How to reimagine celebrations of holidays and milestones to keep them meaningful

How to reimagine celebrations of holidays and milestones to keep them meaningful

By Eileen Lawless and Lourdes A. RodríguezLife & Work Connections
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It's not breaking news, at this point, that our lives have changed. In the past nine months, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted routines across the country and around the world. The COVID-19 marathon continues, with cases reaching all-time highs in the U.S. in recent weeks. It looks like we still have a few more miles to run before we reach the finish line.

Because of physical distancing guidelines and infection risks, we've had to experience major life events such as births, graduations, weddings and funerals completely differently. Gathering together has historically been what made these milestones and celebrations so meaningful for many of us. However, we have made sacrifices this year to make better scenarios possible for ourselves and our loved ones.  

For some people, the holiday season is fast approaching, and for many employees at the University of Arizona, the winter recess will bring a welcome break. Yet we all face the reality of not celebrating and sharing special moments as we used to. Luckily, we can use the same tools that we've adopted over the course of 2020 to adapt our routines and enjoy this season safely.

Accepting what is and identifying what matters

To help you plan safe events, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published guidelines for holiday celebrations and gatherings.

In light of the CDC recommendations to avoid travel and large groups of people, you have two options:

  • Focusing on the idea of not celebrating in the traditional way, and letting anticipatory grief consume you.
  • Accepting the need to adapt, recognizing how well you have done so far and using the skills you have learned to make joyful plans.

When you accept your reality, you gain power over it. Accepting does not mean you have to be 100% OK, or that you have to ignore your feelings. It means that you find value in what you do, regardless of the changes. You acknowledge the emotions (even the tough ones, such as sadness, disappointment and anger), you reflect on the meaning of your milestones, and then you honor and, yes, celebrate.

So the first thing you need to do is ask yourself, "What is the value of observing this tradition?" Is it a matter of faith, an opportunity to reflect on your history, an excuse to have fun with relatives or a way to feel like a part of a greater culture?

Identifying the meaning will help you pinpoint what's most important to make the event still feel special to you. Maybe there's no need for a big group celebration, but instead a smaller gathering or an individual ritual – at least for the time being.

Taking control and taking action

When you learn to put your emotions into motion and understand the true value of the milestones in your life, you'll be ready to take action.

Start by establishing the best approaches to connect with your loved ones (and yourself) during these celebrations. Maybe it's a family dinner that is small but full of significant details, or a relaxing road trip that lets you experience nature. Maybe what you and your family need to do is nothing – simply treasuring the gift of being together.

For those with younger children, this season may offer you an opportunity to model mindful ways of honoring milestones and traditions. All your family members can join together and look beyond the current difficulties to come up with ideas for creating moments of joy. How about, instead of a big formal gathering, you wear matching pajamas, cook a simple meal together and look at old photos or videos to laugh again about funny moments from previous years?

Giving, not receiving, and then pausing for gratitude

Perhaps this is a good year to show your children the benefits of giving instead of receiving. Look for chances to help others in the community by preparing food baskets, collecting winter clothing or writing positive messages to those needing comfort. Teach your kids that they have the ability to share joy with others. Let them feel proud of their successes in helping others.

Finally, take a moment to recognize everything that you, your family and your community have overcome during this time in history. No matter the distance or the challenges, the feelings we create through these adapted celebrations will stay with us forever. Let this season serve as a proof of our strength and resiliency, and let us look forward to being together again next year. 

Eileen Lawless is a dependent care adviser at Life & Work Connections, where she provides support and resources to University employees who care for adults from age 18 to end of life. Lourdes A. Rodríguez is the senior coordinator of child care and family resources at Life & Work Connections, where she manages the University's flagship child care support programs.

To learn more about opportunities to improve your wellness, join the Life & Work Connections email list.

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