This also offers insight into why, despite warnings and requests from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other infectious disease experts to stay home, some people are flouting the recommendations and traveling to visit family and friends for the holidays — something Dr. Xygalatas says is itself telling. “This is one way in which you see how important rituals are to us,” he explains. “There are a lot of people risking their lives to take part in them.”
Is it Time for a Reset?
Not everyone shares this enthusiasm for the holidays and their accompanying rituals. In fact for some, holiday traditions can feel more like entrapment than something to celebrate, according to Dr. King.
The good news, she says, is that this year we have the chance to reconceptualize the holidays, finding new ways to recreate stability and a sense of belonging by starting our own traditions. For example, if you’ve lost someone close to you recently and were dreading certain holiday activities because it puts a spotlight on their absence, Dr. King says we can use the unusual 2020 holiday season to our advantage.
“I think there’s an opportunity right now for us all to have that suspended reality, and create our own traditions based on what might feel more comfortable,” she explains. “Oddly, I think — particularly if you’ve had hard holiday experiences — they may, in some ways, be more authentic.”
Of course, you don’t need to have suffered to want to start your own traditions. For instance, many people in their 30s and 40s who now have families of their own may still feel obligated to travel to their hometown each year and recreate the holidays of their childhood. While this may keep their parents happy, it also makes it more difficult for them to create traditions as their own family unit.
Take inventory of family traditions
Communication tools like Zoom and FaceTime provide us with opportunities for virtual visits with family and friends that didn’t exist on such a widespread level even a decade ago. But 2020 has not only taught us how convenient it can be to have the technology that allows you to see loved ones face-to-face: we’ve also learned that using it can be exhausting.
Rather than attempting to recreate your family’s entire holiday agenda on Zoom, Dr. Eugene Beresin, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, recommends first taking an inventory of your typical traditions, and determining which make the most sense to continue remotely. This way you can devote your time and energy to the activities best suited for virtual participation.