Whichever holiday you observe this April, be it Passover, Easter, or Ramadan, it’s not going to be the same as the year before. Our clear lines of separation means it’s harder, if not impossible, to access the people, tastes, and practices that keep us close. But you might want to dial up your mom for that brisket recipe anyway, because even if you fudge it up, keeping our traditions alive actually boosts happiness. The bigger importance of family traditions during isolation is how they allow for comfort in the familiar, and the ability to bond through rituals of connection.
“Tradition gives us some stability when times are changing,” says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. “It gives you a break from having to adjust and adapt constantly. It also gives you connections to others and a sense of belonging somewhere because of the shared experience. If you’re all tasting the same food, hearing the same music, and telling the same stories, that’s a powerful shared experience.”
If you’re trapped with your family and can’t get ahold of the usual groceries that make a holiday great (my mother forgot to order eggs ahead of Easter Sunday, for example), maybe this is a good time to come up with something new. Psychologist Laurie Santos, PhD, host of The Happiness Lab podcast and professor of Yale’s perennially popular happiness course, recently pointed out that families are in a good position to start new traditions. What’s on your side right now is a phenomenon called the Fresh Start Effect, she says.
“All the research in psychology suggests that we can harness these new situations to form new, different habits,” says Dr. Santos. “In other words, we can start things that we hadn’t tried before, you know, new game nights, new family dinners, new traditions, all of these things, because we’re in this moment where we start a new situation.”
What if you have the opposite problem and are separated from your kin, miles and miles away from a home-cooked meal? Let’s start with the positives: If you hated racing out to the suburbs or dealing with the airport in order to reach your mother-in-law’s house, there will be none of that this year. In fact, you can use your own discretion to decide which traditions are best kept and which to opt out of; keep the colored eggs or matzo ball soup and streamline the drama.
“Tech has created a situation where it has never been easier to share traditions,” says Dr. Daramus. “If people want to cook together on the phone, eat together on FaceTime, and embarrass each other on TikTok from a thousand miles away, they can. It’s not the same as being together, but it’s still shared experience.”
So try to remember the importance of family traditions by celebrating the upcoming holidays in a way that feels most familiar, taking comfort in the fact that you can always hit “mute” when people start squabbling.
Looking for ways to embrace the day to day? These are a few healthy habits that you should try to keep up for a bit of structure. And this is how you can help someone (especially yourself) have a happy birthday during quarantine.