When was the last time you went bobbin’ for apples? Or “over the river and through the woods”? Or made a snow angel? Yeah, me neither. Maybe it’s time to mix it up a bit as the 2021 holiday season begins. Here are 10 ways to re-energize old traditions or begin all-new ones without spending a lot…
Halloween and all its pumpkin-spiced glory is a week from Sunday then poof! Thanksgiving will be upon us almost as quickly as Hanukkah, Festivus, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s. Late-year holidays have a magical way of touching each of the five senses and all the familiar icons and images – Jack-O-Lanterns, witches, a steaming turkey, snowflakes, horse-drawn sleighs and Times Square — stir memories and emotions, and warm our souls.
But how much do we really engage with the holidays besides Black Friday, Cyber Monday, office parties [remember those?], wrapping gifts, family dinners, silly party hats and champagne toasts? Let’s kick this rut to the curb, juice up the final 10 weeks of the year, and make these holidays the best ever.
HALLOWEEN [Oct 31]
At some point in time, Halloween became like Spring Break – no longer a kid-only event but an excuse for adults to play like kids, too.
Why settle for a pumpkin patch alone when you can tack on a visit to a nearby vineyard? Make a day of it! There are more than 11,000 local vineyards in America [all 50 states have them, even Alaska!] and most feature outdoor seating options, local musicians, a menu offering varietals and vittles, and the chance to rock your new flannel shirt.
A friend tells me about “Blood Days”, a family tradition he and his wife started when there were four young ones still at home. The Sunday before Halloween each year began with a road trip to a nearby small town where the family picnicked in a field before walking around a local graveyard, reading headstones, and eventually sitting and sharing ghost stories which are always easier to take when the sun’s still shining. They’d return home that evening for a weenie roast and themed beverages [kid and adult variety] by a fire pit in the woods behind their home with a Halloween soundtrack playing followed by more spooky tales that always spike the Squirm Meter after dark. And yes, there were roasted marshmallows and a couple of blocks of dry ice to add a Freddy Krueger effect, and plenty of neighbors in attendance for the evening session.
THANKSGIVING [Nov 25]
The Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag Tribe to celebrate their first successful harvest back in 1621. Exactly 400 years later, even after years like 2020 and 2021, we still have much for which to be thankful.
If you’ve got kids, tell ‘em the price of admission to Thanksgiving Dinner is a handwritten list of three items for which they are grateful. If you’re a kid-less couple, have your spouse/partner/friend do their own list of, say, six items. In either case, use the lull between dinner and dessert for each person to read aloud their personal list. Your heart just might pull a Grinch on you and grow three sizes that day …
Invite some friends and set up a Bloody Mary Bar to enjoy while the turkey or duck or chicken or turducken is in the oven or on the stove. Lay out a variety of spicy flavorings and creative garnishes [bacon, celery, shrimp, lobster chunks, mixed olives, mini-marshmallows and themed novelty items] for a build-your-own, over-the-top “GarnishOff”. Each person must present their recipe to the group, including a unique name for their tasty cocktail that ties into Thanksgiving.
HANUKKAH [Nov 28-Dec 6] , FESTIVUS [Dec 23], KWAANZA [Dec 26-Jan 1]
Most of us know about Hanukkah’s Menorah and dreidels, the fact Festivus is actually a parody holiday that denounces excessive commercialism, and that Kwanzaa has roots in African culture and celebrates a bountiful harvest. But what else do we understand, if anything?
Get together with friends and family and schedule a series of three celebratory meals [or perhaps a progressive dinner] and focus on one of the lesser-known holidays each night or at each stop. Include holiday-specific decor, a quick overview of its background, meaning and symbolism, and raise a toast to others who worship and celebrate in a manner different from you.
If you have children [or nieces and nephews], assign them a simple 1-page summary of the significance of each of the holidays. Have them read their work aloud at a meal and use this as a basis for table discussion.
Host a potluck dinner with friends and families and serve food and beverages tied to each holiday. For instance, Hanukkah latkes or lox, Festivus meatloaf served on a bed of lettuce, or Kwanzaa Creole, Cajun Catfish or Groundnut Stew.
CHRISTMAS [Dec 25]
Have you ever really ice-skated? Or eaten roasted chestnuts by an open fire? Or gone caroling in the neighborhood? No time better than now.
Do something you’ve likely never done before and take Christmas out of town with you. Trade white snow for the snow-white sand of the nearest beach. [Coastal communities are quieter this time of year though not always, so do your research]. Or head for the hills and rent a quaint cabin. BYOB a small Christmas tree, ornaments and a handful of decorations. Take advantage of local Winter Festivals, they’re everywhere, including ice-skating, snow machines, sledding and all things Currier & Ives. Ship Christmas presents to your destination in advance and try out an all-new Christmas experience. You just might start a new tradition.
Is there anything more final than the day after Christmas? After weeks, if not months, of build-up, it passes in a flash. Extend the happiness by hosting a day-after-Christmas pizza party with pick-your-own toppings and variety of local craft brews, wines or cocktails. Keep it simple. Remember, you’re exhausted, and you still need to rally for New Year’s!
NEW YEAR’S [Dec 31-Jan1]
Each year, it’s out with the old and in with the new over an Auld Lang Syne music bed. Mix it up this year!
Host a New Year’s bonfire and put out markers and index cards for people to write down those things they wish to leave behind with 2021. At some point, do a ceremonial burning of these burdens by tossing the cards in the fire. Present everyone with a pack of “Intention Cards” and a nice pen, so they can write down all their dreams and goals for the new year. And don’t forget the plaid wool blankets!
It’s the high season of college football, with the semi-final playoff games being played on New Year’s Eve afternoon and evening, and a champion waiting to be crowned 10 days later. Host a CFB Playoff Semi-Final Watch Party. Incorporate a team trivia competition, encourage guests to wear their team’s colors, and post a Super Bowl-style “squares” [10×10 grid poster] with numbers 1-10 listed vertically and horizontally up the side and across the top. Squares cost a buck apiece, or 50 cents, you decide. And participants can add any number to any square. Award prizes to those who accurately predict scores after each of the first three quarters, and a grand prize and jackpot for the ultimate winner at game’s end. Conclude the evening with a midnight toast to an awesome 2022.
Are you seeing a pattern here?
Family, friends, gatherings, food, drink, music, good times, warm memories and happy smiles. Regardless of the holiday[s] you choose to celebrate; this is your chance to mix it up a bit and make a statement to the world: “I’m saying adios! to another challenging year and taking back my happiness!”