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Pandemic means a change in celebrations, but not spirit

Pandemic means a change in celebrations, but not spirit

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With the holiday season and the COVID-19 pandemic clashing, a lot of children didn’t enjoy a holiday tradition that many parents enjoy: children sitting on Santa’s lap and telling him the gifts they desire to see under the Christmas tree.

Alexa Neal, a Scottsbluff woman new to the community, decided to take her entrepreneurial spirit and adapt the tradition in a socially distanced way. Neal, who travels to Colorado, North Dakota and South Dakota for her carpet cleaning business, decided to use those travels to help lighten the spirits of others. She purchased a Grinch costume, perfected her acting skills by watching the movie and decided to become The Grinch, the famous Dr. Seuss character, for the holiday season.

As a mom of four, Neal said, the new gig means she can spend more time at home.

“That means I get to not be away from my family, carpet cleaning, and I can make a fool of myself, being The Grinch,” she said, good-naturedly.

Neal has been offering sessions for families as The Grinch character throughout the month of December and has planned a day of sessions extending into Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The woman’s own Christmas spirit is infectious and she said she has visited daycares and preschools in Torrington.

Just like with Santa, children can love the “green carpet monster,” as Neal calls him, or they dislike him. She said some of the most fun visits have been those where children don’t enjoy the visit, but mom and dad think it’s a hoot.

“They (the kids) were ecstatic,” she said of her visits in Torrington. “The parents were there and it was so much fun. Some children cried, some children laughed. It all depends on the children, but the parents, no matter what, are always rolling around, laughing.”

Neal said she thinks for some, the visit is more for the parents who are lamenting missed holiday activities and get the most value from The Grinch visits. She said she has heard from lots of parents who have missed traditions, so they are glad to replace it with a new fun activity for themselves, and their children.

Prior to the holiday at the end of this week, Neal is offering a package where she’ll come to a family’s home, sneak aroundand even pretend to steal their Christmas presents — all pre-arranged with mom and dad, of course. She also offers a package where she poses with the children in her Grinchiest of moves on an older pickup that she has decorated, complete with a tree and hay bales for children to pose with the character.

During those at-home visits, she has had some touching moments, like one with a little girl whose mom had dressed her as Cindy Lou Who for the visit. During that visit, she said, the girl kept telling The Grinch, as he stole her presents, “you’re a nice Grinch now,” Neal said. “So The Grinch left her presents by the door as he left. She had a big smile on her face.”

The Grinch visits are perfect for social distancing, with Neal able to come to the door, if a parent prefers and give her best Grinch voice, made possible with a voice changer, or just stay outside. She said props, like lights and presents, help make the visit realistic for the children watching from the inside. She said, laughing, that children particularly get excited when they believe The Grinch is stealing their holiday lights.

Neal will also offer Grinch photo sessions on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but most of those visits will include coming to her Scottsbluff home and posing for photos on her photo set up. She said she’ll try to make as many sessions available as possible, while people still enjoy the holidays. Neal can be reached on Facebook, Alexita’s Carpet Cleaning, or by calling 702-379-9677.

With the pandemic being in its ninth month, the CDC continues to recommend that we don’t gather in large groups so more people will be adapting holiday traditions.

However, as Neal says, changes don’t necessarily have to dampen the holiday spirit.

Just because you won’t be traveling over the hill and through the woods to grandma’s house, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the holidays with your favorite relatives. Here are a few suggestions to help you keep the Christmas spirit alive through remote celebrations.

CHECK OUT YOUR OPTIONS

There are many different ways that you can celebrate Christmas and join your family or friends remotely for the holidays.

Zoom has become a popular method for remote celebrations and around the holidays. A basic Zoom account is free and allows unlimited meetings of up to 40 minutes each. As it did for Thanksgiving, Zoom is lifting limits on the free version of its videoconferencing software on Christmas and New Year’s Day to help families celebrate safely during the pandemic. Personally, I prefer Zoom for remote connections, as I find it easy and I like being able to see everyone’s faces at once, if I prefer, in a view I’d compare to the Brady Bunch intro.

However, there are lots of options. If you have an iPhone or iPad devices in common, FaceTime is quite easy, especially for older people because it’s like placing a call. I think one of the best things about FaceTime is that you don’t have to create an account, set up meeting details or other things. You simply just call.

There are other options available. If you’re looking for an option for a computer, I also found Google Meet to be quite simple, even for a first-time user. Skype is an old standby that has probably been used for family celebrations for decades. Our family used it before “remote Christmases” was even in our vernacular to share holiday greetings with family. It was nice to see the faces of all of my dad’s family gathered in Minnesota, compared to just hearing their voices.

If you’re looking for some guidance on using apps to connect to families via group, Western Nebraska Behavioral Health has put together a video looking at different apps that are good for groups on its YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVuDexT5VGI.

PRACTICE GOING REMOTE AHEAD OF TIME

In the first months of the pandemic, we knew that my daughter, Abby, would be unable to be joined in the hospital for the traditional visitations after she gave birth to my granddaughter, Callie. No one was allowed to visit and so we began planning ahead of time. We were old hats at Zoom after a semester of helping with remote learning, and thought it’d be the easiest way to have my dad get a peek at the baby. We did some practice run throughs to demonstrate Zoom to my dad, who Abby wanted to be among the first to see the bundle of joy. However, after a few times of trying it out, we found he kept having hiccups when doing Zoom on his own. We changed course and we found FaceTime to be the easiest way for us. It’s not too late to try a few practice sessions.

GET INTO THE MOOD

One of the easiest ways to get into the Christmas spirit is to listen to Christmas music. I am still old school, liking traditional Christmas carols with some Penatonix on Christmas Day for the tunes, but usually on Alexa. This year, why not invite everyone to add their favorite holiday songs to a shared Christmas list and as you join together, virtually, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, listen to those tunes?

As Buddy the Elf would say, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

ADAPT YOUR HOLIDAY TRADITIONS

If you have a favorite holiday season tradition you have been incorporating for years, adapt it into your remote tradition or your small gathering.

One of the best ideas that I saw a family share on Facebook this week involved decorating gingerbread houses, with everyone joining together via Zoom. Everyone looked to be having a grand time and the photos shared on the Facebook page showed the creativity of everyone.

My own grandson, DaKota, loved when we visited the Scott Bluff National Monument and decorated salt dough Christmas ornaments. Unfortunately, this year, the pioneer Christmas activities were unable to be held. My daughter and I have decided to incorporate the tradition into our holiday this year, as the ingredients are simple. With a new grand baby, it’s also a perfect time to make a handprint or a footprint that can hang on the tree every year.

GET OUTSIDE

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has made an effort throughout the years to inspire people to enjoy the outdoors. This year, they have put together a scavenger hunt activity for children to enjoy over the holiday break and its First Day Hikes encouraging hiking during on New Year’s  Day. However, you can enjoy hiking any day of the year and enjoying time outdoors is a great social distancing activity during the pandemic.

LOVE THE ONES YOUR WITH

I think that we can get caught up in the things that we are missing this year: Black Friday sales gatherings, holiday parades and events, adapted or even canceled Christmas programs. One article that came into my email said that more folks than ever are planning a TV tray Christmas rather than the traditional holiday dinner.

However, I think that if we remember the reason for the season, we’re all bound to be able to make a return back to what is most important, even if your reason might be different, depending on your faith, your family, but in the end, isn’t the theme of all those Christmas movies we all enjoy to appreciate the things that we do have? We are in the midst of a pandemic, but future celebrations will mean that much more the next time we’re able to gather for that special family celebration.

So settle in, no matter how your celebration is being held this year.

As Tiny Tim would say, “God Bless Us, Everyone.”

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Watch the Ignite Giving Laser Light Show, the kickoff to the WyoBraska Gives campaign, from Saturday.  It was definitely a great show to see in person.

The WyoBraska Gives campaign, sponsored by the Holliday Family of Companies, will be held Tuesday, May 4. Don't forget to give at wyobraskagives.com to help our community. 

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