In this special holiday edition of Stories from the Couch, our employees share their stories about new traditions they will carry into the new year and beyond.
Traditions give our lives meaning and stability, especially during the holidays. While ugly sweater parties and gift exchanges are common, other traditions are unique to each of us. Either way, 2020 transformed all of it.
From welcoming seldom-seen relatives through video chat and altering travel plans to partying online in a super-comfy Olaf suit, we are demonstrating our holiday resilience—and vulnerability—this year. We look forward to making these traditions part of our lives in 2021, and we hope you will enjoy these stories of our new, innovative twists on holiday traditions.
SHORT STORIES ON HOW WE ARE CREATING NEW TRADITIONS
A Little Olaf to Keep Me Warm
Our COO, Eric Van Luven, has hosted a holiday party at his house for the past eight years. It’s hard to believe, but the first year the entire group fit on two couches. Last year more than 50 people stood shoulder-to-shoulder in his living room!
Obviously, we won’t be standing shoulder-to-shoulder this year, but one part of that 2019 party is destined to become a new tradition no matter how we meet. The highlight of our parties has always been the white elephant gift exchange. Last year, Andrew Koch had opened a super-soft, full-body hooded Olaf onesie (from the movie Frozen). When my turn came, I immediately stole it and wore it for the remainder of the party. (I somehow resisted one of the other gifts — a giant framed photo of my St. Louis co-lead, Paul Holway!)
That Olaf suit is now one of my favorite pieces of comfort clothing. In fact, a month or so into the pandemic, I had a straight-out-of-bed early morning call. I was cold, so I put on the Olaf suit and joined the meeting. About 10 minutes later, I realized my camera had been on the entire time, and there I was, hood up, in all my Olaf glory!
When we have our virtual holiday party this year, I will, of course, be wearing my beloved Olaf suit. No matter what is happening in the world, it is there to protect me, keep me warm, and be part of our Centric St. Louis holiday traditions far into the future. That gives me joy… and endless laughs!
—Jen Barnes, Co-Lead, St. Louis
‘Cuz We Need a Little Christmas
My husband and I are in the phase of starting some family holiday traditions. Between having a new home and a three-year-old toddler who is now “all in” to everything Christmas related, it’s been a good time to establish some new traditions and make memories. Honestly, my son’s enchantment and excitement has helped to add some magic to the season.
So far, we’ve gone to see Christmas lights displays, found and decorated a tree and covered our house in as many twinkle lights as possible. My son loves Thomas the Train, so we bought him a small tree to decorate with Thomas ornaments, which he loved. We’ve also made homemade ornaments for our loved ones.
This month, we also plan to bake and decorate cookies, not only for Santa but for some of our new neighbors we’ve been able to meet from six feet away. There will be hot cocoa, cozy pajamas and holiday movie watching. (No surprise, Polar Express has been on repeat in my house).
Pandemic or not, the holidays really are a magical time of year, and my goal is to add as much merriment and magic to our days as possible.
—Misty Walsh, Team Lead, Marketing
From East Coast to Pacific, Staying Connected is Terrific
I was adopted, and having a great relationship with all pieces and parts of each of my family units makes the holidays a challenge. Staying in Ohio means I spend time with the family I grew up with – the ones who adopted me.
Though my parents have since passed, my sister and her three daughters (and their respective families) provide a very traditional setting with great stories, memories and lots of food.
In years past, I’ve worked to spread my time between my biological mother’s place in Denver, Colorado, and my biological father’s home in Webster City, Iowa. Each set of biological parents has two daughters, brothers-in-law and lots of nieces and nephews to enjoy. Many years I find a way to surprise them and show up for the festivities unannounced.
I try to make up for lost time as best I can. My biological parents welcomed me back into their families with open arms – my mother and her side since I was 30, and my dad and his side since I was 40 (my dad didn’t know I existed until then, but that’s another story).
This year I’ll be settling for a more traditional holiday season – staying home in Ohio. But with technology, I’ll be visiting Colorado families and Iowa families virtually while planning my next in-person visits.
–Doug Riggle, Manager, People and Change Practice
Let’s Talk Turkey… Through Zoom
Our favorite family holiday is Thanksgiving. However, with several family members in the high-risk category for COVID, we simply can’t afford to take the risk and gather together in person. So, we decided to get creative.
We had five different households join together for a virtual Thanksgiving, where we each make our meals in our respective homes and then joined a Zoom call at the same time to eat together.
We did this in a smaller group earlier this year, and it worked well but required just a bit more coordination to keep the conversation flowing and make sure people didn’t talk over each other on camera. After all, it is harder to read the room and adjust when we are all remote, but we are getting better at it every day.
We also celebrate Christmas in our family. Plans are already underway to move our annual gift exchange to a virtual event. This year, undoubtedly, brings its challenges, but we are committed to making memories together despite being physically distant.
—Deb Peluso, Team Lead, People and Change Practice
Slowing Down to Enjoy the Simple Things
Every year since meeting my husband in 2007, we’ve traveled for the holidays.
In 2011, we celebrated New Year’s Eve in London. We got married in Sydney on December 12, 2012 – and traveled the Australian coast the rest of the month. Then there was the year we explored Ireland. And we’ll never forget Toronto or the beauty of neighboring Niagara Falls.
Domestic trips have included big cities like New York and Boston or places closer to home like Georgia’s historic Savannah or small-town Helen, which is picturesque at Christmastime.
There’s just something about jetting off in a plane in December – and escaping the warm, un-holiday-like Florida winter – that’s always appealed to us. It’s become a tradition that we choose to go on adventures over traditional gift-giving.
But this year, we’re taking a small break from that tradition. Instead of taking unnecessary risks at an airport, we’ll be enjoying the smaller things in life: a staycation with our 15-month-old toddler.
We’ll experience Zoo Miami’s winter holiday celebration event. We’ll hop on a trolley tour through Key West to see how the locals outdo each other decorating their homes. And we’ll watch the holiday boat parade from our neighborhood beach. It’s a can’t-miss that we usually miss because we’re not here.
Come Christmas, we’ll spend the day opening gifts and playing with our little guy. For New Years, we’ll shoot some of our own fireworks.
It seems simple, but the beauty of 2020 is it’s taught us to cherish the simple things. It only took us 13 years.
–Yudy Pineiro, Content Manager, Marketing
Staying Home for the Holidays
Thanksgiving and Christmas are definitely a bit different for us this year. Most of our family is in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area, so we spend a lot of time with both sides of our families for both holidays.
However, our traditions are changing a bit with needing to protect some high-risk members of our family from the virus. We made it work, though, on Thanksgiving. I have more kids than I can handle (five), and they are all growing up on me too fast. So, I really enjoyed just being with our immediate family for the day.
We played a never-ending game of “Sorry,” which was fun, and only a few fights broke out. We played some cards (War, Crazy Eights, and started to teach my youngest Poker), and then after our Zoom dinners, we watched a movie that I fell asleep to, which is typical. It was a great day to slow down and be together.
I am hoping for much the same on Christmas and Christmas Eve!
—Marc Johnson, Senior Architect, IT