As we head into this year’s holiday season, I want to be particularly mindful of one thing. Have you heard of people choosing a word at the beginning of a new year to set as an overall intention for themselves? Well I am focusing on one concept as a specific objective for the next few weeks of this atypical celebration time, closing out a strange and anomalous year.
The word is “Connection.” Throughout this extended isolation period, I have seen the light and joy that comes with connecting with other people in any way that we can. As human beings we are social creatures, and the lack of interaction with one another has had devastating effects on our minds and our spirits. Our hearts and souls need meaningful connections with other people as much as our bodies need food and water. So reaching out and purposefully connecting with my fellow humans has become a top priority on my holiday To Do list.
How can we do this safely during a global pandemic when many of us are back on full lockdown or adhering to safer at home guidelines? I have a few suggestions:
Write out and mail holiday cards or notes to everyone you can think of. Old friends from your childhood, the neighbors on your block, the great aunt that you barely know but who recently moved into an assisted living facility. For that matter, write out a few dozen general holiday greeting cards and drop them off at a nearby nursing home. So many older people have felt the deteriorating effects of long-term isolation and loneliness. Hearing from someone, even someone they don’t know, can make an enormous difference in reminding them that they are seen and valued and that they still matter in the world. This is especially vital for those who may be struggling with not being able to see their loved ones during this time that is usually marked by family gatherings.
Offer an encouraging word to grocery store workers and other people you encounter outside of your home. Take a moment to say “thank you” to the person sanitizing the shopping carts and wish the early morning shelf stocker a good day ahead. Check in with the post office worker and ask how they are doing as they face long lines and grumpy customers every day. Compliment someone on their mask as you pass them in an aisle and wave to a fellow human when you’re out for a run or a walk in your neighborhood or on a trail. There is a fear of other people in the air and a palpable anxiety about proximity, so do what you can to connect from a safe distance to help people remember that we’re all in this wearisome situation together.
Set up regular online calls with family and friends, even if they’re short. Just a quick check-in every few days gives us all something to look forward to, and being able to connect with someone else, even for a few minutes, can often provide the lift in our spirits that we really need. Talk about how you all are prepping for the holidays, what new or traditional recipes you’re making, and make sure to mention how grateful you are for these people in your lives and how much you will miss seeing them in person. Reminding people how much they mean to you can often make all the difference when someone is feeling lonely or discouraged.
Important note: With these calls feel free to set a predetermined end time to avoid the “Well…I guess I’ll let you go…” wrap ups that can feel awkward when people have run out of things to say.
For your actual holiday celebrations, schedule a time to open gifts in front of each other online so everyone can see the reactions as if you were all together. Not only does it make the unboxings much more meaningful, but it potentially extends the celebration further to additional days when everyone is available. We have been doing this for years with our good friends who live out of state, and it is always such a joy to get to share in those special moments virtually together.
With money being tight and usual shopping opportunities truncated this year, turn your attention to connecting with others and making them feel appreciated in ways other than tangible gifts. For a grandparent or other relative that you rarely see, instead of giving them yet another scarf or scented candle, make a gift certificate for one online call with you per month for all of next year, and then make sure to follow up as soon as possible to schedule all of the dates and times on both of your calendars. This regular connection with you, along with the happy anticipation it provides, will be so much more cherished and ultimately beneficial to their health and wellbeing than any material gift could ever be.
For friends and family that are nearby, schedule days throughout next year for specific get-togethers, and then stick to them! When you’re able to get together safely, have an Italian cooking day, where you and a friend make homemade pasta and tiramisu together and then enjoy eating the results of your hard work with a bottle of Tuscan wine. Host a British high tea afternoon where one or two people can come over dressed up with big hats and most proper comportments a la The Crown. Think of any reason you can to spend time together – have someone over to help you tape and paint an accent wall, to help clean out the garage, to have a book swap, to make a piñata, whatever! The point is to spend time with the treasured people in your life and having a task or something fun to do that is set ahead of time makes it easier all around.
These are just a few suggestions for connecting with others during this season and beyond. Keep in mind that the relationships we have and the human connections we make throughout our lives will bring us much more joy and fulfillment than any material gift could ever provide. Make the effort to initiate and sustain connections with your loved ones and the holidays will be filled with unexpected moments of shared laughter, love, and a reminder of what is truly important. I believe that’s something we all need right now as we continue to navigate this uncertain chapter of our lives.
Choose connection, and you will choose happiness.