Christmas day dinner–no cooking required.
Much of the world has entered the holiday season under the threat of Covid. Holiday gatherings, a highlight for many, are necessarily smaller or cancelled altogether.
For some, a Christmas without parties and large family gatherings will seem … well, not like Christmas at all.
I’ve been thinking about this as I talk to my family about their holiday plans, and there’s a lot of similarity in what they are going through to what my husband and I have gone through as expats. We’re used to holidays far from parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. We know how the ghosts of family-filled Christmases past haunt the table set for two on Christmas eve. We’ve learned how to fill the holidays with meaning even if we can’t fill them with loved ones. I imagine most other expats have done the same.
It occurred to me that the lessons we’ve learnt are applicable to those stuck at home due to Covid. So here are some musings on how we’ve navigated (and come to love) solo holidays.
- Treat yourself the way you’d treat guests. Do you usually make a special dinner Christmas Day? Cook it for your household, even if that’s only two people. Do you stay up late partying to ring in the new year? Well, put on the stereo and dance, no matter how few you are.
- If the previous idea raises too many ghosts for you, create new ‘traditions’ instead. Throw out the holiday rulebook. Instead of a party, go for a hike with your household. Instead of buying a live tree, get creative and make one with your immediate family out of whatever’s lying around the house. Instead of a formal meal in the dining room, have pizza and popcorn while watching a movie on the couch. The more different the new tradition, the less likely those Christmas ghosts will show up. Just make the new plan as much of a treat as the old (not simply your usual routine).
- Dress up. Staying home? Put your party clothes on anyway. It will make the day feel special, even if all you do is lie around reading books.
- Share with family and friends far away. This is so much easier today than it was 27 years ago when my husband and I had our first Christmas overseas. Then, I wrote letters describing our Christmas punch and mailed photos of our tiny Christmas tree. These days, we share via telephone, Skype, Zoom and FaceTime. It’s not the same as being there, I know, but I am thankful for the opportunities we have to be ‘together’ for the holidays.
- Focus on what you can gain, not what you’re losing. Quiet time with your partner and/or children. Time alone to do what you want, not what the whole gang wants. Freedom from the intense cooking, cleaning and planning that go into hosting holiday events. A chance to re-think your holiday traditions. A reprieve from that loud uncle who always drinks too much and starts talking politics … I’m sure there are plenty of things you’ll happily miss out on this year.
No question about it, this year’s holiday is going to be different from normal for most people. But that doesn’t mean it has to be bad. Make the most of the opportunities to try something different this year. Who knows? Maybe something you do this year will become part of your holiday traditions for years to come.
Thankful for these glorious blue peas with their cheerful flowers.
Thanksgiving is this week in the US and, while we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here, I do always still pause and reflect on what I’m grateful for. This year, it feels doubly important to focus on the good things.
So here are just a few of the things on my Thanksgiving list:
- Top of the list this year has to be all the Kiwis who have responded with maturity and community spirit to the challenges thrust upon us this year. I am truly proud to be a New Zealander this year, and I’m thankful to be here, where our collective action has allowed us freedom and safety much of the world doesn’t have.
- Friends and colleagues who have encouraged those around them to approach Covid-19 as a challenge to develop creative ways to continue to pursue dreams, rather than as a disaster to be lamented.
- I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m still incredibly thankful for our new house. It still often feels like I’m living in someone else’s home, but it is a joy to cook in the new kitchen and to live in a well-insulated building.
- This time of year, while not exactly traditional harvest time, is rich in early summer fruits and vegetables. Though our new garden is quite young, and the soil is truly terrible, we’re still harvesting good food, and I’m thankful for what we are able to produce.
- I’m especially thankful this year for my husband and children, who have approached all of this year’s many stressors with good humour, fortitude, and a willingness to pitch in and do what needs to be done.
- I am more than usually grateful this year for technology which has made the pandemic far less isolating than it would otherwise have been.
- As always, I’m thankful for the proximity of beach, river and mountain. This year, even more than other years, the natural world has been a solace, and I’m thankful to have relatively wild areas within walking distance.
- The luxury of time. There’s no question that being in lockdown in a cold shed was awful. I look back on those months and wonder how we survived with our good humour intact. At the same time, having that intense time to spend with close family was something wonderful. We invented stupid games to pass the time and stay warm, we went on looooooong walks together, we sat and talked over the state of the world. I am grateful to have had that time.
There are dozens of other things I could put on my list—big things and little. It’s a year in which thankfulness has been a gift all of its own. I am thankful to be thankful for so much, in spite of the crazy year it’s been.
What are you thankful for?
I was thinking last night, as my husband and daughter were playing ping pong on the dining table, that I am blessed to be in lockdown with those two. I wish our son were also with us; for all the stress of such close quarters, it’s lovely to have the excuse to spend time together.
I hope you are all staying safe and healthy and making the most of the difficult situations we’re all in. Kia kaha!
Our first weekend in isolation. We’re treating it as an actual weekend, doing work around the property, rather than our jobs and school. Taking comfort in a semblance of routine.
Back in the late 1980s, during the time when I was going to university, there was a great deal of controversy around the Northern Spotted Owl. Conservationists were trying to use the bird as a tool to limit logging of old growth forest in the Pacific Northwest by encouraging its listing as an endangered species (it was listed as threatened in 1990). It was a hot topic in conservation at the time.
Home for Christmas one year around that time, I was presented with a gift specifically from my grandfather.
That was odd. It was the women of the family—grandma and mom—who shopped for gifts. What could Grandpa have for me?
It was a small box. Inside, nestled in tissue paper was a small piece of wooden dowel with crude blotches drawn on it with a marker.
He watched me unwrap it, clearly struggling to hide a smile.
I pulled it out of the box and turned it around in my fingers. I was obviously supposed to figure out what it was. I wracked my brains. What was this spotted stick supposed to be?
It never occurred to me that it was a joke. I finally had to ask.
“It’s a spotted dowel!” Grandpa said, breaking into a grin.
I have no idea what other gifts I got that Christmas. No doubt, whatever they were, they’re long gone from my life.
But the spotted dowel has it’s own special place—its own little drawer in a small-parts organiser that holds all my buttons and beads and other odds and ends. I often run across it accidentally while looking for something else, and it still makes me smile.