How Real Women Celebrate the Holidays

Sure, Martha Stewart rolls exotic fruits in sugar to create a stunning display and last year Kylie Jenner gave sister Kim Christmas cookies shaped like her kids because, well, they can? The rest of us grab one of the last trees at Home Depot on the way home from work, can’t remember where we stashed the Hanukkah candles and realize too late that we just regifted that weird sweater to the person who gave it to us. It’s time to talk turkey (ham, seven fishes or vegan loaf) with real people about how to celebrate in ways that actually bring joy.
If this were a normal year (definitely not), Pamay Bassey, Chief Learning & Diversity Officer with the Kraft Heinz Company, would be headed to Atlanta to see family and planning a trip someplace warm to escape the Chicago winter and recharge. Instead, she’s staying put, celebrating virtually and “trying to practice optimism about the whole thing.” She’s not alone in her approach — which may provide a certain comfort and sense of connection of its own.
A sense of gratitude
“This year, we have all grappled with sitting between grief and gratitude,” Bassey adds. “The year didn’t go the way I thought it would and the holidays won’t either. But I’m here, I’m healthy, my family is healthy and that’s a lot to be grateful for.”   
Jasmine Jones, WFF Change Maker and Senior Communications Manager with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), feels fortunate she and her siblings can drive to their parents’ home to celebrate. “We will all quarantine before we gather so we can still safely trim the tree together while we listen to our favorite Motown Christmas songs,” she says.
They also plan to reach out to others during this challenging year. “We want to contribute as a family to a local organization focused on food or supporting people of color experiencing poverty right now,” Jones says.
Anne Grady, entrepreneur and author of Mind Over Moment, concurs, noting that the holidays provide great reminders about cultivating kindness and giving. “Leaning into the opportunity for positive emotions is a good thing,” she says. “Resilience is built by proactively creating positive emotions and we all need that to persevere through COVID.”
Make it fun
Infusing fun and creativity into the holidays can also help boost spirits, provide much-needed connection and lighten the mood for a moment. Grady embraces all of it. “I’m Jewish, but Christmas is my favorite holiday,” she shares. She began celebrating both holidays at age nine when her mother remarried. With her own family, she enjoys lighting the menorah, saying the traditional Jewish prayers, decorating a Christmas tree/Hanukkah bush and exchanging presents on Christmas morning.
Donna Tanner, former Director of Communications for Chef Kent Rathbun and co-founder of Lux214 Media Group, says lighting the candles and saying the prayers in Hebrew provides a wonderful sense of connection to the larger Jewish community. Along with family, she also loves inviting friends who are not Jewish to participate. “We love including others who are interested in the Hanukkah story; it is fun for them to light the candles and play dreidel, and makes us feel special too,” she says. “We will really miss that this year.”
For Lauren Schmied, WFF Change Maker and Assistant Controller with Sysco Corporation, the holidays have traditionally meant a different lunch, brunch or dinner every day with extended family and friends. That has included a gingerbread house building contest and a White Elephant gift exchange where “things get a bit crazy as people can steal the gifts already unwrapped.” 
She also loves the silliness that comes from tearing open the traditional Christmas crackers always present during dinner at her parents’ home. Each small package is pulled open to reveal silly paper hats and small prizes. “We wear the hats all through dinner and take a group picture,” Schmied says. This year, gatherings will be with immediate family only. But will still include saying grace before dinner, remembering family members and pets who have passed, playing pool and capping off the night with a movie.
Smaller, more intimate gatherings can have their upsides as Arlene Pace-Green, Ph.D., founder of Enelra Talent Solutions, learned during her scaled down Thanksgiving. “There was less time spent hosting and cooking and more time for real conversation.”
Mixing it up in the kitchen
For many, holidays mean special foods and the time to make and enjoy them. As a first generation American, Bassey tries a new Nigerian dish every year in honor of her heritage. At the Jones household, they experimented with an Asian-inspired menu last year, but her mom always makes apple pie.
Tradition shows up on the Schmied dinner table as mashed potatoes, lemon meringue and apple pies, and even the turnips that everyone says they don’t like but somehow still get eaten. A favorite on her husband’s side is the KFC one family brings to the potluck. “It started one year because they were running late and needed something up in a hurry,” Schmied explains. “But everyone loved it so much it is now tradition.”
Tanner and her family enjoy her grandmother’s brisket recipe and deep-fried treats that honor the ancient story about the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem when a tiny amount of lamp oil lasted eight days. They make potato latkes and sufganiyot (traditional jelly-filled doughnuts) and are never too old to play dreidel.
Ring in the new
New Year’s is also likely to feel more poignant this year as everyone hopes for a better 2021. As midnight approaches, Pace-Green can usually be found in church at the Watch Night Service. A tradition from people enslaved in the United States in the 1860s staying up awaiting the Emancipation Proclamation, it is still celebrated in many African American churches to recognize a time of rebirth and celebration. “We sing, say prayers, worship and praise as a way to usher in the new year,” Pace-Green says. She will miss the in-person experience this year but expects to participate virtually.

“Every year, I think back on all that has happened,” Bassey adds. “I’m a reflective person and welcome any opportunity to take stock.” She starts with a deep breath and then writes down what she has accomplished. This year, she will also write down the names of all those who helped her. And, finally, she will look forward. “I will think about how to sprinkle more joy in with the hard work and responsibilities.”

Happy holidays and best wishes for a wonderful new year!

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