Home for the holidays?


Niamh McCarthy

Students around the world breathe new life into old holiday traditions as the pandemic interrupts their plans.

“It just isn’t the same,” Ava said.

As the days get shorter and the holidays start rolling around, it’s difficult not to feel a sense of nostalgia for how this time might have been spent last year. The Wilton high school junior, and others in the same boat, feel that being home for the holidays is not truly home for the holidays.

2020 has been characterized by adaptation and finding new ways to come together. The holidays are no exception. Whether it be through adapting old traditions or starting new chapters in their lives, individuals worldwide are still finding ways to celebrate safely.

Based in Wilton, Connecticut, Ava, and her family have found new ways to spend the season together despite their setbacks. Usually, the group packs into a single house in upstate New York, shoulder to shoulder with aunts, uncles, cousins, and more.

“This year, we went to my aunt’s house in Wilton, so we were all following Wilton precautions since we couldn’t go anywhere,” Ava said. 

As many have noticed, she isn’t alone in this change. According to a study by the American Hotel and Lodging Association in a U.S.News article, 72% of surveyed Americans were unlikely to travel for Thanksgiving. In comparison, 62% are unlikely to travel for winter holidays like Christmas. 

Despite their travel restrictions, the family took measures to have a COVID-safe Thanksgiving. 

“My family is super cautious about everything, so we all sat away from each other and brought our own food,” Ava said. “It was kind of sad, but it was the best we could do in a time like this.” 

Although there were some drawbacks given the situation, Ava found the positives in connecting with her loved ones and spending time with them. 

Even with these precautions, it’s nice to get together, even if it’s just for a few hours and under these weird circumstances.

— Ava

While some are modifying old traditions to fit their new lives, others are doing away with the old entirely to make new memories. Niamh McCarthy, a freshman at the University of St. Andrews, found an unconventional way to spend her Thanksgiving away from home. Instead of a typical crowded, yell-across-the-table celebration, she and her family used Zoom to see each other on Thanksgiving. 

“It was definitely easier for me in that I didn’t have to go anywhere, and it was also easier to see all of my family members,” McCarthy said. “Maybe we’ll incorporate it into Thanksgiving going forward, just because we have such a big family together.”

Between her classes in Scotland, her parents in the US, and the rest of her family scattered across the globe, Zoom allowed her to connect with others that she couldn’t have done even before the pandemic. 

Instead of her usual traditions, St. Andrews' freshman Niamh McCarthy had a "student orphans" Thanksgiving this year with other Americans on campus.
Instead of her usual traditions, St. Andrews’ freshman Niamh McCarthy had a “student orphans” Thanksgiving this year with other Americans on campus.

In addition to Zooming, McCarthy celebrated Thanksgiving in person a little differently. Although many of St. Andrews’ American students celebrate the holiday, the university itself doesn’t offer space for a break in November. 

“I ended up spending Thanksgiving with American students I found in St. Andrews because they couldn’t go home either. Not everybody knew each other super well, but it was really, really fun,” McCarthy said.

One of the best parts, she adds, was growing much closer with fellow American students at her school and introducing the holiday to some British students who wanted in on the fun. On the week of the holiday, St. Andrews had around 10 cases of coronavirus among its over 10,000 student body, making spending time with friends, not in quarantine, virtually risk-free. In a time like this where safety takes priority first and foremost, reaping the benefits of precautions like quarantining and wearing masks can feel all the more memorable.

Sadie Farnworth, a freshman at Keele University in England, experienced a similar situation. After Halloween, United Kingdom Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced a four-week COVID lockdown to be lifted on December 2nd. Designed to prevent a “medical and moral disaster” for England’s National Health Service, residents were told to remain home as much as possible. At the same time, most nonessential services closed their physical doors for the month. However, Keele University’s undergraduate accommodation system allowed for members of the same “household” to stay in contact with one another.

“I had eight people in my household, and we all got along quite well. And one of them is really really into cooking, so she got super excited about the idea of Thanksgiving,” Farnworth said.

Being at an English university, most of Sadie’s housemates had never celebrated Thanksgiving before, but they were more than happy to embrace the holiday. The group hosted a potluck-style dinner, bringing everything from traditional Thanksgiving dishes, to curly fries, to just a smile and an empty stomach. Regardless, spending quality time together made the day worth celebrating.


I think people just like the excuse to get together and eat food, regardless of whether or not it’s a holiday.

— Sadie Farnworth

In the face of the devastating losses of communication, connection, and safety the pandemic has brought, finding reasons to smile has been difficult for many. However, these losses have been collective, and solace can be found in the company of one another. At heart, a home is only as warm as the faces that fill it, and a holiday is only as cheerful as the outlook of its celebrants.