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Rethinking Holiday Celebrations: A New Spin On Christmas

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We know you know that this year's Christmas won't be the same. Even at NPR, we have canceled the gift exchange and the lunch from Chinatown for safety reasons. So whether you are skipping your neighbor's Christmas open house or you're not flying across the country to be with family, there's a good chance your festivities this year have also taken on a new shape. Well, we asked listeners to share their stories of rethinking celebrations to help us bring light to a dark year. So heat up a hot chocolate or spike your eggnog as we take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JUAN CARDOSA-OQUENDO: My name is Juan Cardosa-Oquendo (ph). I live in Houston, Texas. And I'm 30 years old.

My parents are from Puerto Rico. And in Puerto Rico and in some parts of the Caribbean, we do parrandas, which is our version of carolling where you get together with friends and family at midnight, and then you just go house to house unannounced. And you sing at people's doors. And you ask them to let you in. And then they have to feed you. You know, people are just being silly and singing and drinking and eating. And everybody whose house you go into, you invite them to go along with you. And the goal is to make it till sunrise.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Spanish).

CARDOSA-OQUENDO: So I have a Puerto Rican Christmas music playlist. And these past few weeks, I - my boyfriend and I have been driving around doing errands. We've been singing our favorite songs from the playlist and just transporting ourselves to a parranda in Puerto Rico.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Spanish).

BRANDI WELVERT: My name is Brandi Welvert (ph). And I live in Rock Island, Ill. And I'm 41.

Every year, my best friends and I host a girls night gift exchange. We play a fun game where we swap gifts and we steal gifts. And it gets kind of rowdy. And we have drinks. And we have food. And it's just a really fun way to kind of unwind during the holidays. And we've done that for 13 years. And since we can't really pile, you know, 40 people in my friend's living room, we're coming up with an online edition. We're calling it our 14th Annual Girls Night Gift Exchange, COVID Edition. So it's kind of cool because some of the people who moved away and haven't been able to attend are actually going to participate this year. And they're like shipping gifts to us. And we'll have to quick turn around and ship gifts back to them. So it'll be kind of a fun way to get them back in.

KENNETH KAPARUD: I'm Kenneth Kaparud (ph). I'm 38 years old. And I was born and raised in Nebraska. And I live currently in Omaha, Neb.

Some of the best things about the holidays - a friend from college and I always participate in the annual TubaChristmas concert. There's a band of about, oh, 40 to 50 people. In Omaha, at least, it's a free concert at the Joslyn Art Museum. And it's something that I've been doing since 2016, which was - unfortunately, it's when my father passed away. And before that, I didn't have a tuba to play, but I was - my mom gave me his tuba. And I was able to then join my friend and kind of do it in honor of my dad and our friendship. We've been friends for about 20 years.

(Playing tuba).

So our plan is to have a tuba Christmas but do it in sort of a caroling format where we somehow strap our tubas onto ourselves, you know, dress up in full regalia and put Christmas lights on our tuba and kind of deck them out. And then we're going to go door to door in our neighborhood and tuba carol at a safe social distance from the people in the house and from each other.

(Playing tuba).

TACY QUINN: My name is Tacy Quinn (ph). And I live in Burnsville, N.J. And I am 42.

In a normal year, when we travel to see my side of the family and my mom, we're Norwegian on that side, and so what we like to do is make something called kringle, which definitely at Christmas time we love to get together and make this treat that just reminds us particularly of my grandmother. This year, we can't travel. We're not going to. So what I decided is we should embrace this idea of friluftsliv, which is this Norwegian ethos of getting outside no matter the weather. And it can be a new way, that we're honoring our family. And maybe they can be outside where they are too under the same sky having winter adventures.

I think going forward, we're going to embrace friluftsliv and continue to challenge ourselves to get out at least once a week. But already I'm noticing the difference with our ability to be grateful for each day, be grateful for the fresh air. We have done really simple things like taking a hike. We've also done things that are a little more special. We did a family trail ride on horseback, and it turned out to be probably the most relaxing thing ever. These horses, they are just gentle giants.

MARTHA CECILI-OVIDIA: My name is Martha Cecili-Ovidia (ph). I'm 35 years old. And I live in Miami.

I haven't hugged my mom since March because my husband's a nurse. So I bought one of those inflatable costumes - it's a dancing hippo - to surprise her on Christmas Day that she can hug me with that costume on. So that'll be our first hug in about a year. We are Colombian. And I don't know where the tradition comes from, but I would say 10 minutes before the clock strikes 12, we pack bags, and at the stroke of midnight, give kisses and hugs. And then we run around the block yelling, screaming, singing with our luggage - like 40 of us, 40 Colombians - to celebrate the new year, but also to make sure that there will be travel and new experiences in the new year.

I'm pretty sure the kisses and the hugs part at midnight won't be happening this year. It'll be more of waves and fist pumps. But this year in particular, I've realized that the tradition of running around the block with our luggage has actually nothing to do with travel but has to do with time together. And so I think this year it's rooted in this place of the promise of this getting better.

SHAPIRO: That was Martha Cecili-Ovidia, Tacy Quinn, Kenneth Kaparud, Brandi Welvert and Juan Cardosa-Oquendo. We asked them if this year's traditions will change anything about Christmases of the future.

WELVERT: It's important to observe our traditions in ways we can find ways to connect.

CARDOSA-OQUENDO: My boyfriend and I - this December is like we've been a year together, so it's all like a long line of tradition that I can continue with him.

KAPARUD: Maybe we can start a new tradition of doing tuba caroling. And maybe I can convince my family when the kids get a little older.

QUINN: Going forward, I know we're going to be much more intentional about making that family time.

CECILI-OVIDIA: This silly tradition is actually a place where I'm rooting my hope. It means something. I think I'll always think of it differently.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: This piece was produced by Jonaki Mehta. Thanks to everyone who shared their stories and to so many others who told us about their holiday traditions. However you are spending Christmas, we hope you stay safe and healthy, and that the promise of a new year brings you hope. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.