In the past, Lexi Ivarsson, a content creator living in Boise, Idaho, felt that she had limited options for the holidays.
She packed her four children, ages 3 to 7, into the car and drove to either her husband’s nearby childhood home or her family’s home near Provo, Utah. It was such a ingrained tradition that it even saw family members on vacation last year, in the midst of the pandemic and against guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But this year she decided she’d had enough.
She and her husband Brendan share almost nothing with his family. “Our thoughts about religion and politics and the way we should deal with each other and ethics are completely different,” said Ms Ivarsson, 28. “So it’s difficult to sit around the table together.”
It took a 10-hour drive to get to her parents. “We get along well with them, but with young children it’s a big challenge,” she said.
So she decided to celebrate Thanksgiving without family this year. Instead, she and her husband invited their best friend and family over to celebrate (and cook together).
“We had such a great time and there was no drama and no commitment,” Ms Ivarsson said. “I think the pandemic has shifted something that made us realize if we don’t want to spend time with family, then we don’t have to.”
She is now planning to celebrate Christmas with friends as well.
People across the country are saying nothing about furlough commitments. With the pandemic over, some are choosing to skip the stress of travel or spend hours at a table with people they don’t quite like. Even those who like their family prefer to be apart and instead choose to be with friends who live near them or go on long journeys that they have always wanted to do.
“We’ve all finally realized that we don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been,” Ms Ivarsson said.
During the pandemic, many Americans have realized the value of taking care of themselves and doing what they want to do, not what’s expected of them.
Megan Vice’s family lives on Long Island and wants her to come home for the holidays, but spending Christmas there has been a bummer for the last few years. “My parents don’t even have a tree anymore,” said Ms. Vice, a 31-year-old musician who lives in Los Angeles. “I have to do things that make me happy, and Christmas is not a pleasant experience for me. As much as I love my parents, this vacation is not good for me.”
This year she is flying to Chiapas, Mexico for a 10 day silent meditation retreat in the mountains. “It’s going to be intense, but I think it’s going to be meaningful,” Ms. Vice said. “The pandemic has made me crave not only new experiences, but ones that are intended.”
The pandemic has taught other Americans that virtual connections can be just as meaningful as in-person ones. If that’s the case, they think, then why spend all that money and time to travel to be in person with family?
Tracy Lee, 40, who works in financial technology in Manhattan, loves to visit her parents and siblings who live in Montana, Arizona and Indiana. But Thanksgiving, when airfares are generally more expensive and airports are full, isn’t an ideal time to fly there. “I’d rather see my family when we can do things and not feel compelled,” said Ms. Lee, 40. “Why don’t we get together in August and enjoy a nice week together and not force this holiday on each other?”
Being separated from her family because of the pandemic, she learned how easy it was to keep in touch with them virtually. So she decided to do that for vacation this year instead. “We played a trivia game with them, some version of heads up,” she said. “It feels so natural to interact virtually since the pandemic. This is how we organize our holidays now.”
Thom Tran, a Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian, said the pandemic has normalized virtual connections so much that this year he feels free to celebrate Thanksgiving away from his parents, who live in New York, “with no guilt at all.” “.
“My dad is a man in his 70s who is now embracing the iPhone in a way I never expected,” said Mr. Tran, 42. “He’s now FaceTimes me every two weeks,” he said. (Mr. Tran spent Thanksgiving serving meals to the homeless, then had dinner with 25 friends, new and old.)
For others, skipping family gatherings over the past year has helped them realize that the gatherings are not that important.
Tony Hurt, 31, a software developer in Columbus, Ohio, usually spends Christmas with his large extended family at his aunt’s house, also in Columbus. “I buy gifts for everyone and I usually spend $600 to $1,000. And it’s not even about the money. It’s so stressful buying gifts for so many people.”
The pandemic helped him break through. “Since we couldn’t get together last year, I realized how much money I saved,” he said. “It made me realize that spending a day with family, who I see a lot anyway, isn’t the worst thing in the world.” Instead, he’s heading to Puerto Rico alone for a week to chill at the beach and Live -To listen to music.
“I never dreamed of missing Christmas before the pandemic, but now it makes sense,” he said. “I’m so looking forward to my journey.”
The pandemic has also turned friends into family. When unable to be with their birth relatives, some formed families of friends and neighbors who lived closer together.
Caragh Creswell, who works in fashion in New York City, decided to celebrate Thanksgiving with one of her best friend’s families. At Christmas she receives friends in her apartment.
“We’ve all been through such a huge emotional rollercoaster together,” said Ms Creswell, 29, who is originally from Australia and still has family there.
“What the pandemic has taught me is that family doesn’t have to represent those who are related by blood. A family is made up of the people who support and love you,” she said. “So when I think about who I want to spend the holidays with, it’s these people.”