by Jessica Giles | April 8, 2020

8 Ways Floridians Are Celebrating the Holidays Alone yet Together

With big holidays like Passover and Easter approaching, people are getting creative to maintain traditions while practicing social distancing

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For as long as I can remember, holidays have meant squeezing all 15 of my immediate family members elbow-to-elbow around my parents’ dining room table and poking fun at each other while we swap stories and spoonfuls of my grandma’s beloved broccoli casserole. On Easter, we’d drive 10 minutes to Spec Martin Stadium and sit side-by-side on the hard metal bleachers with half the town for “Easterbration”—a massive service that my church hosted on DeLand’s football field.

Broccoli Casserole
Grandma’s broccoli casserole is an Easter favorite. Photography by iStock

Admittedly, the service was a little out of the ordinary (bet you’ve never seen a T-shirt cannon at a Catholic Mass). The egg hunt sort of resembled The Hunger Games, and the bleachers were so scalding hot you’d be cursing the very name you came to celebrate if you forgot to bring a towel, but it was these quirky traditions surrounded by friends, family and even complete strangers that made the day special. 

This year, Easter, Passover and other upcoming celebrations will look a little different, not just for DeLand, but for everyone. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines, there won’t be any football stadiums stuffed with people singing hymns or community Seder dinners with dozens of attendees. But while the holidays might not look the same, the virus won’t stop people from raising a kiddush cup, taking communion and staying connected in special ways. All across the state, families, neighborhoods, churches and synagogues are coming up with creative alternatives that instill a sense of unity on these occasions, even though we’re apart. 

SEDER TO-GO PLATES

A typical Passover at Robyn Wellikoff’s house in Boca Raton includes weeks of preparation and anywhere from 20 to 30 people at her Seder dinner table. She looks forward to welcoming her extended family and friends into her home every year for an evening of prayer, songs and good company. The children help act out the plagues, read the four questions and then scramble around the house trying to find the afikoman—the hidden piece of matzo.

matzo and wine
Gathering everything necessary for a proper Seder might be more challenging this year. Photography by Shutterstock/Africa Studio

Undoubtedly, the tone will be different this year, she says. The kids won’t run up to grandpa’s lap and beg for a dollar when they find the hidden matzo, and Wellikoff won’t brave the supermarket to buy everything for the Seder plate. Instead, she’ll print out photos of the haroseth and bitter herbs she can’t pick up, her mother will leave the matzo ball soup at her front door and the family will video chat from their separate homes. 

“It’s hard and challenging, especially these milestone moments,” she says. “I think trying to find a way to have that moment and still involve family is really tough.” 

The Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student and Community Center in Gainesville knows that the social distancing restrictions might make it difficult for some people to gather everything they need to hold a proper Seder, so the center is offering Seder to-go kits complete with the Haggadah, Seder plate, wine and dinner. 

VIRTUAL EASTER EGG HUNTS

At Christ Church United Methodist in Fort Lauderdale, the parish has turned to technology in the hopes of bringing people together and preserving some of its traditions, says Pastor Josh Beaty. While kids at the church normally form a parade on Palm Sunday, weaving through the pews and waving their palm fronds, this year’s parade took place virtually with photos and videos of the kids shaking the palms at home. Some Floridians tied a single palm frond to their front doors or mailboxes to show solidarity and commemorate the sacred day.

girl with easter basket of eggs
Some churches have turned to virtual easter egg hunts this year. Photography by Shutterstock/Blue Orange Studio

On Thursday, the church will be streaming a service centered around communion and encouraging people to participate from their living rooms. Families can find a recipe the church shared online to bake their own bread together and use it for their at-home communion. Even the annual Easter egg hunt will take a virtual spin. The church hid eggs around the campus and will post online clues leading people to them. Families can stay in the safety of their cars and snap a photo of the egg when they’ve found it. 

bread on platter
Families can bake their own bread to participate in Easter communion. Photgraphy by Shutterstock/Dilyara-Garifullina

EMBRACE THE JOURNEY

Just like everyone else, churches and synagogues are slowly figuring out how to operate in this new reality. Beaty says it’s normal to feel nostalgic for our typical holiday celebrations, but Christians can also use this time of struggle to experience God in a new way. 

“Holy Week is not just a happy week. It also has Good Friday. It has betrayal and death and loneliness, and that’s all part of Jesus’ journey,” he says. “Even in the midst of it, we can find ways to connect with God that are different than if we had our normal rhythms.” 

My “Easterbration” this year might not mean football stadium services and T-shirt cannons. Instead of a full dining room table, it’ll be my sister and I lounging on the couch with our puppy, watching church online and ordering the best imitation Easter supper we can find. It will probably be more Zoom calls than hugs. But I also know that means the next time we’re all together, I’ll be more grateful for the full table, tight hugs and stories shared over my grandma’s broccoli casserole. 

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