Smaller Portions: Creating Joy in this Season's Pared-Down Celebrations


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Smaller celebrations don't have to be morbid affairs, but they do take as much planning as grander events. Organizing events that keep hearts content and spirits bright may seem like a challenge in this new COVID-19 reality. Still, as a fan of intimate gatherings, I've got some ideas for you - no need to fret. My own experience with smaller holidays was not born out of the pandemic but out of my own choice. Consequently, I feel like an expert in mini-event planning, and I've got some tips to help you embrace change and enjoy this holiday's pared-down festivities with excitement and cheer.


My experience with mini seasonal events began a few years after getting married. I married a man from Ireland, and in the first years, we traveled to his family home every Christmas. But as costs skyrocketed and packing long-haul plane travel into the last vacation days of the year became exhausting, our traditions morphed. We decided to travel to Ireland only during warmer months when our vacation days are flexible, and the expense feels like a fairer value. We've since spent the holidays in Connecticut, happy to see our families another time, in more relaxed days. We've had to get creative to form traditions that are meaningful despite our family's distance.


We host Friendsgiving, and though we are not regular churchgoers, we found a service with great holiday music and a soulful candlelight mass. We also enjoy a few short journeys that promise mood-boosting endorphins to combat the seasonal blues common to our dark New England winters without having to lug a suitcase or dread airport security. We've adapted in many ways, but this year is asking us to make changes again. Changing celebrated traditions during the pandemic can create a sense of longing for the familiar, while entertaining only immediate family may add pressure to provide new novelties. But take heart, industry experts have worked the problem, and there is plenty to help accommodate your soirees' unique configuration!

Stew Leonard's is a grocery chain with a flagship store in Norwalk, Connecticut. It's famous for its designation as Ripley's Believe it or Not's "World's Largest Dairy Store." It's since expanded its offerings beyond dairy to include a revered bakery and catering options. I recently asked how they're preparing for the inevitable meal changes this year. Meghan Bell, Stew Leonard's Director of Public Relations, provided survey results noting 9 out of 10 families will have the same size or smaller gathering this season. Beth Leonard, a family co-owner, also stated, "In our own family, we usually have a large group of 30 people or more. This year, we've decided to each have our own Thanksgiving, with 8-10 people.


That means that instead of one large turkey, we will all be buying smaller turkeys." Therefore, they've rebalanced their inventory to offer 15-20 percent fewer large turkeys but the same number of turkeys overall. They've also lowered their minimum catering size to four and reduced increments on in-demand items such as cookie and shrimp platters. Smaller increments are wise options. These offerings in the post-pandemic era will likely remain as many grocer's bakeries, including Stew Leonard's, have offered half pies and sheet cakes successfully for many years now. As America's family structures are becoming more diversified, offering a little something for everyone is a simple way to provide an abundance of familiar comforts to our guests. Here are other options to maximize the enjoyment of your paired down holiday this year:

Make Holiday Meal Planning and Preparation a Group Activity

When there's just a few of you, there won't be hours of conversation to entertain each other. In this case, planning the day strategically helps. Be aware of the timing of sporting events and services your family wants to enjoy. Then think about your menu and what help you may need. Consider everyone's whereabouts and then assign a piece of meal prep to willing adults accordingly. For example, my husband loves sports, so I know he won't mind peeling potatoes while the game is on as it doesn't take much of his attention but allows him to feel involved. Having others pitch in in ways enjoyable to them helps create bonding activity and conversation. Don't cook just for the number of people present, either. Allow others to bring their favorite dish from home, even if you don't need more. It's a conversation starter that, again, promotes engagement. But DO make a plan for your leftovers. Grocery stores offering smaller sizes help provide options for each of our tastes without any of it going to waste too.


Plan Activities Outside of The Home

Being inside all day can be stifling, even during larger family events. Smaller events flow better on a shortened schedule, and with more cooks in the kitchen, the meal doesn't need to start as early as it did in prior years. It's essential to get out for some fresh air. It's common for families in my neighborhood to take a walk around our local beach boardwalk – even in the bristling cold. It only makes us hungrier for the meal later. Gather ideas from your family and plan the timing of your day around a short excursion. Reviewing your local newspaper or Facebook events page may help you locate a charming community activity if nature walks aren't your thing.

Use Zoom to Connect with Distant Family on a Schedule

Plan an hour for Zoom or other means of connecting to distant relatives, but have a schedule ready to avoid getting bogged down. Having a plan gets you off the calls faster and on a higher note. Zoom is a fantastic tool for connecting across the miles, but it's filled with awkward good-byes, and technical difficulties. State your timing from the outset, and you'll glean the benefits of connection while avoiding the challenges.

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