An Unforgettable Holiday Season (Like it or Not)

The holiday season is always a challenge for Recreation Therapists and other Activity Professionals. This year–this overwhelming year–has changed the way we do the job we love. 

Our personal and professional lives have been overturned. Routines disrupted. And, well, we’re pretty much improvising everything we do. After all, pandemics were never part of our formal training.

Let’s put the 2020 holiday season into perspective…

2019 Holiday Season (The Good ol’ Days)

We’re busy planning holiday parties for our participants and their families. Making decorations, scheduling entertainment, creating food and drink menus, going on outings, and doing groups with holiday themes and so on…

It’s a crazy time, you’re probably following many of the holiday traditions of your agency or facility. It goes quickly, you see a lot of smiling faces, and your participants want to give you a big hug for all your hard work. As the New Year comes and goes, you get to breathe a sigh of relief.

Another holiday season is complete!

2020 Holiday Season (Call It What You Want)

You’re vigilantly following strict safety and social distancing measures to ensure you and your participants are alive and well in the New Year. No big parties, hired entertainment, and enjoying any holiday meals/treats are probably preplated, isolated experiences.

Many holiday traditions have been cancelled. You’re wearing a mask and washing your hands like crazy. Your participants may get a little relief from whatever you plan, but it’s hard to tell from their facial expressions…after all, they’re wearing masks.

As the holiday season comes to an end, you’re still not breathing a sigh of relief. You’re just trying to maintain whatever strength you have left to keep you and your participants safe for another day.

toy bear wearing a facemask

The Silver Lining of 2020

Silver lining…are you kidding? It felt like we got hit with a hurricane surrounded by tornadoes.  And the waves of storms keep coming.

Valid point…But hear me out…

In the past, we worked hard to create unforgettable holiday memories. We planned, used our creativity, and probably logged in extra hours to make the holidays special.

This year, the circumstances make everything unforgettable…as much as we want to just move on with our lives.

Our holiday season has been pared down to the basics. Our focus has become on the small things–the little comforts–that make these hard days a little more easy to bear. 

You’ll probably remember more stories about small connections during this holiday season than most of your previous years combined. 


We are forced to slow down, simplify, and make every moment precious. Every day we are addressing fear, anxiety, and safety with our participants and ourselves. We are on high alert and remain vigilant in our safety practices.

But we remain compassionate, mindful, and focused on doing the best we can to help others during this difficult time. 

The Takeaways of 2020

We’ve dealt with the impacts of COVID-19 for almost 10 months now. Vaccines are beginning to be distributed. There’s a shred of light on the horizon. Going back to the way things used to be, unfortunately, won’t be happening anytime soon. Everyday is still a struggle to ensure everyone’s safety

Still, we learned a lot about ourselves and the profession during this difficult time. Here’s a few takeaways…

Your Ability to Adapt Has Increased by 1000% (Probably More)

Thinking “out of the box” is one thing. But being thrown from the box, shaken violently, left in a dark room, and forced to put together the pieces of a massive puzzle is a whole other experience…or, in other words, the 2020 experience. 

This year, you’ve adapted in ways that seemed inconceivable as we said goodbye to the 2010s. You’ve probably had some failures, but you’ve learned, adapted, and grown as a professional. 

And, moving forward, any surprise in your activity planning will seem pretty minor.

You’ve Been Pushed Well Past Your Comfort Zone…What Did You Learn?

As we log in the years as a Recreation Therapist or Activity Professional, we tend to hit our comfort zone. We lean towards the familiar…we have our routines. Some people are willing to step outside their comfort zone from time to time. Others like to be set in their ways.

What happens when a comfort zone completely disappears?

Well…you know, 2020 marks the extinction of comfort zones.

What did you learn about yourself? How did you use your strengths to move forward? What did you do when you didn’t have a good answer for all the changes?

Without a doubt, we all had our good days, bad days, and then the days that overwhelmed us physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Take inventory of those days. Spend a few minutes right now listing some of the things you did great as 2020 progressed. You may be surprised at all you’ve done.  

You’ve Been Inspired AND an Inspiration 

As you were continually bombarded with bad news and uncertainty, chances are some individuals–participants, staff, family, etc.–provided some light during the darker moments.

And, just as important, you probably helped someone make it through a difficult time.

We all got thrown into this situation. Us against a pandemic. We may even have created some unlikely alliances. The ability to band together–to work towards a common goal–never seemed more important.

Think of how you inspired and how you were inspired. Remember those moments. It teaches us that the bonds we create are so crucial for support in the good and bad times.

2020 Provided So Many Teachable Moments and Perspectives

As if COVID-19 wasn’t enough, 2020 also brought other challenges. Illuminating racial inequities, the sad drama of politics, and, for some, the harsh reality of natural disasters due to climate change.

And really, no matter what you believe about these topics, I’ll go out on a limb by saying we would all be so much better off if we embraced unity instead of division. It’s fine to have your opinions and beliefs-we all are different–but, at the end of the day, we’re all just humans trying to do our best to make life good for us and those we love. 

When we love more, when we accept others as they are, we–as a whole–become stronger. The stronger we get, the more able we are to tackle the difficult challenges of 2020 and beyond.   

Sharing a 2020 Moment

My second son was born June 1st this year. The experience was much different from almost exactly five years ago when my first son was born.

I waited in a parking garage for an hour and a half while my wife got checked into the hospital and her COVID-19 test results came in. She was already well into labor, and we knew our son would be coming sooner rather than later. 

As I sat in my car, I listened to the radio absorbing the latest COVID-19 news, stories about nearby protesting and looting due to recent police shootings, and probably some political nonsense.

And as my son was being delivered, we had some amazing music by the Dirty Three (check them out) playing in the background. I made sure to wear this pink flowery facemask made by his great grandma. That way, one of the first things my son would see when coming into the world was something beautiful. 

image of facemask with flowers

And, with all my heart, I hope he–and everyone really–will continue to see beauty in life despite some of the major challenges we continue to face. 

He won’t remember that facemask with pink flowers. But it’s symbolic. It’s important. 2020 has given us plenty of ugly moments. But, when we look hard enough–when we try–there is still beauty.    

Inspire Us With An Amazing 2020 Moment

Sharing is more important than ever. What was a moment that helped (or you helped someone) get through a difficult time? 

Consider posting it in the comments. We could all use a little inspiration right now.

Or if you want to write a short narrative–I could turn it into a blog for the site. I’ll send you a free copy of my book, Therapy Games for Teens, for your efforts. If you are interested, contact me.

And if this post inspired you, feel free to share it on your favorite social media platforms. The more people we reach, the better off we all are.Be sure to like the Facebook Real Recreation Therapist page and join the new Real Recreation Therapist Facebook group to receive updates and connect with like minded professionals. If you use Pinterest, check out my Recreation Therapy board with pins from featured articles and other resources. Your support is always appreciated. 

Happy 2021 to you all. Let’s hope this year is much better!

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