Houses adorned with vibrant lights, coffee shops permeated with peppermint scents, grocery stores filled with holiday music — these are the wintery scenes familiar to many as the year comes to a close. 

The holiday season is traditionally a time when families gather from all corners of the world to celebrate various festivities. This year, the usually hectic season filled with bustling shopping centers, stuffy airplane rides and clingy cousins will be exchanged for sitting in front of a computer, waiting for a turn to talk with Grandma through a little box on the screen. Despite the differences, there are many ways that Palo Alto High School students are keeping the holiday spirit alive within the limitations of the pandemic.

Adapting tradition

Christmas, Hanukkah and Diwali are just a few of the winter holidays that will look different this year.

Sophomore Arielle Blumenfeld normally sees as much family as possible during Hanukkah. She is fond of the annual family gathering, eating delicious food, singing songs and telling stories.

“We try to see as much family as we can … because celebrating with a lot of people is a lot more fun,” Blumenfeld said.

Blumenfeld’s Hanukkah plans change from year to year due to the holiday’s varying date. This year, Hanukkah falls during Finals Week, which means she will be studying more than celebrating. Her family still plans to light candles, say blessings and eat traditional foods but will keep the bigger celebrations for the eighth day.

Junior Rohini Bharat celebrates Diwali, and her celebration normally includes spending time with family, going to parties and lighting candles and sparklers together.

Instead of inviting extended family and friends over this year, Bharat celebrated by lighting candles with her immediate family and celebrating with sparklers. She missed the  larger gatherings at her relatives’ homes, but still felt the Diwali spirit.

“This year definitely felt different … but I think it was a good different because it was more intimate,” Bharat said.

Many other families will also be virtually connecting with relatives through video call platforms such as Zoom or FaceTime in lieu of seeing them in person.

Holiday travel

While many students are staying home this holiday season, some are still planning to travel — but to somewhere a little more local. 

According to an opt-in Verde survey of 136 Paly students conducted in November, 74.3% of students said they normally travel during the holidays. This winter, however, 78.7% plan on staying home.


We try to see as much family as we can … because celebrating with a lot more people is a lot more fun.”

— Arielle Blumenfeld, sophomore


Junior Cate Barrett normally visits her grandparents and cousins in Australia every year for Christmas and New Years, where the holidays look a bit different.

“We always have the ‘Santa-in-shorts’ Christmas,” Barrett said. “In Australia, all the depictions of Santa and the reindeers … are all like ‘Santa rides a surfboard,’”

Instead of visiting Australia, Barrett and her immediate family will be renting an Airbnb in Lake Tahoe to keep the holiday spirit alive while staying safe, and will celebrate Christmas by going sledding. They are still taking many precautions against COVID-19 by wearing masks, maintaining their distance from non-family members and avoiding the crowded areas where transmission is more likely to occur. 

Some students, such as junior Kylee Vi, had big plans for this holiday season prior to the pandemic. Her family had arranged a two-week trip to Thailand, but the international outing as well as their latest plans to celebrate in Santa Cruz were canceled due to the pandemic. 

Despite the unexpected change in plans and a lost opportunity to see relatives, Vi maintains a positive attitude towards this holiday season. Her family almost always travels for Christmas, so she looks forward to spending the holiday at home for once.

While celebrations will look much different and smaller this year, students and families hope to do their best to maintain the spirit.

“I think mostly just the experience of being together with family … sitting around and just talking … that’s probably just what’s consistent every year,” Bharat said. “I don’t think that will change.”

Will you be leaving town for winter break?

Source: The data presented here comes from an opt-in Verde Magazine survey of 136 Palo Alto High School students from all four grades. Verde conducted the survey from Nov. 19 to Nov. 24 through a digital form published on school social media and Schoology pages. Responses were anonymous and participation for all questions was optional.

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