How 6 Families Are Keeping the Holidays Special—With New Traditions

From al fresco picnics to tamale-making on Zoom, these creatives are putting a fresh spin on their favorite rituals.

November 20, 2020

Ceramicist and woodworker Steph Trowbridge and her six siblings haven’t been in the same place since March of this year. Luckily, they’ll reunite this Thanksgiving at her brother and sister-in-law’s barn in New Jersey, where they’ll trade in their traditional dinner for an al fresco picnic around a fire pit. “I’ll treasure that time together,” she says.

Like Trowbridge, families everywhere are rejigging their upcoming holiday plans in order to stay healthy. For most, this year is all about forgoing the usual scale of celebration in favor of simpler, more-meaningful moments, while others are using the unique circumstances to start new traditions. No matter how they’re observing the holidays, though, each proves that while extenuating circumstances may be able to stop us from gathering, it can’t stop us from showing our love for those we cherish most.

Less is More

Photo by Carmen Nash

Instead of having one large gathering this year, vintage dealer Carmen Nash will be breaking up her Thanksgiving celebration into several smaller ones. Her hope is that the strategy will not only keep her family of five healthy but promote more-intimate conversations with the loved ones she hasn't regularly seen this year. “I know I will laugh a little louder, linger on my loved ones' faces a little longer, and cherish their presence with a heart full of gratitude and sincerity,” she says. To set the mood, she will break out her collection of thrifted vases, dishes and linens.

New Traditions

Artist and designer Samantha Santana will be finding ways to “go big” with her family of three while they hunker down together in their home. They’ll be watching holiday movies, making cookies and putting lights up for the first time. “We want candy cane colors!” she exclaims. Santana will also be making Thanksgiving tamales over Zoom with her family. “It’s a relatively new tradition as we never made our own growing up—we’d always buy them. I pushed to make them at home because it’s such a nice bonding activity,” she says.

Back to Basics

Photo by Sara Tramp
Photo by Sara Tramp

“This year will be a little different as we’ll be doing some of the festivities virtually through FaceTime and Zoom. For us, the holidays are about connecting with family and spending time together—even through a screen,” designer Brady Tolbert says. When it comes to donning the backdrop for these Thanksgiving and Christmas catch ups, the Creative Director at Bobby Berk and his boyfriend Jason will be paring back. “We’ve done the big tree and decking all the halls before, but now, we’ll just enjoy a few festive reminders without going overboard,” Tolbert says, adding that this simple approach is their way of giving themselves a bit of a break after enduring such a wild year.

Steering Clear of Holiday FOMO

Photo by Louella Allen Photography

“This year I’ve decided to pepper my holiday traditions with affirming rituals to bring some fresh energy and joy to what might otherwise be a holiday FOMO fest,” says leadership expert and founder of Workplace Catalyst Magalie René. “For my annual Friendsgiving gathering (it’s virtual this year), I’m adding a blessings and gratitude candle-lighting ritual. We will have tea lights to represent each person in our group, and one by one we’ll share something we’re grateful for about that friend, along with a blessing or positive message for them as we light a candle.”

Kids Give Back

Blogger Tiffanie Anne Westgor’s household will be adding a new tradition to the docket this year. “I know my kids will be missing their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, so we’ll do an activity to keep them busy,” Westgor begins. “After the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade—the family watches it together every year—we’ll be preparing DIY, kid-friendly, dessert boxes to drop off at our neighbors’ homes. We want to spread the love and still make this year special for our family and friends nearby.”

How are you making the most of the holidays this year? Tell us about your 2020 plans in the comments below
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Garrett Fleming

Written by: Garrett Fleming

Interiors Editor & Art Director

1 Comment

jpriddy November 22, 2020
I had just decided to do what Carmen is doing. I made my wild rice and mushroom casserole, and will work through this week with one of the special Thanksgiving dishes each day: roasted green beans with shallots, fresh sage and cranberry dressing, Brussells sprouts, Delicata squash pie, Waldorf salad, and twice-baked russet potatoes. This has the advantage of stretching out the celebration, avoiding the exhaustion of all that preparation at once, and less chance of overeating.

We are a couple of hours from our sons' families. Everyone is looking forward to a virtual meeting call on Thursday. In the mean time, my husband and I (71 and 68) celebrate in distanced community.