Gretchen Rubin is the bestselling author of several books, such as Outer Order, Inner Calm and The Happiness Project, about how to be happier, healthier, and more productive, and she hosts the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. For OprahMag.com, she’s weighing in on how we can all find a little bit of calm, even during a pandemic.
Over the past year, we’ve all gone through some very tough circumstances—and they’re not over quite yet. And with the relentless of monotony of life right now (endless Zoom calls, juggling working from home with remote learning, the occasional socially distanced gathering) even the usual celebrations and milestones still seem dull and flat.
That’s why, now more than ever, I find it helpful to celebrate minor holidays, such as Groundhog Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the spring equinox, or even April Fool’s Day. These small celebrations can add a note of joy to everyday life.
In fact, research shows that the celebration of traditions allows families to happily mark the passage of time, which in turn gives people a sense anticipation, continuity, and inclusion. Not to mention the reminder that traditions can be fun.
I myself usually celebrate smaller holidays with a festive breakfast. For instance, on Valentine’s Day, I used my heart-shaped placemats, dyed my daughter’s milk pink, cut her toast into a heart shape, and dressed up the table with a pop-up vase of paper flowers and other fun decorations.
For St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll do something similar. I’ll use our shamrock-shaped paper plates (confession: I’ve been re-using the same set for years), light a green candle, dye the milk green, and put up some of those jelly window decorations. (If you’re really feeling festive, you could even whip up a traditional Irish breakfast—complete with fried bacon, sausage, eggs, tomatoes, and mushrooms, as well as baked beans, black pudding, and toast.)
These kinds of traditions are joyous—and, even better, they’re easy. While the major holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, are, of course, delightful, they can also be a lot of work. I can prepare for a minor holiday, though, in under 10 minutes with just a handful of supplies. (Pro tip: I re-use the same decorations each year, so I don’t have to spend money or run extra errands.) It’s a good reminder of one of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood, which I’ve copied from Voltaire: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” In other words? I want to keep these celebrations simple and quick to set up, so they don’t become a burden.
It’s extraordinary how just a few small touches can make a day feel special. I keep everything I need for these minor holidays on one kitchen shelf, but, honestly, fanciful use of food coloring alone is probably enough. You can turn peanut butter black for Halloween, make bright yellow popsicles for the summer solstice, or serve red and blue pancakes for Flag Day. (This year, for my April Fool’s day trick, I may dye the water in our toilets bright purple. That should be a shock. But does it leave a stain? I need to do some research.)
A friend celebrates a minor holiday in a different way. On the first day of school, she takes a photo of her son holding a sign with the date and his grade. She frames the picture, and then each year, as part of her family’s back-to-school preparations, she puts out all of the photos, which show her son growing and changing. His favorite shirt in kindergarten, that one particularly funny haircut, that bad sunburn…all those memories come back. Not only does her family really enjoy looking at them, but because they’re on view for just one week, the images don’t fade into the background, as so often happens with photos displayed year-round. I’ve even created a similar photo gallery for Halloween—which in my household, however, has morphed from a minor holiday into a major holiday.
During this pandemic and beyond, I want to always make time for silliness, for fun, and for happy memories. I can make that effort at any time, but as I’ve often found, things that can be done at any time are often done at no time—which is why I’m a big fan of using a minor holiday as a friendly reminder.
The days are long, but the years are short. This kind of simple tradition allows us to mark the passage of time in a pleasant way, and to add a note of whimsy to everyday life. And gosh, we all could use a bit more whimsy right now.