Celebrating at a safe distance

Pandemic forces families to adapt their holiday traditions so they can be together and stay safe while still enjoying the traditions of the holiday season


Photo courtesy of Naomi Di-Capua

Naomi Di-Capua follows her family’s traditional Christmas tree decorating strategies, despite not being able to celebrate with extended relatives. Her family opted out of group celebration this year due to the pandemic.

Alice Scott, staff reporter

Surviving the holiday season just got harder. As people struggle to navigate their way through the COVID holiday landscape, they are faced with one main challenge: preserving tradition and safely coming together as a family. It’s why this year, when so many are apart from their loved ones, the thought of celebration feels bittersweet.

“I’m disappointed.” Naomi Di-Capua, a freshman choral studies major, said. “[The holidays] can be stressful, but it’s also super comforting and beautiful at the same time. The time you get with family is really nice, but I don’t think it’s going to be much of a break because we’re all at home anyway.”

Whether these holidays have religious or cultural significance, the comfort of being surrounded by family embodies the spirit of the holiday season.

“I have a huge family,” Di-Capua said. “It’s really hard to get everyone together all throughout the holidays so we have this huge omelet party with all of my cousins and aunts and uncles and it’s the funnest thing. It’s just everyone coming together and seeing each other. It’s a really nice sense of community.”

Traditions have been built on these familial bonds which make up some of the most important holiday practices.

“My family is Jewish, but a lot of my extended family is not,” senior Lindsey Plotkin said. “So one year we were trying to think of fun things to do and as a joke I said that we should do a Jewish Christmas; we order Chinese food and watch a movie, and it stuck.”

But this year, many people have had to change their usual holiday plans due to the health risks caused by COVID-19.

The time you get with family is really nice, but I don’t think it’s going to be much of a break because we’re all at home anyway.

— Naomi Di-Capua

“We celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas.” Di-Capua said. “Normally we would go up to Utah to hang out with my grandma and my big family there, which I highly doubt we’ll be doing that this year. My grandma got COVID back in the summer. She’s fine, but you know COVID has complications after you heal from it. She was borderline diabetic for a while and almost had a couple strokes. So because the family on that side is so big, it’s really hard to keep a group controlled, so we thought it would just be safer if we didn’t [go].”

The choice to see or not to see family did not come without deep contemplation. But for some, the need to see family outweighed the added risk factors.

“The holidays are really important in my family.” Naomi Pearson, a freshman tech theatre major said. “That’s the thing you do, you go and see your family. I think it’s important because in a time like this where we haven’t gotten to meet up with people or see people, it feels more important to try and make those connections.”

Many families have taken unique approaches to ensure safety for all those involved in their holiday celebrations. From FaceTiming with family to outdoor socially distant gatherings, flexibility has been key to holiday planning in the pandemic.

“We’re going to my grandpa’s land so that we can still see people, but it’s not like an enclosed tiny kitchen where everybody’s shoving each other around and up in their faces,” Naomi Pearson said.

Prepping Thanksgiving dinner, Mark Pearson checks on his food cooking on coals before an outdoor celebration on his parents land. The Pearsons chose a wide open space to spend Thanksgiving so that it would be easier to practice recommended COVID-19 safety precautions. (Photo courtesy of Naomi Pearson)

“We figured out ways to do it in as safe a way as possible and a way that feels safe to us,” Naomi’s mother Kristen Pearson agreed. “It’s hard, because there are so many different views about what is safe or not. Having a place to do Thanksgiving outside really helps, because we could ask for that.”

Although these plans may be different, the challenge provides the chance for creative problem solving and an opportunity to make new memories and set new traditions.

“I’m actually really excited about being outside and trying to pull Thanksgiving together with a grill and fire,” Kristen Pearson said. “Time outside has been a really healthy thing, and I am looking forward to more time out there.”

Changing holiday celebration plans to meet the needs of their families is becoming the new normal. The Pearsons, like many others, have been working to be extra cautious of their social interactions due to serious health issues surrounding Kristen’s mother.

We figured out ways to do [Thanksgiving dinner] in as safe a way as possible and a way that feels safe to us. it’s hard, because there are so many different views about what is safe or not.

— Kristen Pearson

“With my family, my mom has some health things going on which makes her much higher risk, but also [makes her] feel more urgent about time together,” said Pearson.

As parents and grandparents age, and in some instances, their health declines, families weigh the importance of spending time with family in spite of the potential risks involved.

“I thought about canceling twice,” math teacher Courtney Long said. “Then my grandma’s like ‘just take your test and come on. I’ll wear my mask in the house.’ I’m definitely more anxious about it. And I’m just wondering, is it worth it?”
But what would make it worth it?

“Seeing family, not being alone for Thanksgiving and just connecting with a human being that’s just going to love you unconditionally no matter what,” Long said. “But the disease would make it not worth it, getting them sick, obviously.”

Although some traditions have been lost or modified, some things will stay the same, because no matter what, tradition is the backbone of family holiday celebrations regardless of where or how they happen.

“We’re still going to do the Christmas tree.” Naomi Di-Capua said. “My mom does it in a particular way and it’s something her mom taught her. Basically, she likes to do it with golden ornaments so it looks like the tree is glowing and then under the Christmas tree, we make up a little village. There’s an ice skating rink and all of these cute little houses covered in snow and all of these trees. That’s a tradition that’s really close to all of our hearts.”

This holiday season may feel different. And while some families can take comfort in familiar traditions, others will find creative ways to adapt and celebrate together — even if apart — as they create new memories during this unprecedented time.