October 27, 2021

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How Will You Be Celebrating the Holidays This Year?

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In “Keeping the Holiday Season Bright,” Ronda Kaysen starts by recalling giddy holiday celebrations of years past:

I’ve been thinking about the Big Apple Circus lately. Every year around this time, my parents would take their grandchildren to see it. On the given day, we would rush into the city with our children, bundled up in their hats, coats and scarves, and hand them off outside a tent at Lincoln Center.

My husband and I, and some years my siblings, too, would get a drink and dinner at a packed restaurant nearby, enjoying the crowds and the wine and the delightful break from parenthood.

This was not an event circled in red on the calendar. Some years, I’d almost forget about it until my mother called to ask if she should get tickets again. But with the circus canceled this year along with pretty much everything else, I’ve been thinking about how much I enjoyed the ritual. The spirit of that evening was part of a mosaic that made for a giddy, frenetic season that will be a shadow of its usual self this year.

For weeks, Americans agonized over how we would make the most of a dialed down Thanksgiving, one that would not threaten the health of our loved ones. But as the holiday season kicks into full gear, we’re left counting the other markers that have been altered or erased. The dinner parties with friends. The crowded holiday markets. The school recitals and holiday concerts. Even the dreaded office holiday party.

With so many events canceled or moved online, a solid month of revelry has been replaced with just more days spent at home. Even the lazier traditions of the season, the days spent lounging around the house in new pajamas, will feel like an underwhelming way to cap a year that has been spent largely in PJs. Roughly half of the respondents to a recent HuffPost/YouGov survey said their holiday plans had been affected by the pandemic, and a majority said they expected the season to be less fun than normal.

The article goes on to explore some creative ways to adapt holiday traditions to the present circumstances:

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, Lili Knutzen, 51, a clinical psychologist in Montclair, N.J., decided she wanted to find a way to replace the long list of events that weren’t happening. In a typical year, Ms. Knutzen would take her daughters, ages 10 and 14, to a Broadway show or to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Then they’d go to Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree lighting and watch the ice skaters.

“These are things that I did as a kid that really lit up the whole Christmas season,” said Ms. Knutzen, who grew up in Brooklyn. “So when I had my own children, I was so excited to share all of these festivities with them. New York made the holidays magical.”

Rather than write this year off, Ms. Knutzen spent most of November looking for alternatives. She got tickets to Glow, an outdoor light show at the New York Botanical Garden, and to another light show at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Penn.

In an effort to liven up her home, Ms. Knutzen invited a few of her daughters’ friends to the house for a virtual Alvin Ailey performance. She also approached her neighbors about organizing an event she described as a month of light. Each night in December, a family on the block will decorate one window in their house and leave out treats for the local children. For her family’s night, Ms. Knutzen plans to decorate her window with a candy-cane theme and leave a candy-cane forest on the front lawn so the children can collect treats.

“This is a different year, and it’s not going to be like this every year,” she said. “We just have to be creative and make the most of it.”

The article concludes:

Create new mini-rituals, ones focused on breaking up the monotony of the days, and perhaps the month will feel a little more celebratory. Declare a family movie night with popcorn and treats. Invite friends to stand outside with a cup of hot cocoa when you turn on the lights outside your house, or invite them on a nighttime stroll to see the lights at other homes. If school recitals have been canceled, dance or play music in the yard.

Dr. Dimitris Xygalatas, at the University of Connecticut, pointed out that all traditions have to start somewhere. Longstanding ones can change from one year to the next, even if no one wants to admit it.

“This isn’t new that people are creating new traditions — it’s always happened and they always go through a process of cultural selection,” he said. “I predict that a lot of families will invent new traditions this year that will stay with them.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • How will you be celebrating this holiday season? What are you looking forward to most? Do you have a favorite holiday meal, movie, song or go-to playlist?

  • How do you typically celebrate the winter holidays? What traditions do you and your family participate in? Tell us about one or more of your favorite traditions, and what they mean to you. Do you have a favorite holiday memory?

  • What impact will the coronavirus pandemic have on your holiday traditions and rituals? What new traditions, if any, are you and your family planning to begin this year? Do you agree with Ms. Kaysen that it’s important to create new rituals if you are unable to celebrate old ones?

  • Why are family traditions, especially holiday ones, important? Do you agree with Dr. Xygalatas, an associate professor of anthropology and psychology, that “we are essentially programmed by our evolution to have these ceremonies”? What does it feel like to not be able to enjoy these ceremonies and traditions as you have in the past?

  • Does reading the article give you more hope for this year’s holidays? Are you now inspired to create new traditions — big or small — this winter? Which of Ms. Kaysen’s recommendations to make the month feel a little more celebratory resonate most? What suggestions do you have for others who are feeling down about the loss of important holiday traditions?


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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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