This year, the holidays are poised to look a little different.
Instead of baking cookies with Grandma or chasing nieces and nephews around the house, for many of us, interactions with family and friends we hold so dear will take place virtually, with a screen as our conduit.
As the U.S. continues to grapple with Covid-19—and Florida currently seeing an average of more than 10,000 cases per day—the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that spending the holidays virtually or with members of your household, meaning anyone who lives or shares common spaces with you, is the path of least risk for acquiring or spreading the disease. For gatherings, the CDC recommends allowing for six feet of distance between members of different households and hosting outdoor events. In colder climates, or when outdoor parties are not possible, open windows and doors for ventilation.
Some have chosen to look at Covid-19 as a way to remix some of their beloved holiday traditions. AARP recommends learning a new holiday game that can be played with family members over Zoom or attending an outdoor event at a botanical garden. PBS Kids suggests parents practice kindness activities with their children, like making thank-you cards for essential workers.
And some Sarasota residents have reinvented things they’ve done year after year and found options that might be even better. Every December for more than 10 years, Mimi Hernandez has hosted a book club meeting at her house. Guests exchange small trinkets and Hernandez always makes two classics for dessert: her popular brownie recipe and homemade peppermint ice cream.
This year, not everyone felt comfortable meeting in person or outside at Hernandez's house. So she brought the desserts to them. She baked each book club member a 8-by-8-inch pan of brownies and included a pint of her peppermint ice cream.
People were so overjoyed that word got around. Soon, she heard from a friend saying that she was an honorary book club member, although she’d never attended. What did that mean? Hernandez wondered. Turns out her friend wanted some ice cream and brownies for herself.
Some Sarasota families have decided to postpone the holidays altogether. Morgan Rivers plans to have her family’s Christmas in July. And on Dec. 25, she has an elaborate virtual celebration planned.
She and her son and some friends, who are all in different locations, plan to wear Grinch outfits, eat green food and drink green drinks, and then sit down to watch a shortened version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. They'll then hold a virtual scavenger hunt for things around the house.
Rivers hasn’t seen her son since February, before the pandemic started, so this is a way she can enjoy quality time with him, even from behind a screen.
Other families have used a virtual gathering as a way to reflect on the past. Karl Lewis’ Thanksgiving celebrations usually bring together his large extended family. If he had to count, he says, there are usually about 50 people in attendance.
That makes physical get-togethers hard even when there isn’t a pandemic. When Lewis hosted Thanksgiving for his family in Sarasota two years ago, they had to rent out Selva Grill to fit everyone.
This year, the family decided to do something virtual — and creative. Lewis’ aunt, who lives in Atlanta, asked each immediate family to make a video saying happy Thanksgiving. At the same time, she and her family created a video showing images from past Thanksgiving celebrations.
The event was a hit. It was the first time many of them had seen each other since the pandemic began. And afterwards, the celebration took on a life of its own. Some of Lewis’ cousins even took funny parts of the videos and shared them on social media.
So will Lewis’ family still make video mementos once they can get together in person?
He says it’s already been discussed.