11 Ways to Create New Holiday Traditions

The Past

Across cultures, we have a myriad of holiday traditions. With the Pandemic, a number of these traditions will, sadly, not occur.

Large gatherings of family and friends will be risky, especially if seniors are involved. Employers or school holiday parties seem like a thing of the past. Travel by plane or train or bus isn’t right for many people, at least for those who are “at risk.”

Sitting on Santa’s lap at a mall or store seems like an impossibility. Group religious events (from tree lighting to worship services) will be curtailed and done differently. Sharing hot cocoa by a fireplace in homes of friends and family will be limited. The midnight rush to the discount store for last-minute shopping and good deals among hordes of people will not occur.

Add to this that physical touch – hugging, for example – will be diminished. And, we all like holiday hugs!

Remember that holidays are not always easy for some families, particularly those who have recently (or in the past) experienced loss, illness, or separation, despite the Hallmark expectations. Loneliness and disappointment are present for far too many. For families that are experiencing job losses, food scarcity, addictions, or abuse, the holidays are not a time for finding joy and celebrating.

This means that this year, holidays will be hard for most people—those who struggled in the past with holidays and those old traditions are not occurring.

Now what? The steps forward

It would be easy to get disheartened and discouraged. Children who remember years past may be disappointed. Add to this the situation with schools: they closed and restarted in some fashion; their continuation of their staying open with full functionality isn’t at all clear.

Also, school activities for the holidays need to change, as many students will still be learning online in December 2020. And, let’s assume good health for the most part, despite the risks of COVID and the flu.

Recognition of difference

First, it is important to acknowledge that this year will be different at holiday time. Trying to make it the same as it was in past years can be frustrating. The ideas suggested here are designed to enable new approaches, new traditions, and new ways of celebrating the upcoming holidays. Recognition of difference is the first step.

Planning and coordination

Planning is the next step. Many of the ideas suggested here require some advance preparation and coordination. November and December are good times for that to happen. And, the planning itself can generate excitement and good feelings.

Involvement of other people

Involving and engaging others in the planning and preparation is beneficial because that will help people buy into and believe in the power of the new ideas and new traditions. People can make these ideas their own if they are given an opportunity to share in their creation.

Lastly and importantly, look to create joy and laughter and play. All of these help us feel better about ourselves and others.

A menu of suggestions

What follows are a set of suggestions for the upcoming holidays, understanding that the ideas can be adapted and adjusted for different religions, different family situations, different aged children, and different past traditions. Reflect on this as an opportunity like no other to develop new traditions.

Two over-arching themes: First, it is perfectly acceptable to have fun and celebrate, even in the face of a Pandemic. Finding ways to experience play and joy are pathways forward in the midst of difficulty.

Second, this is a time to try new things; be creative and bold, remembering that not every idea will succeed. We are living in a period of time in which an “A” for effort counts for a lot.

1. Do things involving food and share your meals

Do things involving food and share whatever is made with others (assuming they are not scared by germs and that the food is prepared safely). Share cookies. Share pies. Share meals. Decorate the food carrying cases.

It is even possible to cook simultaneously with different family members through Zoom or FaceTime. For example, send out a recipe in advance, enable time to get the ingredients, and then cook together.

2. Consider handmade gifts

Think about gifts that can be made by hand and mailed. Think about gifts that might spark a smile or a laugh. Think about gifts that message joy and caring. Think about gifts that are personalized. Think of gifts that are good to the touch; tactile sensation has real meaning when we are so deprived of physical contact due to COVID. Now is not the time to give an umbrella (if there ever were such a time).

Here are some specific gift ideas that message the “personal:”

  • Sing a song and send it around;
  • Write a poem or a story and send it along;
  • Create a collage of photos and send it along;
  • Make or find amazing picture frames and fill them with drawings or new photos, or even old photos.

Personalized gifts have extra special meaning now as the Pandemic has made many folks feel isolated and even homogenized.

3. Creative holiday masks

Think about designing and creating special creative masks that can be mailed to family members. These would be “family” masks that everyone can wear during the holiday season. Holiday colors can be the theme of the masks, and they could be fun masks. Then, a family could all wear them together when Zooming or FaceTiming on holidays, creating connections through clothing.

For holidays that last several days like Kwanza and Chanukah, this could be a visual way to stay connected for the entire holiday period.

4. The “family search and find”

The above mask idea leads to another idea. There can be a family “creature” that is created from paper and hidden in spots in different households and then photographed. Family members can try to find the creature in each other’s houses via images. This means that while each family is geographically separate, they are sharing in a group activity.

Call it a “family search and find.” The creature could even be moved to different places on different days, and others have to find the creature every day in different family members’ homes.

In a sense, this is a variant of Flat Stanley, a project started over a decade ago where people took pictures of themselves with Stanley and shared them with students or friends. Stanley traveled far and wide.

Note: This is not a pre-holiday “elf on a shelf” activity that tries to distinguish good and bad behavior; instead, we are fostering sharing.

5. The “ugly sweater” contest

The “ugly sweater” contests can take on new meaning with Zoom/FaceTime fashion shows. And, there can be opportunities to create sweaters that are uglier than usual before the actual fashion show.

No need to buy a sweater; try adding funny things to an existing sweater (not one that really matters!). Weave in paperclips; string in feathers; glue in different yarn or sequins.

6. Holiday countdown clock

Create a holiday countdown clock that can be shared with family and friends, and then at a designated time, have a Zoom or Facetime get together. Everyone can have a special role in that event.

Someone can sing. Someone can read a favorite poem. Someone can tell a joke. Someone can tell a special holiday memory. Roles could be picked from a hat. The point is to build up to a shared event, so there is an expectation of togetherness set for the future and not left to chance.

7. Think of a new tradition

Think of a new tradition that can be created, especially if there are young children. True, Santa can still be believed in; he could travel down a chimney despite the Pandemic. Hanging stockings and leaving milk and cookies will still have value. So will lighting a Menorah or other holiday lights. But, there could be some new traditions created – ones that could go into the future.

8. Watch or listen to the same holiday movies or songs

Explore possible new traditions together as a family or among friends: talk about a new tradition; brainstorm what it could be together; then, work to make it happen. How about groups watching the same holiday movie or listening to the same holiday songs (together or separately) and then talking about it?

There are virtual theatre and movie and book clubs now; try some of those approaches. Imagine everyone in many distinct locations with popcorn and a shared movie – that’s a good picture.

9. Shine a flashlight at a specific time each night

Have a whole community stand on their porches or looking out their windows and shining a flashlight at a specific time each night. Look for lights that will reach far and wide. Consider this like the folks in NYC who toasted and thanked the healthcare workers every evening at 7:00.

This could be the holiday equivalent of that—sharing thanks and good cheer to all the people who can see the projected light.

10. Create ornaments or decorations

One other community event is for everyone to make an ornament or decoration that is in an agreed-upon shape: a star, a tree, a candle, a troll, a light, a snow scene. Then everyone makes this item in their own home.

Then, these are placed in all the windows of all the houses or apartments across the community. Then, kids can go on scavenger hunts to find all the stars or trees that are in everyone’s windows. One could create a photo montage of them by taking pictures. Or, later, they could be collected and made into a collage that turns into placemats (laminate the collage) that everyone can have in their home as a reminder of the holidays and shared activity.

Consider these as placemats that message at mealtime: we are in this together as we break bread.

11. Find a way to help those in need

Find a way, as is common already during the holidays, to help those in need. Whether this is delivering some gifts or sending along with a special message, or dropping off decorations, the point is to get the empathy engines working hard.

Every family member could write a holiday letter or email to a service member stationed abroad. (We don’t need a Pandemic for this to happen.) Helping others helps the helpers.

Concluding thoughts

We have an opportunity to work together to create new holiday traditions in these trying times. Let’s do that as individuals, as families, as communities, as a nation. We can begin that process now, and the planning itself can be comforting, showing a pathway forward.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

As you found this post useful...

Share it on social media!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

Photo of author

Website: Karen Gross Education

Karen Gross is an author and educator who specializes in student success. A former college president and tenured professor, she currently teaches including in the continuing education program at Rutgers University Graduate School of Social Work and serves as Senior Counsel to Finn Partners where she focuses on crisis management in education.

She speaks, writes and blogs about trauma and its impact on student learning and psychosocial success. She is a certified Psychological First Aid Provider and has worked at disaster sites. Her work grounds theory in real, day-to-day practice, enabling educators to reflect on and then adapt and utilize her suggestions for enabling students to become their best selves.

Her most recent book, winner of the Delta Kappa Gamma DC Chapter Apple Award, is titled Trauma Doesn't Stop at the School Door: Strategies for Educators Pre-K -- College (Teachers College Press June 2020). She also has produced several books and guides to facilitate implementation of her new book. Her website lists these items and contains additional her blogs and media appearances.