Virtual Holidays

As cliché as it sounds, the holiday season is easily my favorite time of year. My apologies to all the diehard Halloween fans out there, but something about the holiday doesn’t translate that well to the first-generation immigrant experience. Though, in my opinion, that might have more to do with trusting strangers with candy than the macabre.

As someone who’s favorite memories more often than not involve food and spending time with loved ones, it’s almost like the holiday season was made for someone like me. From my Mother turning the kitchen into a traditional tamale assembling line to staying up late on Christmas Eve to open presents – another of my Mother’s traditions is ensuring not a single present is opened before Midnight – I absolutely love the holidays. Though a self-professed avid eater and gift giver, my favorite part about the holidays is that there are days designated for spending time with those nearest to your heart. My family loves to work off our overindulgence by bouncing back-and-forth between playing games like loteria, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Studio Ghibli movies, and, of course, Elf. Though I wish time like this was afforded to all workers of the world, the promises of several big box stores to keep their doors closed at least on Thanksgiving is a positive sign – even if it took a pandemic to get them there.

With the holidays fast approaching, I find myself thinking about other first year academic librarians who may not have the opportunity to share the holidays with their loved ones – chosen, or biological. Thinking about those who, for whatever reason, will miss the company of the people they care about reminds me not only of how I felt during quarantine but how my family, friends, and I adapted the best we could to the limitations of a world pre-COVID vaccine. Though Zoom’s no substitute for the real thing – the biggest FOMO I’ve felt in recent years is watching my sibling hug our parents during a call – it’s something. With that being said, I’d like to share a little bit about what worked for my virtual holidays.

During the holiday season I was able to have a total of three separate virtual holiday dinners. One a Secret Santa get together with colleagues from my internship program and the others were Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve dinners with my family. Let’s start with Secret Santa first.

Though the idea of having a virtual Secret Santa get together with people scattered across various different cities may sound like a logistical puzzle, let me assure you that there weren’t too many pieces to figure out. The biggest puzzle piece was arguably the most important – getting the gifts to their respective locations on time. Part of the deal of participating in Secret Santa was being okay with sharing your address. With that in hand, we were all able to either order gifts using Amazon or sending them through good ol’ USPS. Once that was taken care of, all we really had to do was figure out what else we’d be doing during our call, aside from guessing who our Santa was and opening gifts of course. Luckily for us, the director of our internship program already had tons of experience playing Jackbox games remotely. If you’ve never had to virtually play a game with others, Jackbox is a great way to start (Quiplash turned out to be a favorite during both Secret Santa and Christmas Eve). I know this to be the case because the games even turned the spirits of some of my family members who were initially reluctant to having a virtual holiday in the first place. Jackbox and Zoom were useful for fulfilling my need for friend/family time, but we can’t forget an arguably just as crucial holiday component – the food.

Food is powerful. It has the ability to bring people together in a shared experience which often reinforces familial and cultural traditions. So, what’s a holiday without food? How do we work food into a virtual holiday? The answer’s surprisingly simple – You cook. And, that’s exactly what my partner and I did. We put on our best chef hats and got to work.

No Mexican holiday season is truly complete without certain traditional plates. For my family, that means tamales, pozole, and arroz con leche. With my partner taking care of the masa, or dough, for the tamales, we became a two-person assembling line. Arroz con leche, or rice pudding, has always been a holiday favorite of mine so I handled that one myself. Though neither of our culinary skills are a match for my Mother’s, I humbly admit that our food came out pretty good. Making our holiday favorites definitely helped us feel the holiday spirit a little more, but what really recreated some of the holiday vibe was having a designated family dinner time during our call. This is something we made sure to do for New Year’s Eve, too. Except that dinner consisted of a champagne and a charcuterie board gracefully put together by my partner. Aside from dinner and games, we also made sure to make time for the traditional New Year’s toast.

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My partner’s charcuterie board

There’s no question that a virtual holiday is no match for the real thing. But, making a few small adjustments helps. Cooking those traditional dishes you love, toasting with your favorite holiday beverage, and trying some online games can go a very long way. I know that it did for me.