(Ab)Normal Traditions.

It looks like the surrounding neighborhoods spent much of 2020 designing new layouts for their Christmas lights. Ours…are not quite up yet. Rich is holding firm to not lighting the house until the third-ish week of December. And, in a who are you? twist, our Fall/Thanksgiving decor still adorns the mantle, flag pole, and front door. Typically, I take it all down before the leftover green bean casserole hits the fridge but I didn’t feel rushed to switch it out this year. I’m taking some weirdly casual approach to the undressing/redressing of the holidays. My only real concern is the flag pole. I worry about my ghost flag. You know the story – when you die, you better hope you’re wearing something you love because you’ll be wearing it for the rest of eternity? Your ghost outfit? I worry about our ghost flag. If I suddenly pass, whatever flag is hanging on the side of the house will remain there forever. It actually has nothing to do with ghosts. It will be there thru eternity because my husband will never realize it should be changed. He likely won’t even realize we have a flag. Does he know now? Good question. Local friends…if you could please just sneak over and take it down entirely in the case of my demise, that’d be great. There’s also a box full of holiday flags in the garage you can help yourself to. This makes me feel so old. Telling my friends to come get the flags if something happens to me. Remember our twenties? When we had our nightstand friends? The ones who would rush to our bedsides to clear out anything we didn’t want our parents to find? I guess when you near fifty, it’s the flags that take precedence.


Christmas carols are hitting the airwaves, holiday cars are starting to land in the mailbox, and here we are again – faced with very little options but to just stay put. We want to go away – to have a normal year – jump back to December 2019, but we’re not supposed to. Or at least we’re not supposed to via plane, train, bus, boat, or any other mode that would enmesh us with the general public. This takes away most of our options beyond a short drive. The risk of socializing with folks you outside your Covid bubble takes away the rest. We are begin asked (again) to sit tight – shop online and skip our usual string of December nights out to sample someone else’s cookies and cider.

So what do we do?

What do we do when we feel like we got punched in the stomach (again) as another round of important events is taken away from us (again)? How many stomach punches are we supposed to take? And how are we to have a memorable month when we can’t do the typical Groundhog Holiday run? There are no invites in the box. There are no reservations for our favorite restaurants. There are no hostess gifts or thank you notes or weighing whose house to hit first on those nights with more than one offer. We a bit fearful of the simple tradition of holiday shopping – wandering through a decked out mall, grabbing yet another perfect thing. Just a few days ago, while doing a few Saturday errands, I left my full cart near the door when I saw not only the length of the register lines but how squished together the people in it were. I couldn’t do it. I knew I shouldn’t do it. I didn’t want to. The call for social distancing hasn’t been reversed – there has been no pass issued reading Six feet Apart has been cancelled on this day of Christmas shopping. At least, mine hasn’t arrived. I also haven’t gotten the pass that magically makes your nose disconnect itself from your respiratory system, thus enabling mask wearing only over your mouth. Perhaps that one will be under the tree.

So what do we do?

Think outside the gift box. Which is super frustrating because, good grief, haven’t we been thinking outside of the box since March 12th? Didn’t we come in hot way back then with all sorts of amazing ideas to make quarantine fun and interesting and full of new memories? Now we have to do the same at a higher, holiday laced level? Um. Yes. I’m sorry. It sucks. It’s exhausting. But we’re going to have to put on our grown up stockings, set aside that feeling of MEH and get it done. And why can’t it be an opportunity? Maybe this is the perfect time to admit that our routines had gotten a little, well, routine. I can’t remember a year when we put out our decorations before two weeks before Christmas. And while my husband hasn’t bought into that change (though I did send him to the attic to start lugging bins down – at which point he was hit directly in the face by a flying foam pumpkin), he has yet to poo-poo some of the other options. Which I haven’t told him yet. Essentially, all the what can we do from the incubated safety of our Kia options. There are light tours all over the dang place this year. Or maybe they were here last year and the one before that – and we just passed by those announcements with a preference for Dirty Santa parties. There’s a holiday drone show just up the road. There’s a small sitting-on-the-railroad-tracks town up the other road all decked out as of the first of the month – inviting folks to a socially-distant-stroll up one side and down the other to enjoy the store fronts. There’s the enormous drive through light show at the fairgrounds – we did it once years ago and loved it – why have we never gone back? This will be the year we do and we will in style, incubator loaded with cookies, popcorn, cider, and, perhaps, a hot toddy for the organizer turned passenger.

Why limit it to your holiday? Or your holidays? Clearly we’re a Christmas family – but one look at the Google Calendar and I can see there are so many choices. Why haven’t we spent the whole of 2020 picking celebratory options off the calendar? And, before anyone has a total meltdown, I’m not talking about abusing the holidays – grabbing from the ones that you can get the most gifts from or the ones that reward you with a floating day off. I’m talking about actual research and learning and discovering what other’s throw parades for. And, while we’re at it – if there’s a baked good to accompany it, well, yeah, we should try it. The majority of my team at work is located overseas – either in Bangalore or Morocco. They have all sorts of days off that I’ve never heard of. I know this because, in my world, they are all downloaded onto my Outlook calendar, alerting me to days where I might have a heavier workload due to their absence. And, typically, when I see one of those days pop up, I glance at it, making a mental note and an extra pot of coffee. What I really should be doing, especially in this 32nd month of the year, is saying Oh, Eid al-Fitr? I’m in! and reaching out to my team members for an explanation of events, collecting the accompanying decorations, and taking some time to join their fun. Certainly a better choice than logging in my 253rd day of Duolingo.

Sure, we could pack our schedules with What’s This Month Dedicated To? but lawd knows we’d have to switch our ribbon color hourly to keep up with all the never-ending roster of awareness-es. Wouldn’t it make more sense just to have a Be Aware Month which allows you to pick your own topic? What color will Covid-19 Awareness Month be? Maybe I just prefer my ribbons to be wrapped around pretty boxes. What color is Soap Box Awareness month? No, there isn’t one? Oh, okay, I’ll climb down.

The December Holiday Menu includes (but is not limited to): Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Ōmisoka. You’ve probably heard of most of those – but do you know what they are? Beyond I think that one has to do with candles? Look them up. Do the learning. Become an expert. Plan dinner chats, assign stay-at-home-work to the kids – let yourself discover how these other holidays are similar to yours (or not). Eid al-Fitr? That’s the end of Ramadan – the Festival of Breaking the Fast – as in a month of fasting from dawn to dusk. Admittedly, I have noted the breaking of the fast when it comes at the end of each May. What I’ve skipped is the actual fast. Much like I participate in Fat Tuesday yet jump off the wagon at the start of Lent. It’s a very American attitude, I admit and write it with zero pride. I also know I’m not the only one. How many of us become super fans of Mexican heritage come Cinco de Mayo? The margaritas are delicious, but do we know why we’re drinking them? Let this strange time, stacked with doldrums, be the time we learn. What an easy way to liven things up.

We have a countdown set up in our kitchen – the kind that has two blank squares with the words ‘Days Until’ in the middle. I actually set it up way back at the start of stay-at-home – we were having a hard time remembering what day/week/month it was and we were having an even harder time knowing when we should be getting excited for, well, anything. We counted down to birthdays, we counted down to graduations, we counted down to the weekend, we counted down to finals, we counted down to camping trips. Somewhere in the last few months, I lost my countdown motivation. I developed a what’s the point…it’s all the same stuff as last year…and why…we’re just going to be here, in this house, staring at each other attitude. I’m not sure why sending Zack back to Face-to-Face recharged me – maybe it was the chance to leave the house twice a day to get him to and from (yes, we sent him back to in-person school; yes, we were extremely lucky that the school could accommodate him; no it was not an easy decision; yes, we absolutely made the right choice we think this time, hopefully). As soon as we got the return to learn (in button pants) go ahead, I marched out to the countdown board and wrote in 6 Days Until Zack starts high school again. And so it began (again) – a dwindling number that had a promise at the end!

I may take it next level over the next weeks.

4 Days until Winter Solstice

11 Days Until Winter Break

13 Days Until a Weekend Camping Trip

18 Days Until Christmas

19 Days until Boxing Day (need to research that one)

30 Days Until Orthodox Christmas (and that one)

42 Days Until Chinese New Year (and also this one)

109 Days Until I Turn 50 (though, do I? Did my birthday count last year?)

217 Days Until Zack Drives (holy hell)

In a time in which we feel like celebrations are simply events that are taken from us, we’ve got to get our sleigh in the air again. Create new traditions. Ones that will become future stories that start something like this – Remember 2020?  That was the first year we observed Boxing Day! What we capture this year and into next may turn into anecdotes we tell to generations years from now. Chronicles that start with months of required resilience and end with how we pushed thru, overcame, and came out on the other side with very real smiles on our unmasked, weary faces. It is a tough one, for sure, this holiday season – knowing that we will have to spend it without the usual crowd of loved ones at the table. But how lucky are we to have that choice – stand down today in exchange for many more visits tomorrow. It is odd, yes. The Elf sits in a jar, we won’t put on all that cookie swap weight, our December meetings will include Christmas jammies on the bottom, and our gift exchanges will be done via Zoom.

It’s all very abnormal.

Which is our new tradition.

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