By Abigail Rollins
Earlier in the year when sunset was at a reasonable hour and my toes were not cold all the time, it was hard to digest the idea of winter holidays in 2020. Nothing quite like witnessing your country’s worst economic and public health crises at age twenty-three to make the most consumerist holidays seem a little hollow. That said, now that November has passed and we are in the full swing of the season, I think this may turn out to be my favorite end of the year yet.
Three essential ways to care for others this year is to keep your distance, practice clear and consistent communication, and respect people’s boundaries. Not exactly the pillars of family holiday gatherings. Even when we mostly enjoy family holidays, I think many of us end up with some mixture of intense feelings because of the pressure to celebrate holidays “correctly.” Fortunately, as with so many social norms in quarantine, the need to perform has largely fallen away. The end of this month will not involve a weirdly tense gag gift exchange with my extended family, nor will it see me suffering through incessant diet talk at a dinner table piled with carbs.
Instead, I can take over the kitchen and make holiday food that’s actually delicious instead of what is supposedly required to be on the table. I can butterfly a turkey and bake it in less than two hours so that it is cooked to perfection rather than the texture of napkins. I can throw on some Donna Summer and dance with my mom, and no one will make us engage in small talk over a football game. I can spend a couple hours talking on the phone with a friend while we cook and hear all about her vegan mac ‘n’ cheese recipe. It’s hardly a Norman Rockwell painting, but then again, southern Californians are used to nontraditional winter holiday fare.
None of this is to say that I think family holidays and tradition are bad. In fact, as I get further into my twenties I find that there is a lot worthwhile about doing some of the same things to mark the end of the year. Annual traditions, as silly as they can be, remind us of when we did them last year and the year before, giving us a sense that time has passed.
At age eighteen when I started college and worked my first retail holiday season, I often just drove around after closing shifts to look at lights. Most of those evenings were marked by stress, dread, isolation, and a bunch of other unpleasant nine-dollar minimum wage feelings. Something about the fact that thousands of adults dressed up their homes with a bunch of small colorful light bulbs made me feel better about the world for a while. When I take those drives now, I reflect on how much has changed every year since then—the people I have met, those I have lost, what aspirations I had, and what stories were important to me. It all resurfaces in this one small tradition. There is nothing wrong with craving nostalgia and distraction during the darkest coldest part of the year. But it all might be more meaningful if our traditions reflected who we are instead of who we feel compelled to be.