Woman's hand with a present wrapped with brown paper and dried flowers“The human soul can always use a new tradition. Sometimes we require them.”

Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline


The 2020 holiday season certainly isn’t looking like what we’re used to. With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing and important safety guidelines in place, traditional office parties and family gatherings are being drastically pared down, limited in scope, or canceled altogether.

It’s easy to feel disappointed, stressed, sad … even cheated. I’m going through considerable adjustments myself, as my calendar is usually packed this time of year with business dinners and festive celebrations, not to mention the usual gatherings with dozens of friends and relatives. In 2020, it will not be so.   

By reframing the situation and adjusting expectations for our corporate and family holiday celebrations, I’m certain we will not only survive, but thrive. So take a few deep breaths, and consider my suggestions for coping with this year’s highly irregular holiday season.


4 Steps to an Awesome 2020 Holiday Season


1. Safety First

This isn’t the fun part, but it has to be said; above all, safety comes first. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), celebrating virtually or with members of your own household poses the lowest risk for virus spread, assuming that your household members are following safety protocols. The level of risk varies greatly once you start adding people from different households. This includes college students returning home, relatives, neighbors and friends. From the CDC website:

Number and crowding of people at the gathering – Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people. CDC does not have a limit or recommend a specific number of attendees for gatherings. The size of a holiday gathering should be determined based on the ability of attendees from different households to stay 6 feet (2 arm lengths) apart, wear masks, wash hands, and follow state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations.


2. Freak Out But Get Over It

In a non-pandemic year, businesses would be finishing up plans for corporate holiday bashes or annual philanthropic events. Teams would be meeting for end-of-year parties, business lunches, and connecting face-to-face. If things were “normal,” we’d be finalizing travel plans, and anticipating neighborhood parties, traditional dinners with friends and special group outings. 

As the realities of these next months set in, how do we deal with the disappointment, and make the best of a very surreal situation? When working with clients who are struggling with similar issues, here’s what I suggest.

First, give yourself permission to freak out. Cry, sob, journal … do whatever you have to do to get it out of your system. But set a specific timeframe to unleash all your emotions, and then stop; there is a point where it no longer serves a purpose to anyone. If it helps, enlist a trusted friend, partner or colleague who will be with you along the way, ready to signal, “Okay, you’re done. Let’s move on.”

If your mind starts going back down that rabbit hole, learn to catch yourself and immediately redirect your thoughts. For example, instead of thinking, “I’m so sad … this isn’t anything like what we’re used to,” switch to something positive, like, “I’m going to get creative and start some new traditions.” 

As you learn to redirect your thoughts, I suggest you also up your game in the gratitude and self-care departments. The benefits of practicing gratitude – particularly during times of stress – cannot be overstated. In addition, self-care is about more than just taking a hot bubble bath. It’s about setting boundaries and monitoring your physical and mental state, which is always crucial during the holidays.  


3. Connect, Connect, Connect

I know … you’ve done a million virtual meetings, and worked hard to be productive, give feedback and have meaningful conversations without being in the same room. You most likely have FaceTimed with your friends so often that you can perfectly describe their interior walls and home decorations with remarkable detail. 

It’s time to double down. For business leaders, keep scheduling those one-on-one video calls, and refuse to end the year with a whimper. In your personal life, reach out to friends and family members regularly, and purposely schedule video calls with friends and loved ones. Get creative. Fill up your calendar with new ways to celebrate this time of year – and each other. Here are some more ideas:

        • Step up your virtual happy hours with local establishments that offer cocktail or wine kits and live video instructions.
        • Organize a virtual gift exchange, and participants can send or personally drop off gifts ahead of the party.
        • Hire a singer, comedian or motivational speaker for a fun virtual event.
        • Create a team or family video – ask members to record a short response to a question like, “What’s your favorite memory from this year?” Then compile a team video with those responses, and add photos, music, quotes and graphics. Watch it together and then send everyone their own copy. 
        • Recap the year and take turns describing individual and group accomplishments. Celebrate successes and then share goals for 2021.  

There are countless ways to celebrate virtually. Find more resources here: Five Fabulous Ideas for Remote Team Celebrations


4. Make New Traditions

Holidays are filled with tried and true traditions. They’re what gives us a sense of comfort and belonging, so without them, we can feel a bit untethered. But here’s the kicker – old traditions often turn into habits or obligations. Sometimes they no longer resonate, whether it’s because of a change in leadership, new employees at work, or a shifting family structure at home. 

Look at this year as an opportunity to create new traditions. Set a new tone, explore new experiences and find ways to spread joy. I have a friend who got divorced six years ago, and faced her first holiday season as a single mom, in a new home with two teenagers. It was a very difficult time. So, she rewrote the script by swapping out their old, traditional décor with a bright, modern theme. She changed up the menus (and expectations), and even signed everyone up for a local 5K on Thanksgiving morning – which grew to include extended relatives and became an annual tradition. 


The point is that whether at work or at home, when things aren’t “how they used to be,” you get to decide and contribute to what new traditions will look like. This, my friend,  leaves the world open to possibilities. 


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