Non-Traditional Holiday Celebrations Aren’t New — Here’s How 10 Women Have Created Their Own Customs

While many of us are scrambling to find ways to make our remote or small-scale celebrations feel as merry as ever this year, for plenty of people, a non-traditional holiday season isn’t just another consequence of 2020. There are countless folks who have long been opting out of standard-issue familial celebrations in favor of more unique, unconventional rituals.
That’s why we teamed up with Grand Marnier to take a look at the different ways women across the country have been approaching the holidays long before 2020 hit — from solo travel to vegan feasting. Their experiences just might be the inspiration you need for your own alternative festivities this year. 

Self-affirming travel

"2020 might be one of my most traditional years ever! Historically, I use the customary vacation time in December to challenge myself with either a big, thought-provoking trip or a big, life-affirming challenge that will close the year out in an introspective way. Each year, December is about the holidays, but it’s also a time to close out 12 months of my life with a bang. In the past, I’ve spent the month in Southern India, China, or Japan — or I’ve taken the time to summit a big mountain, backpack, climb, or hike. Being close to nature and challenging myself always brings those 12 months into sharp focus, and primes me to welcome in a New Year with reflection and gratitude." — Moon K.

Retail shifts 

"I’ve worked in fashion and retail for over a decade, so I’ve always been a little too busy to celebrate the holidays in full. Anyone in retail can tell you that the holidays are the craziest time of year for us. But I do have some traditions of my own that I’ve come to appreciate and love. On Thanksgiving, I’m usually getting ready for Black Friday sales, so by the time I'm done prepping everything in the store on Thursday, I usually just grab some quick Chinese food on my way home. This year was completely different though, because we couldn't have events or crowds in the store, so I focused more on one-on-one appointments and online sales for Small Business Saturday. I did keep my holiday ritual and got Thanksgiving Chinese food to-go. Even though things are the opposite of normal right now, I find something very comforting about sticking to my own little holiday tradition that I know and love." — Joey C.

Kosher Afghan feasts

"My family is from Afghanistan and most people assume that means we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but my grandmother always loved anything American. So, of course we celebrated Thanksgiving. She’d make a huge turkey that was the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen, and we’d eat that alongside our more traditional Afghan dishes. No cranberry sauce, no stuffing, or any of the ‘traditional’ sides. Just turkey with Afghani dill rice and giblets, Mediterranean chopped salad, and a few other mains. Also no pie, because we were kosher (butter is a no-no), so we had sponge cake and cookies from the Jewish bakery!” — Jennifer O.

Vegan dining

"When I went vegan, I had to start looking at my long-held traditions. Obviously, the usual breaking of the wishbone wasn't going to work anymore. So, I found new ways to honor my values by cooking plant-based versions of my childhood favorites, as well as visiting restaurants that were offering vegan versions of holiday standards. I started going to Thanksgiving celebrations at farm sanctuaries, where turkeys were the guests of honor, not the main course. It's easy to operate on auto-pilot with traditions, but when I made life changes that were in opposition to those old ways, I was forced to decide how I wanted to celebrate without compromising my ethics. And I’ve honestly loved all the communities I’ve found." — Cadry N.

Cocktail commuting

"As a child of divorce, with siblings that live in all different places, I’ve never really had the ‘traditional holiday experience.’ It’s always a bit beautifully disjointed, involving at least eight meals and four subway rides in one day. The one constant is that food and drink are always central to our celebrations, and there’s always a fully stocked bar, including my dad’s favorite, Grand Marnier." — Lucy M.

Pet-sitting abroad

"I've celebrated the past two christmases alone — by choice. I'm Australian (I still live in Australia), but on both occasions, I flew to the U.S. to house and cat-sit for strangers. Holidays can be hectic. There's so much going on. Everyone is fretting about organizing the perfect event. Folks are going crazy about finding unique gifts for everyone. 
At some point, I just decided that I’d rather spend that time alone — no time constraints, no commitments. No pressure! Both Christmases, I stocked up with goods from Whole Foods (we don’t have it in Australia so I always look forward to a mass grocery haul). We’re talking baked goods, ready-made pasta meals, stir-fry dishes, and plenty of sweet things. Then, I’d wake up (whenever I wanted!) and treat myself to a feast of my favorite things! I spent both holidays relaxing in the stranger's home, dining, and playing with their cat. I'm not a huge family events person, so I actually really enjoy spending that time alone on the other side of the world!” — Madolline G. 

Love letters

"As a queer woman, the holiday season is just another time we are inundated with a barrage of heteronormative narratives about what happiness looks like, as well as messages about 'the importance of family' that can be damaging for those in the LGBTQ+ community. An inclusive and affirming holiday tradition that’s just for me is that every year, I write a letter to myself, where I reflect on the ups and downs, chronicle the highlights, and write down some goals I have for the next year. For instance, I’m sure last year I wrote about hoping to finally release a debut album, and this year I’ll finally get to say, hey, I did that! (Bye, impostor syndrome!) 

But the letters can also be smaller things, like reflecting on the songs I’ve written this year and the people and situations they grew from, or recounting memories from fun weekend trips out of town. They’re not exactly resolutions, but they help me to take a moment to pause and check in with myself. Then, each year, I save my letter in a special box and seal it until the following year. And once December comes along, I get to read that letter, reflect on my growth, and write a new letter to future me." — Jae R.

Bucket-list travel

"I normally go on a solo bucket list-type trip over Christmas. Last Christmas, I was on a boat on the Amazon, fishing for piranha. The year before, I watched the sun come up while on a wildlife safari in Uganda, then the next day, I tracked mountain gorillas. It’s usually the best time of the year for me to take two-plus weeks off from my business, and I don't have any friends or family that can take that amount of time off. I'm also pretty happy solo, so there's that! It just struck me that my Christmas this year will be far from my normal, which is far from normal for most people. It sucks! I had planned a three week trip to Egypt and then onto Jordan this December that I had to cancel." — Lara M.

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