Let me not count the many ways the pandemic has changed the way we live our lives--the holidays chief among them. Last year was the outlier when the pandemic was a full-blown menace--we hope never to repeat a Zoom-only family Thanksgiving again.
This year we would have liked to return to our usual family traditions--some of us traveling by air (we the parents/grandparents) or by three-hour car ride (our daughter and her family of three) in order to pile into my son's house (family of five) for 48 hours of turkey, tofurkey and togetherness. But additional needs surfaced (an increasingly frail 92-year old cousin who doesn't live near any of us needed to be included somehow); traditions had to be adjusted.
Our family is not alone in changing holiday rites and passages. A friend who usually spent Thanksgiving with one of her nieces and their small children got squeezed out when each of the nieces went to their in-laws and the in-laws wanted to keep the gathering small.
If the first post-quarantine Thanksgiving is a precursor for the other big holidays of the season, here's what we learned about what "new approaches" worked and which didn't.
In order to accommodate everyone, our family split up: Paterfamilias and I went to our son's house for three days, including Thanksgiving day. The next day we took a train to the city where our daughter and her family had spent Thanksgiving with our cousin. We had a day-after dinner with our daughter, her family and our cousin.
On the plus side: Both dinners were festive, celebratory and full of goodwill and laughs. They were small enough (six people at each one) that we could have inclusive conversations (and those with hearing challenges could hear everyone). We the parents/grandparents were able to spend in-person quality time with each of our adult children and our grandchildren--something that's not always possible when all three families are together.
But: By splitting up, the cousins didn't get to see each other nor did our son and daughter get to spend time together. A brief FaceTime visit on Thanksgiving day helped but not much. And I sorely missed watching inter-family interactions and connections.
The other Big But: We were overly ambitious about travel, especially during a holiday weekend. In order to see everyone we wanted to see, we spent time in two cities within five days, taking one airplane flight north and two train trips south. We are fortunate that we could afford the extra train fare to buy reserved seats and avoid the hustle of boarding a sold-out train and dragging our luggage while we searched for two seats together or at least near each other. We are aging out of that difficult train ritual.
Bottom line: Our post-pandemic planning for holiday get-togethers is a work in progress. New traditions take time to evolve, but splitting up--well, I don't like it.
painting: Carl Larsson