COVID-19 Be Damned: Rituals and Traditions Will Not Be Denied

Photo by Gor Davtyan on Unsplash

I don’t really relate to either Passover or Easter, but I find myself thinking of how family and friends will adapt to celebrating the holidays while in confinement.

My first thought: Who could think of matzoh at a time like this? The thought of having to eat unleavened bread for eight days adds a sort of biblical injury to the culinary insult this novel coronavirus has unleashed. Not to mention, Jews are supposed to rid their pantries of any speck of risen food. You know, the crackers, pasta, and other staples we’re all hoarding for sustenance during the pandemic. I think some compromises are going to need to be made. With global citizens already fastidiously disinfecting every inch of their homes to keep this plague at bay, it seems cruel to add another restriction to the mix.

Christians gearing up to celebrate Easter and Holy Week also face conundrums. Masses will be held — accessible online and via streaming — but, despite President Trump’s earlier optimism, church services are out (well, in most places; I’m thinking of you, Pastors Rodney Howard-Browne and Tony Spell), as are Easter egg hunts and huge family gatherings. On the upside, there will be fewer dishes to wash, fewer squabbles over which child hogged all the eggs, and zero traffic.

Consumers also can anticipate a big cost savings — something everyone can appreciate during these fiscally insecure times. A National Retail Federation (NRF) report revealed that an average of around $150 per person was spent on Easter celebrations in 2019. Due to COVID-19, the NRF was unable to conduct a survey this year — for the first time since 2003. It will be interesting to see whether our new hoarding instincts result in the usual sales of candy. I would never bet against the determination of parents eager to elicit Easter-morning squeals from their young children. I’ll assume sales of matzoh will deflate, after having risen nearly 20 percent in 2019 over 2018. With really (really) good matzoh carrying a price tag of around $30 per pound, that’s a hefty loss for some manufacturers.

Still, people will adapt. Already, we’re seeing how COVID-19 has changed the way we commemorate and celebrate globally. College seniors suddenly finding themselves enrolled in Zoom University will mark their graduations online, while births, birthdays, and anniversaries are toasted from afar.

I imagine that people are going to come up with some pretty creative ways to celebrate the intent of the upcoming holidays, perhaps creating new family traditions. I’ve heard some neighborhoods are planning to place Easter eggs (real or Crayon-ed) in their front windows, allowing young children to participate in a new form of hunt. Maybe not as exciting as Pokemon Go, but at least the kids will get some fresh air. Homebound Jews avoiding their usual grocery stores will have to get creative with their Seder plate ingredients, too.

Maybe fewer real eggs will be hidden, but this year there will be more time to decorate them ornately, hide them more creatively, and enjoy the hunt as a small family activity without having to rush off to the next event. (One thing I can guarantee: Far more of those brightly colored eggs will end up de-shelled and on a breakfast plate in 2020 compared with 2019.) As in years past, these hunts will spark joy and laughter, plenty of Instagrammable moments, and, I hope, create new and lasting memories.

Maybe Passover and Easter celebrants in 2020 will choose to cook a favorite dish of a relative who can’t be with them this year. Maybe they’ll sit down to an extended Zoom dinner with family and friends, passing the virtual gefilte fish or another portion of honey-roasted ham. Maybe instead of the typical holiday feast, they’ll donate that money to a less fortunate family instead.

Feasts might not be as lavish, but I’m thinking they might be packed with more meaning and a better understanding of what the holidays commemorate. Like Ramadan, which follows later in April, these two springtime holidays involve fasting or other deprivations to remind us of the suffering of others. For younger people, this pandemic may be the first time they’ve seen suffering on such a large scale — or so close to home. Christians will contemplate the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus to save the world, while Jews will celebrate the journey from slavery to freedom and remind themselves of the need to take responsibility for themselves, their communities, and the world.

That’s a reminder we all could use right now.

These holidays also have in common the transition into a new and joyfully anticipated season: spring. A time of rebirth and renewal. And a timely reminder of the potency of life even in the most dire times.

However — and whatever — you celebrate this month, I hope you will find moments of solace and joy in it. As for me, I’ve just broken with tradition by ordering a Passover meal from Goldbelly. Jim and I will be eating leftovers for a week.

Celebrate well, however you see fit.

SVP Global Communications at Philip Morris International — award-winning PR and marketing professional, author and trendspotter — popularized “metrosexual.”

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