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Nearly two years in, we’re still adjusting to the ways the COVID-19 pandemic scrambled our celebrations, our happy moments, our markers of time.
Dislodged from our basic routines, we sought comfort in text chains and video chats when we couldn’t embrace. Seeing family evolved into a spider web of calculated risk and careful planning — if it was possible at all. Feelings of isolation grew.
So new traditions were born – not only out of necessity, but out of creativity and resilience, too. Despite our separations, we found ways to forge new connections.
READ MORE: How we took care of ourselves in 2021
We asked our viewers and readers what new traditions, for the holidays or otherwise, they started during the pandemic. Below, read what brought them solace, in their own words.
These responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Visual artist John Gutoskey sewed the first patch onto this pair of jeans in early March 2020. There are now 94 patches representing 94 weeks since the beginning of the pandemic. “The way it’s going, I may need to start a jean jacket next,” Gutoskey wrote. Photos courtesy of John Gutoskey
I started sewing an embroidered patch to a pair of jeans to mark each week of the pandemic. The front is now completely covered in patches, and I am working on the back.
The jeans are a pair of my studio work pants that I had already begun patching with scraps of denim from old jeans. The reason I started this tradition was to mark the time of the pandemic in a permanent way. The patches also become a meditation on time, with the practice of sewing on another patch at the end of each week. When I was a teenager in the 1970s, my mom taught me how to patch my jeans to make them last longer. So, in a way, they are the continuation of a tradition that my mother taught me.
– John Gutoskey of Ann Arbor, Michigan
A look inside the “Best of Food Network” recipe book. Erika Christ said she and her children would rate dishes on a scale of 1 to 10, calculate the average score and record it next to the recipe, along with some additional comments. Photo courtesy of Erika Christ
My teenage children and I enjoyed some new activities together. After clipping interesting-looking recipes from my daughter’s backlog of Food Network magazines, she organized and glued them into a recipe book. Then we started meal planning each week, picking out recipes from the book and recording our ratings for them. My 15-year-old daughter, Julia, was nearly always the chef, as she loves to cook. She and her 18-year-old brother (now off at college) were much tougher in their ratings of dishes than I was. It’s been a nice family bonding activity and provided some diversion and enjoyment for the kids during virtual schooling last year.
– Erika Christ of Alexandria, Virginia
Two coolers filled with eggs. After her mother’s death, Teresa Takahashi devoted her time to helping others, including making deliveries for groceries or supplies. Photo courtesy of Teresa Takahashi
I was a caregiver to my parents until my mom passed as COVID hit. Missing giving them care left a huge hole in my heart. To help, I posted on a social media page asking if anyone needed anything or assistance. From the responses, I started free delivery of medical supplies, groceries, and food to those choosing to stay home, or caregiving, and continue to do so. It has been my heart and mental health therapy.
–Teresa Takahashi of Torrance, California
Alice Daer’s daughter, Aniya, reads Lori M. Lee’s “Pahua and the Sword Stealer” on the porch of the family’s home in Phoenix. Photo courtesy of Alice Daer
At the start of the pandemic, my special-needs daughter, who had just turned 7, was extremely dysregulated with the lockdown and online school. She was lonely, so I promised her I’d get her as many books as she wanted to keep her company. I am a former English professor and many of my friends are English professors, and one day, one of them suggested that she and my daughter could read the same book together via FaceTime. She is in Morris, Minnesota, and we are in Phoenix, Arizona. They started doing it every few days, and now, it has continued – once a week, every Saturday morning. They take turns, reading one paragraph at a time, and enjoy just being together and reading. It’s really lovely.
– Alice Daer of Phoenix
Barbara Baring and her family show their gingerbread house decorations with each other over Zoom. Photo courtesy of Barbara Baring
My three siblings and our families of three generations, spread across Colorado, Nevada, California and Alaska, started having Zoom meetings every two weeks. At Christmas, each household bought or made gingerbread houses, which we decorated together over Zoom. We have our second gingerbread house Zoom coming up and have agreed that the regular Zoom meetings have been a wonderful way to stay connected and close.
– Barbara Baring of Denver
Cookies and pies are some of the desserts Angela Nickerson’s family has made during the pandemic. Photos courtesy of Angela Nickerson
When the pandemic began, we promised our then-8-year-old that we could have dessert every night during the pandemic. It was a simple thing meant to make a scary time a little sweeter. Here we are almost two years later: We still have dessert every night. My husband bakes cookies — a new skill for him. We have a little ice cream. It does make life a little sweeter!
– Angela Nickerson of Broomfield, Colorado
A stock photo of a crocheted blanet. Photo via Getty Images
As I had to be isolated for a longer time than most, I took the opportunity to crochet blankets for each member of my extended family. I had not crocheted for some years, but it filled my days of isolation and gave me something not only to fill my time, but to create something useful.
– Laura Crouch of Ozark, Alabama
Cranberry was the main ingredient for the holiday mix-off last year. Jody Gaffney’s youngest daughter was the winner, with a cranberry margarita. Jody placed last with a vodka cranberry fizz. Photo courtesy of Jody Gaffney
We have a family holiday mix-off where my daughters and I make cocktails on Christmas Eve and then we judge them to see which cocktail is the best. And then, we have a traveling cocktail shaker with the name of last year’s winner on it. It’s sort of like a Stanley Cup type of thing.
– Jody Gaffney of Venice, Florida
This photo of Lauren Bingham’s son and his friends was taken during his 8th birthday party in the backyard this year. Photo courtesy of Lauren Bingham
We’ve always loved going to the movies, so all the theater closures forced us to get creative. We bought an inexpensive projector and a stovetop popcorn maker and started doing backyard movies. Depending on restrictions, we’d invite a couple families to join, put the kids in camping chairs or laundry baskets or picnic blankets with a bunch of glow sticks, and the parents could relax and chat in the back. During those isolated, stressful, school-at-home days, it was a godsend!
– Lauren Bingham of Rowlett, Texas
A family that games together, stays together. Photo courtesy of Kate Lockhart
We meet on Zoom every Friday night with my siblings, parents and nephews to play “Mario Kart.” We started a few months into the pandemic, and it’s still going. It’s been a great way for us to stay involved in each other’s lives. We don’t live close to family – we’re close to Buffalo, New York, and my family is around Chicago – so this has been a fun way to keep in touch, trash talk, and laugh a lot. It’s a great way for multiple generations to connect, and we plan to keep it going as long as we can!
– Kate Lockhart of North Tonawanda, New York
Joshua Barajas is a senior editor for the PBS NewsHour's Communities Initiative. He also the senior editor and manager of newsletters.
Lizz Bolaji is a News Assistant for the PBS NewsHour
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