An Unconventional Holiday

The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, with its combination of craziness and calm, is commonly known as the holiday season. Centered around the winter solstice when the days begin to grow longer—and including celebrations of Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa—it is a time as much cultural as religious, where people pause to reflect on the year past and look forward to the year to come. This year, the ongoing global pandemic means the holidays will be different from years past. Shopping is mostly on-line. Travel is restricted. Theater, concerts and sporting events are held without fans. Large family gatherings are discouraged. How do we celebrate in the time of coronavirus?

Begin by establishing your personal goals for the season. Then, be imaginative. Seek creative and intimate ways to express the joys of the season while adhering to social distance guidelines to protect our community. Emphasize what is important to you—family, giving, sharing—and blend traditions with new family rituals. Technology can help. Designate a room as your family’s special gathering place and adorn it with cozy and comfortable trimmings. Gather for family conversations on Zoom; make a recipe together on Facetime, especially with faraway loved ones. “Netflix Watch Party” allows multiple people to watch the same film at the same time and to chat during the film. Bring your own popcorn! Remember your neighbors. Prepare a favorite dish and deliver it to a friend, especially someone who lives alone.

“Think about what is the essence of the holiday for you, so you can try to preserve it," says acclaimed author Gretchen Rubin of Happier at Home. Even if you're not doing everything you used to, you can set up the holiday decorations, if that’s really important, or make the special foods you love.”

Revisit the craft of making your own Christmas cards. Enhance their look by adding colored stickers, glitter or other decorations. Write personal notes, more than a simple “Merry Christmas.” Turn Christmas card production into a family event, complete with an assembly line so that each family member can participate at their own skill level. Deliver the cards in person, walking around Palisades and leaving your works of art on porches throughout the neighborhood. Gretchen Rubin continues, “This exceptional holiday season will prob- ably be more memorable because it’s so different. We just have to find a way to make the most of it.”

My introduction to the generosity and creativity of the Palisades community goes back more than 20 years when I was called to be interim pastor of the Palisades Presbyterian Church. I arrived in early December and recall the warm welcome I received both from the church and the wider community. Making advent wreaths, decorating the church with greens and candles, ringing the church bell at precisely midnight on Christmas Eve, caroling through the neighborhood are moments etched on my heart and in my memory. Many of these activities can be easily turned into “home productions" or virtual events. Children, of course, are central to the holiday season and I remember the church’s annual Christmas pageant was a huge hit. Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanzaa stories can be recreated at home with handmade costumes and props. Be creative!

Music is another important focus. I recall at least two hardy bands of carolers—one on either side of Route 9W (for safety sake!) and often fortified by such libations as hot buttered rum from the Normans' or a “coffee hour” between the two Christmas Eve services at the home of John Guzewich and Carol Knudson where John dressed as Santa Claus.

Rev. Leslie Mott, current pastor of the Palisades Church acknowledges that this year will be different from years past. “The traditionalist in me is mourning, but we’re following state protocols until it is deemed safe to reopen the building.” She adds that the pandemic, despite its profound grief, offers an opportunity for people of all faiths to better understand the Christmas message. “It is a time for grace-filled moments of light to enter this very dark time. This year may be the quietest Christmas but also the deepest Christmas ever.”