by Kristina Halmai, LMFT
Clinical Innovation Consultant
YMCA Youth & Family Services

All of us can agree, 2020 has been anything but normal and here we are entering the holiday season! For some, this time of year brings overwhelm and dread, for others, it means joy and merriment, and for many others it is something in between. There is no one way to feel and certainly no wrong or right place to fall on the holiday spectrum—especially this year.

Living through this global pandemic has put tremendous stress on individuals and our communities. Many are experiencing ambiguity, confusion, fear, stress, and grief. It is important to be aware that our experiences are unique and our responses to them valid. Our human family is under pressure. Embracing compassion for ourselves and for others can help ease any distress or disappointment this holiday season.

One question that many of us are grappling with is--how will we carry out our holiday traditions under the ever-present shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Can we join our family and friends in their homes, sitting around dinner tables that we’re accustomed to sharing? Who will make the recipes that were carefully passed down through our families? Can we honor this time of year in our places of worship, listening to the voices that bring us comfort and hope? Can we afford gifts for the children who continue to adapt to the many changes they have endured this year? How will we celebrate without our loved ones we have sadly lost?

However we choose to celebrate, we can experience this time of year with compassion, awareness, acceptance, validation, and empowerment. We are allowed to be sad that the holidays will not be what we are used to AND, at the same time, we can be curious about what these holidays can be like!

Here are some ideas to embrace new possibilities:

  • Create community cheer by drawing or writing holiday messages on your driveway or sidewalk. It can bring a positive boost to our families and to passersby.
  • Make a new stuffing recipe! It’s okay to try something new.
  • Spend your usual celebration day at the beach or outside of your house hiking. Nature can induce positive feelings.
  • Go on weekly drives through neighborhoods keeping eyes out for fun lighting and festive lawn decorations that can provide some lighthearted fun.
  • Put on some music and create holiday cards for essential workers. Deliver them to the local grocery store, pharmacy, firehouse, animal shelter or hospital. Not only have they been on the front lines of the pandemic, they will also work on holidays to make sure that we are taken care of.
  • Host a virtual cookie decorating party with a small group of friends, holiday dress code optional!
  • Donate gifts or money to charitable organizations working to ease the lives of others. Giving gives our brains a feel-good boost.
  • Create holiday art to display on a front window for others to see adding beauty to your community.
  • Grab a cozy blanket and watch holiday movies that make you reminisce, giggle, or laugh out loud!
  • Learn about the meaning of holidays in other cultures and religions and how their celebrations may differ from your own. Connection is key.
  • Make and wear holiday-themed face masks!
  • Decorate your bicycles and scooters with holiday decorations and ride on safe community pathways.
  • If you shy away from the holidays, you may be in luck this year. Enjoy some small-scale peace and quiet. You deserve it.

Whatever your position on the holidays, celebrating under public health recommendations does not have to be a negative experience. Experiment and embrace this as a time to try something new or different. We are allowed to change up our traditions. Who knows, maybe we will adopt new traditions that better reflect our personalities and values. The year 2020 has brought much-forced change and it has been a difficult experience around the world. Please offer grace to yourself and others you encounter, whether you are 6 feet apart, virtual, or up close and personal.

Stay warm and stay safe this holiday season!


About the CAAVE (Compassion, Awareness, Acceptance, Validation, Empowerment) Approach

CAAVE is a research-based, interactive training that builds a shared understanding of mental health and increases skills for leaders, managers, and teams.  The CAAVE Approach creates a trusting and inclusive setting for a relationally based human service workforce. Learn more about this approach HERE.


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