How I’m Dealing with Uncertainty About the Upcoming Holidays

Fireplace with fire

Like many people these days, I’m not sure how or where my family and I will be spending the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day holidays this year.

Of course, in the context of all the suffering, hardship, and pain created by the coronavirus, this uncertainty is a small matter. I recognize that—and never lose sight of it. There are so many more giant, pressing, urgent issues. I haven’t lost my sense of perspective! Yet in my life, I’m also aware of this consequence of the pandemic.

In most years, I can predict exactly what my husband Jamie, my daughters Eliza and Eleanor, and I will be doing: spending Thanksgiving with my in-laws here in New York; Christmas with my parents in Kansas City, plus every other year, with my sister and her family too; and the New Year with just the four of us.

The only times I’ve missed Christmas in Kansas City is when I was about to have a baby, or my sister Elizabeth was about to have a baby.

But this year will be different. Or not? It’s still too soon to tell exactly what the future will hold—for visits, for traveling, for school, for work, for plans.

The uncertainty of the pandemic year has revealed to me how much I rely on these kinds of annual milestones to pace and plan my life. I hadn’t realized how much I referred to them mentally, as I thought about my own future. It’s been unsettling not to have these fixed points.

I’m a planner. I like to have a schedule and a check-list. To help myself cope with this unusual level of uncertainty, I’ve been giving myself the following reminders…

As I face the unknown future:

  1. I try not to exhaust myself making plans or coming up with options if I don’t yet have necessary information. Say for the Christmas break—it’s just too far away at this point to make plans. There are too many unknown factors.
  2. Find reasons to be grateful. As I think about the possibilities, I can find ways to be grateful that I don’t have to travel, do get to travel, don’t have to host, do get to host, and so on. I want to find the good in whatever happens.
  3. Be flexible. I can be a little rigid (I am an Upholder, after all). I’m reminding myself to keep an open and creative mind about how my extended family might celebrate differently, so that we honor the spirit of the season in a new way.


I’ve also been thinking ahead (I can’t help it) to the possible situation where we don’t have our usual holidays:

  1. I want to work out with my family how we’re going to handle gift-giving if we’re not there in person to exchange gifts. Many arrangements can work, but I want to make sure we’re all in agreement about expectations. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, cause resentment, or feel bad about what I did or didn’t do. Clear communication!
  2. I want to make sure that the holiday feels special, no matter where we celebrate. I want to find great ways to mark the season, no matter where we are. For one thing, when we’re in Kansas City, we go look at the gorgeous Plaza Lights. What should we do if we’re in New York City?
  3. Over the years, I’ve identified the essence of Thanksgiving and Christmas for me—the most important foods, decorations, and traditions. I’ll make sure that those get incorporated into whatever we end up doing. (We don’t have any great New Year’s Day traditions, however, so if you have suggestions, send them my way.)
  4. I want to find ways to make this year’s celebrations memorable. With whimsy, with new traditions (see above), with more love. To than end…
  5. Indulge in a modest splurge. As an under-buyer, I’m often reluctant to buy the little things that make a holiday feel special. When we go to my parents’ house, we can enjoy looking at the paper-white narcissus flowers, poinsettias, evergreen decorations, holiday incense—seasonal touches that make the surroundings feel rich and special. Too often, I think, “Why spend the time and energy on X?” I’m going to remind myself that those elements can add so much to the vibe.


Years ago, when I was worried about something going wrong during my wedding, my mother told me something that I’ve never forgotten: “The things that go wrong often make the best memories.”

This is comforting because it’s true.

Because this holiday season will be so exceptional, it will be memorable. It’s very likely that we’ll remember the holidays of 2020 better than many (or even most) holidays that went “right.”



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