“These are things that I did as a kid that really lit up the whole Christmas season,” said Ms. Knutzen, who grew up in Brooklyn. “So when I had my own children, I was so excited to share all of these festivities with them. New York made the holidays magical.”
Rather than write this year off, Ms. Knutzen spent most of November looking for alternatives. She got tickets to Glow, an outdoor light show at the New York Botanical Garden, and to another light show at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Penn.
In an effort to liven up her home, Ms. Knutzen invited a few of her daughters’ friends to the house for a virtual Alvin Ailey performance. She also approached her neighbors about organizing an event she described as a month of light. Each night in December, a family on the block will decorate one window in their house and leave out treats for the local children. For her family’s night, Ms. Knutzen plans to decorate her window with a candy-cane theme and leave a candy-cane forest on the front lawn so the children can collect treats.
“This is a different year and it’s not going to be like this every year,” she said. “We just have to be creative and make the most of it.”
In a year like this one, it’s the smaller rituals that may actually be the ones worth salvaging. After all, tickets to a show or dinner with good friends were the fun, low-pressure activities that often took the edge off the charged family gathering, or distracted you from what can be a bittersweet season.
“These second-tier rituals bring some lightness and some entertainment and diversion to a time of the year that, even under the best of circumstances, we can feel a little down in the dumps,” said Anne Fishel, the director and co-founder of the Family Dinner Project at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor of psychology at the Harvard Medical School. The holiday season normally “jazzes up a time of the year that is pretty cold and dark in a lot of the parts of the country.”
Create new mini-rituals, ones focused on breaking up the monotony of the days, and perhaps the month will feel a little more celebratory. Declare a family movie night with popcorn and treats. Invite friends to stand outside with a cup of hot cocoa when you turn on the lights outside your house, or invite them on a nighttime stroll to see the lights at other homes. If school recitals have been canceled, dance or play music in the yard.