I am one of those people who counts down the hours until November 1st hits, at which point I immediately queue up my Spotify “Christmas!!!” playlist, complete with all the classics. I love Christmas.
While my faith in Jesus is important to me, that actually isn’t why I’m so obsessed with the holiday. Christmas has always been the pinnacle of my family calendar since before I was born. Both my mom and dad have sizeable families with lots of traditions. We were fortunate growing up that my two sets of grandparents lived a mere 40 minutes away from each other in Palos Verdes and Orange County, so we could spend every holiday with both sides of our family.
Our extended family feels just as close as immediate family, so I’ve actually never spent a holiday with just my parents and siblings. The only year we got close was when my mom was in her third trimester of pregnancy with my brother, but even then we had family fly out to be with us in Colorado. Family is probably the biggest value my family has, (being competitive in nature is a runner up), and we make every effort to be together as much as possible, regardless of where in the country we all live.
As I’m sure many are experiencing, this year is different. With our family spread out between New York, Texas, northern and southern California, and Colorado and the limitations around travel as Covid cases are spiking, we won’t be spending this holiday together. My paternal grandfather (we call him Dziadzio in Polish) is 97 and lives in a retirement home with the most vulnerable people in the pandemic and other members of my family have concerns around their health as well.
This year will look undeniably different. Stephen and I will just be celebrating with my immediate family on December 25th. It will be in Colorado, not California. There will likely be measures around safety measures for public health that we’ll be observing.
My mom and I spoke about Christmas this year and how we admittedly felt a bit blue about a Christmas so different than what we were used to looking forward to. But we decided to look at this year’s break from tradition as an opportunity rather than a disappointment. While we love the traditions our family holds tightly to, this would be a unique chance to do something totally different. We will go back to our usual traditions next year – mainly consisting of Polish ones that delight my Dziadzio. But this year, we’re brainstorming unique ways to celebrate that are both Covid-safe and bring us the holiday cheer we’re craving.
Below I’ve listed some of our ideas. Comment what your family/loved ones have come up with for your celebrations come December.
Cioth Family Carol Competition
There is nothing my family loves more than competition – especially on my dad’s side. We often joke that being competitive is a genetic trait of ours. For many years we had a pierogi eating competition every Christmas Eve. (The author of this post is the cousin record-holder at 17 pierogis at age 12.)
One of our annual traditions is singing Polish Christmas carols, which we learned at a young age and have been grilled on our pronunciation of ever since. For this year, since we won’t be able to sing them together for Dziadzio, I’ve suggested a carol competition. We’ll have each family sing a traditional Polish carol – which they will then sing again with made up lyrics that sound like the Polish words. We’ll all send each other the videos for a good laugh and a way to feel together, even when we aren’t.
This stems from a joke my Uncle Adam, Aunt Beth and cousins Talia and Peter came up with years ago. They took the carol “Pójdzmy Wszyscy Do Stajenki” (roughly translating as Let Us Go to the Stable) and re-wrote the lyrics as “Push the fish sticks down the staircase” which is a loose and laughable comparison to how the words are pronounced. They took each line and picked hilarious lyrics to remind them of how the words were pronounced.
While I know most people don’t sing Polish carols or make up lyrics about fish sticks, I would assume this could be applied to other traditions.
Dinner Divvy Up
For dinner my family typically eats a multi-course Polish feast on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day we typically eat something my insanely talented Aunt Heidi whips up. This year I foresaw the cooking falling all on my mom, but now that her four children are all above the age of 18 and able to cook, I thought we could mix things up in a way that relieves pressure from her and creates a fun spin on dinner.
We’ll be splitting up each course – appetizers, side dishes, main meal, beverages, dessert – between family members. And for a twist – everyone will pick their recipes without consulting anyone else, for an eclectic Christmas banquet.
Spreading Cheer Far & Near!
My Dziadzio is one of many elderly people who won’t be able to celebrate Christmas with his family this year because he is high risk. My family and I plan to write Christmas cards for him and all of his retirement home residents to spread some cheer and so they don’t feel lonely this holiday season.
We’re also planning to donate to local toy drives. With unemployment rates so high, many families will not be able to finance the Christmas they hoped for. Our family is extremely blessed to be financially stable and employed. We don’t take that for granted and want to share our good fortune with others.
These are just two ways you can engage in generosity this holiday season! Be creative and find something to support that is near and dear to your heart.
White Elephant Gift Exchange
Our family loves a good white elephant gift exchange. I am one of ten cousins on that side of the family. After cousins #6 and #7, our parents collectively agreed buying gift for every cousin every year was a pretty big burden, so they started secret Santa exchanges where each cousin received one gift from a fellow cousin. As we grew older, we transitioned to white elephant. Our family is far more eager to get a good laugh in than the perfect present. Some years we pick themes, others we split by age group, but without fail there are always some pretty hysterical gifts.
This year we’ll be doing it with our immediate family to carry on the tradition and to continue valuing family experiences over material possessions. All I’ll say is that I already have the perfect white elephant gift… bring your a-game fam!
Games that Make You Gaff
As mentioned, my family is all in for a chuckle. The game industry has evolved way past Candy Land and Sorry!. There are so many new games out that are entertaining, trendy and even a little bit naughty if that’s your thing. (My mom has banned family games of Cards Against Humanity. We’re her kids, she doesn’t want to hear that sh*t.)
Some (mom-approved) games we’re stocking up are:
- What do you Meme?
- I already own this game and it’s been a huge hit at dinner parties (pre-Covid). It does have a “naughty” pack you can mix in, but if you’re playing with your parents or your grandma, you can leave it out and it’s totally family-friendly.
- We’re Not Really Strangers
- My friend received this game as a gift and we’ve actually used it at Bible study for an ice breaker question! It has everything from silly surface level questions to thought-provoking questions that reveal a lot about the person who answers.
- RBG – I Dissent Board Game
- I know what you’re thinking: a political game during the holidays in 2020??? Are you CRAZY? But fear not, this game is about voting on the issues that truly matter, like if you think hot dogs are sandwiches or whether or not cats are total jerks. It keeps things interesting without permanently breaking any families up.
- Awkward Family Photos Greatest Hits Game
- What is better than an awkward family photo game with your own family? I am personally very excited for this one, as someone who has been forced into many a family photo. Granted, ours are nowhere near as awkward as those featured in this game, but that’s exactly why I’m eager to compete to caption them.
- You might have seen those Instagram filters where people read funky phrases out loud to reveal their homophonic meanings. This is the card game, competitive version!
- New Phone Who Dis?
- Ok so this one will probably a game the siblings play after mom and dad go to bed… It’s a game similar to Cards Against Humanity where you compete to create the funniest text message thread. I’m slightly afraid to see how dark my siblings’ humor can get, but also excited?
I know Christmas might be hard this year for a lot of folks. I encourage you to reach out to loved ones if you’re feeling anxious or need some support, whether financial, emotional or logistical. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season. Let me know what you’re doing for holiday cheer at the end of an admittedly difficult year.