2020 Advent Calendar

As of Nov 28, a work in progress

As we near the year-end performance review for 2020, I think there are a lot of checks in the ‘needs improvement’ column. True to form, the lameness is lasting right through the holiday season. This time last year, we were planning a move to Sweden but thought we’d be coming back to Canada for a holiday visit over Christmas break. Like for so many other people, the pandemic led to a change of plans and we realized we’d be staying in Sweden over the holidays. It won’t be full of all the regular Stockholm activities like Christmas markets and a visit to Skansen, but we weren’t too bummed because we will still get a lot of novelty and interesting exploring through our new neighbourhood(s).

‘Infections per week’ sign reminding Stockholmers how bad things are as they shop in large groups with no masks

The last week of November I chatted with family in Canada, and got a new understanding that in the absence of a new and interesting environment, the notion of an at-home-alone Christmas is a particular kind of bummer. All the things you would normally do are right there, but you can’t do them. It feels like without visiting and family and the traditional celebrations, it isn’t really a holiday celebrations. It’s easy to get stuck in this and (even for folks who normally really like holidays) consider whether it might be better to forget it all together and just have another November of rain and feeling glum, before starting into January. Fair enough – some people don’t like the holidays to start with, and to be fair the non-stop Christmas music and decorations and capitalist machinery that start full blast on Nov 1st are pretty annoying.

Christmas cards (an at-home-alone activity)

I’m not particularly sentimental (or religious!), but it does seem that there is some deep social value in marking and sharing cultural events. For us northern dwellers there is also the celestial importance of the days finally getting longer again. Ignoring it completely also seems uncomfortably close to depressive haze, so there solution would be to identify fun, seasonal things that are possible, safe, and also feel special. Maybe not because they are super-unique, but because we plan them out and decide to make them special and fun and create a unique memory stamp. This lines up with some of the stories my Nana told about being in London during WWII; she and her sisters had parties and laughed and had some fun memories, rations and bombing raids notwithstanding. Covid-19 is not the Battle of Britain, we have a lot at our disposal, and even if I can only aspire to be as rad as my Nana, I think we’ve got some good times ahead. Let’s do this!

Care packages en route to Canada

Story tangent: Skip to the cinnamon buns if this is already too long for you… The Christmas after my Dad dies was a weird one for my family. Christmas was coming the month after we had his memorial, and none of us really felt like celebrating. A Christmas at home was going to seem weird and sad and all the usual things were going to just highlight what was missing. So, I suggested that we all go to Hawaii for Christmas (actual Christmas was pretty expensive, so we went a couple of weeks before). Leading up to it, I took a (literal) page out of Gretchen Rubin’s ‘The Happiness Project’ to intentionally develop anticipation about the trip. We had a group email thread, and everyone talked about what they would want to do. Then I drew pictures of the things to look forward to.

On a beach in Hawaii…

We took lots of pictures while we were there, but the pictures of the drawings are actually a pretty good encapsulation of how it went. I thought it might be nice to try something similar for Christmas 2020 – make some intentional plans about what would be fun, plan it, looks forward to it, and make it happen.

Graham made cinnamon knots, and seeing them means you made it past the story tangent.

So, my ‘advent calendar’ this year is really a list of drawings of fun things to do throughout the season. They might not happen on the day they are listed, and they could happen more than once, and several might happen at the same time! The ideal is to be intentional about planning things that are fun, and make some memories…

Then when we are rad Nanas, we’ll have some stories to tell about how even though it was tough we had fun all the same. I hope to post every day, but as of this minute have only drawn a week’s worth of activities. If you have ideas, and/or would like to see something fun drawn into the advent calendar, please let me know! Comment or email/WhatsApp me and let’s have fun this next 5 weeks.

1 Comment

  1. I read an article a while ago, can’t remember where, that said there is a legit (positive) psychological phenomenon going on with regard to anticipation and memories of vacations, and it’s super important for mental health so the lack of vacations is having a major negative impact on people during the pandemic.

    However the good news to come out of it was that this effect is not dependent on how elaborate or far-flung the vacation is – you can create the same effect in your brain by simply planning a fun/new activity in the city you live in (or even inside the house), anticipating it, and creating these lasting memories.

    I’m crossing my fingers that late December will not be -40 so my family (7 people) can gather by a fire pit in a local park, distance safely, and have a marshmallow roast. We’re also planning to have a distanced potluck where we each make a usual component of the Christmas meal, package it up for the rest of the family, and then reheat at our respective homes and eat together over Hangouts or something. That way we still can kind of feel like we’re sitting down for a meal together and get to tell each other how good the food is etc. It will be very different but I’m still anticipating it as something to look forward to, and it will most definitely be memorable.

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