By Katy Rhamey

Oh, 2020 ... it’s been a topsy-turvy year so far, and the holidays won’t be an exception. In previous years, my family has gathered to exchange gifts, enjoy holiday meals, and share lots of laughs. Having three grown children who have children of their own—all living in different parts of the country (Colorado, Virginia, and Los Angeles)—makes our gatherings even more meaningful. It’s a special time of year when we can set aside our busy always-on-the-move schedules and enjoy the simple pleasures of family. From sledding down hillsides and decorating cookies to wearing matching pajamas, we always find a way to create special memories during the holiday season.

But this year is going to look different. With COVID-19 cases on the rise, our family has made the difficult decision to celebrate the holiday season from our respective homes. I know that many families are faced with the same tough decision, and truth be told, it’s hard. And, for social butterflies like myself, it’s really hard! However, our family has discovered that even amid difficult challenges, we can always find a fun and manageable solution.

We put our heads together and came up with the obvious solves—scheduling video calls and sending Christmas lists—but these ideas were missing the element of ongoing connection, a way in which we could be together as a family throughout the season even though we’ll all be miles apart. Then, a stroke of genius! We decided to share memories through an ornament exchange, and we aren’t going to use just any old ornaments. Instead, we plan to exchange picture ornaments that feature our families. As for the pictures we include, creativity can abound. If we want to share a beautiful family portrait in front of the tree, great! A silly picture in Rudolf antlers? Even better. The key for my family is to share and create new memories during this strange and unprecedented year.

The first step of our ornament extravaganza was the name-drawing ceremony. We set up a video call in which everyone was present—holiday garb was a must. Even our youngest grandchild, who is only one year old, got in on the fun. He laughed, squealed, and babbled when he saw the faces of all his older cousins. The reaction was priceless and such a treat for my husband and me. Once we all settled down from the initial excitement, we decided who’d go first. My husband, who served as the master of ceremonies, placed each family’s name into a hat, and the selection process began. For the duration of the video call, there was lots of love and, of course, teasing as families discussed silly ideas for pictures. At the end of the call, I was grateful we were creating new, out-of-the-box holiday memories that would last a lifetime.

Best of all, our family ornament exchange is affordable and hassle-free—nobody needs to put more on their plates! Our family is now thinking we’ll permanently add this tradition to future holidays because it’s a unique way to record the transformation of our family as we expand and grow. It keeps the element of family connection alive.

I’m so delighted that through the coming years, my tree will slowly transform with family memories. I’ll have holiday reminders of grandchildren with missing teeth and the iconic first steps. So COVID-19 or no COVID-19, this tradition is here to stay, and the spirit of the holiday season is alive and well in our Colorado, Virginia, and Los Angeles homes.

Wishing merry days to you all, and whatever happens this holiday season, let us keep making memories with the ones we love, no matter how close or far apart we all may be.