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Home for the Holidays

How to rekindle your merry this year

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sitting in front of treeUnfortunately, many Americans will be unable to celebrate the holidays with their extended family and friends in person this year, making it all the more important to boost holiday cheer at home. In our little corner of Pittsburgh, it’s looking and feeling very different and it can be hard to find your Holly Jolly in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

Nicole Monteleone, of Avalon, encourages her patients to get involved and find new traditions instead of focusing on the ones we can’t have this year. A Licensed Professional Counselor, Monteleone is co-founder of the Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh.

But how do you feel “festive” when you miss the tradition, family meals, and a hug from your grampa?

While it may seem impossible, this is the moment to make new memories you’ll treasure, too.

“Use this as an opportunity to make new traditions, go to a drive-thru light display, get some new decorations for your home or tree. Just do something different this year,” she explained. “Maybe you have time for more baking because you’re not traveling, or you’re cooking dinner for your family for the first time.”

“Try to appreciate these differences instead of being upset that things aren’t ‘normal’”.

Here are few festive ideas for getting into the holiday spirit during this socially distant season.

Don’t skip out on the decorations

You may not be hosting any houseguests, gatherings, or big meals, but this shouldn’t be the year to opt-out of the full-scale decorating you typically enjoy. Lights, trees, garlands, stockings, and wreaths can evoke favorite memories of past seasons and invite hope for future ones all season long. You can even set up a video conference to enjoy the camaraderie of decorating with far-off loved ones.

“At my mom’s house, she has a Nativity scene that we always bought a new figurine for every Christmas. My sister and I would beg that she wait until we came home from college to buy the figure, so we could go with her. We still try to go with her when we’re home before Christmas, even as grown adults,” explained Laura Pollanen, of Bellevue.

Alisa Mehlo, of Bellevue, gets to revisit fond memories with every ornament her family adds to the tree. “We have lots of ornaments that are special to us. We try to get at least one new one every year. We’ll get one when we’re on vacation, to mark something important that year or just something we really like. I’m looking for an ornament for 2020,” she said.

Deck the halls with music

Like most of us, Pollanen’s cultural roots are stronger around the holiday season. Among her many family traditions, three CDs of music continually resurface.  For example? “Tonttuparaati, a CD of traditional Finnish and English carols, all sung in Finnish. My dad was determined we would know our Finnish roots, and he loved Christmas! I heard it so many times I can sing along to each song by rote, despite only knowing the tiniest very basic phrases in Finnish”.

Whether you’re tickling the ivories of a Casio digital piano or asking Alexa to play your favorite holiday playlist, music is a big part of our holiday experience.

[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” class=”” width=””]What’s your favorite Christmas carol? Share it in the comments![/box]

Add favorite aromas

cocoa and candleMany of the best parts of the holidays surround food. In preparing this article, food came up time and again, when asked about their holiday memories. Grandma’s Buckeyes, Nonna’s biscotti, and big delicious meals make for mouthwatering holiday traditions. In fact, according to a recent survey, more than 70 percent of people associate holidays with food (and plan to eat all the treats!)

Smaller tables don’t necessarily mean less food. “I do plan on cooking a lot! I plan to make traditional Finnish dishes like piirakka and pulla, steak and my mom’s cognac butter sauce, and plenty of potatoes, veggies, and sweets,” said Pollanen.

If it’s your first time cooking a holiday meal, Taste of Home has compiled 75 traditional holiday recipes! Watch this space, too, for some exciting recipes from our own contributors.

Your nose will know the holidays have arrived when you bake that first batch of gingerbread cookies or light candles in scents like evergreen and peppermint. You can even try simmering a pot of water and add aromatic ingredients to it such as cloves, cinnamon sticks, and rosemary.

Connect with the ones you miss most

Set aside an afternoon to compose and send holiday cards. This end-of-year tradition allows you to reconnect with the people you care about most and can help lend the season a touch of normalcy.  This year, include a personal letter, too. Call local nursing homes and see if they are accepting cards for their residents; write a few extras and send them to someone lonely this year.

The good news is that this isn’t 1943 and you can see and speak with your loved ones around the world. In fact, there are lots of fun opportunities to share this holiday in new ways. “Connect with friends and neighbors. We all have Zoom fatigue by now but staying connected with your support system is especially important during the winter months and over the holidays,” Monteleone said.

This is an unprecedented time for museums and classes online. How about learning to make biscotti like your Nonna, with your little one? Tour the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York online with your mom and reminisce about visits of yore. Send your best friend a baking kit and FaceTime while you bake together with your kids.

Do something for someone

It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re doing something for others. Even writing this article is an exercise in giving to you, dear reader. While many of us gather around trees and menorahs, singing and celebrating, some find this time of year exceptionally hard.

2020 definitely didn’t help, did it? Between the fear of a global pandemic, a difficult election year, and extensive joblessness, many of us don’t have much to “ho ho” about – but you can help.

Volunteering is always a great (option), too.  Reach out to local organizations to see what they might need. Contactless meal drop-offs, packing health/hygiene kits, knit/crotchet things (hat, scarves, patches for blankets),” Monteleone suggests. “These can be nice activities to involve kids in as well.”

Have yourself a…

At the end of the day, Monteleone says the takeaway is “reframing the holiday experience”. Yes, you need to be creative, but the options are limitless.

While you may not be making your usual in-person visit to relatives or throwing your annual bash, there are many creative ways to make the most of the season and create happy memories for years to come.

Pollanen plans to do just that. Though she hopes to share the holiday with her small COVID bubble, if regulations require a change in plans, she’s still going to celebrate. “If I end up on my own with just the dog, it’ll still be all that food, and watching The Muppet’s Christmas Carol.”

If you’re having trouble getting through this holiday season, reach out for help. You can speak with someone 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the phone at 800-273-8255, or via text. You can also contact the Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, which has five locations throughout the area, but clinicians are available for virtual visits, too.

This article was written with the help of StatePoint Media.

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Meg A. Watt

Meg is relatively new to the Pittsburgh scene but she's already made herself a community fixture through her involvement in community events, boards, and this site. She started her career as a journalist and still writes daily as a Content Director, and loves that this publication lets her come full circle with those skills - and her love of the North Boroughs. You can also find her writing on www.lit.buzz where she waxes poetic about all the books she loves. If you see her around Lincoln Avenue, she likely has her husband, grown daughters or a pack of dogs around; don't worry, no one bites! (And before you ask, yes; that is really her name)

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