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Celebrations During a Pandemic: the values our children will use to adapt, thrive, and survive

In the wealthy and healthy society our nation boasted just a short time ago, there were a variety of ways we celebrated events, especially when they are meant to celebrate rites of passage like an anniversary or a birthday. How and when and with whom you celebrated varied based on family dynamic, socio-economic ability, and resources. We are conditioned to this because it is all we have ever known. However, if we look at how these events have evolved over centuries, history is an ample reminder of the values which inspired these celebrations in the first place. These values are not lost and they are not all based on our ability to go out, be with a gathering of people, or have financial resources.

Surprises & Reveals - Events and celebrations almost always carry some element of surprise. Gifts and presentations, by nature, are a sort of surprise. We’re not always sure what we’re about to unwrap. Sure, while we may have gotten used to things like surprise parties, concerts, or travel, the core value of surprise is not attached to those luxuries. We can still surprise people by writing them a silly poem, decorating their room with drawings of their favorite animal, or declaring an entire day dedicated to allowing them to be the leader or make the decisions. Children are excellent at this because their imagination is still widely accessible to them. Encourage children to use their imaginations and create surprises for others. Ask them to predict what surprises the other person might actually enjoy.

Tradition- This time is an opportunity to delve deep into family traditions or establish them for the first time. The beautiful thing about traditions is that they are engineered by design to survive years of changing resources. My parents used to always fill my birthday cards with confetti and one year on a vacation, they forgot to get it and my birthday card arrived filled with sand. I was more delighted than ever because the confetti never mattered, it was the tradition that I held so dear. Recently, a friend told me how her family’s unusual tradition came to pass. It was established the year that her Grandmother’s dementia progressed. Every Thanksgiving holiday, the family looked forward to eating Grandma’s same beautiful roasted turkey meal from the same family recipe they had been enjoying for years. That year, to the disappointment of the whole family, she awoke that morning and excitedly announced she’d be making pizza and salad or might order Indian food. Her dementia left her unable to remember her own fifty year tradition. After the initial shock, the family laughed and their new tradition emerged. They agreed that forever forever on Thanksgiving, the designated chef is not allowed to announce their plan for the family meal until that morning. It evolved into a lovely way to honor Grandma’s memory after she passed and has become the source for many family jokes and pranks. Out of change and loss came the ability to adapt. We have this same resilience if we allow ourselves to access it. This doesn’t mean we don’t pause to process our emotions, especially in the face of loss or disappointment. It only means that our emotions are a part of our journey to thinking forward instead of what paralyzes us.

Connection- This happens so naturally that it’s easy to take for granted. The heart of any event, especially if it celebrates a person or a milestone, is that we make extra efforts to connect with that specific person of focus. It might sound something like, “We had planned to go to the waterpark for your brother’s birthday because we know that’s his favorite place. What are we going to do here that is truly unique to him?” or “Jenna’s mom asked if we would make a video message for her birthday. Since she loves koalas so much, would it be fun to wear a koala mask in the video?” Sure, most of the ways we connected with people two months ago were based on our unlimited access to the greater world outside our homes. And, it’s possible that nothing inside one’s home can match the excitement of a waterpark. But, even those things didn’t take the place of connection before. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that our consumable media was full of messages that highlighted how impersonal, over-scheduled, and dangerously busy our lives were. The world we have now might be, in many ways, the one where our children can connect more than ever. When they have to get creative about how to connect with each other, there is a greater likelihood that the connections they established will feel more individualized and more meaningful.

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