to celebrate our values and beliefs.

Traditions are important for many reasons. The writer Frank Sonnenberg composed a list that touches on this. In it, he includes the opportunity to be together, to share values and to serve as a model for younger generations.

Traditions become important markers. They are predictable, always falling on the same date or time of year. In a year of uncertainty and even fear, our traditions have a grounding impact, knowing that at least some things will remain consistent.

Yet how we celebrate traditions may change. For example, those coming from another country may decide to give up some of their traditions and adopt new ones. Divorce and separation may change who shows up for celebrations. Children may be present one year and not the next. Traditions of decorating the Christmas tree, opening presents or lighting Chanukah candles may take on a different feeling as the presence of grandchildren may not always be predictable. And of course, traditions have changed with the pandemic.

In general, we are resilient, creative and usually do not surrender to such changes. Although we know “help is on the way,” it may be some time until our celebrations will feel normal.

In the meantime, here are a few tips that can serve the purpose of connecting and communicating, an important aspect of most celebrations and rituals.

1. Use video conferencing such as Zoom. Learn how to be the initiator in creating a meeting. That leaves you in the driver’s seat to make a get together happen. Your meeting can occur before, during or after the holiday. Just announce it as a holiday celebration time.

2. Share the spree of baking with a cookie exchange. Under normal conditions, guests bring several dozen of their favorite homemade cookies to your home to share. Ideally, each guest would go home with multiple kinds of cookies. During Covid, consider a drop-off and pick up of cookies at guests’ homes. Then have a zoom chat about which cookies you like the best as well as checking out the recipes.

3. Exchange gifts through the mail. Include the instruction, “Wait to open until we connect on Zoom or through Facetime.” Factor in different time zones. Watching a child open a gift we have sent is a joy. As a grandparent, we can wait to open our gift to let others see our expression of appreciation.

4. Provide a celebration meal in a box followed by a Zoom call. Here are two examples. For the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, I created a break the fast in a box which included lox, bagels, kugel and more. Guests picked up their box from my driveway the afternoon prior to the holiday and we all ate together via Zoom. The best part was that I got to see everyone in their car at pick-up. Jean Adelsman elevated the “in the box” concept to Thanksgiving on a tray which included 25 guests with menu choices, such as white or dark meat, sweet potatoes or mashed and more. With so many guests, we were assigned a box pick-up time.

These are just a few examples of variations that can help us keep the holiday spirit alive.

B.D., Thank you for your timely question. Patience with some creativity is in order. Who knows, we may come up with new customs that will translate into new traditions.

Enjoy this holiday season a bit differently and stay safe and well along the way.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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