Staying Apart, Together: We got through Christmas. The rest is gravy.

Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY
Aaron Spenedelow dressed up as Santa Claus waves to the camera during a Zoom call with a family, as Santa's Grotto Live gets underway in Wembley, north London, on Nov. 29, 2020. Santa's Grotto Live is a UK company dedicated to providing an online person to Santa experience. They provide a fully personalized video call, coupled with a beautifully designed Grotto to keep Christmas as magical as ever in these times of social distancing and lockdowns.
Aaron Spenedelow dressed up as Santa Claus waves to the camera during a Zoom call with a family, as Santa's Grotto Live gets underway in Wembley, north London, on Nov. 29, 2020. Santa's Grotto Live is a UK company dedicated to providing an online person to Santa experience. They provide a fully personalized video call, coupled with a beautifully designed Grotto to keep Christmas as magical as ever in these times of social distancing and lockdowns.

So, how did Christmas go for everyone who celebrated?

I'm actually writing to you on Christmas Eve (some journalists take Christmas Day off, but shoutout to my editor Gary Levin and the rest of the USA TODAY team who work on the holiday). But I am so confident we're all going to have wonderful, safe, distanced celebrations that I can write about it like it already happened. I'm proud of us for getting through it. We can keep getting through it.

I wanted to share one part of my holiday with you that has made me the happiest in this tough year. On Christmas Eve, my extended family usually gathers at my uncle's house in New Jersey, eats themed food, does a White Elephant gift exchange and watches "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." My uncle keeps his DVD player just to put it on every year.

This year, my aunt organized a Zoom chat to replace the gathering, but she asked all of us to prepare performances or bits, so it's not like the same old meetings we're doing for work all the time. There will be carols, readings from children's books and attempts at a group sing-along of the best "Mr. Magoo" song.

The "Playbill" my Aunt Loretta made for our Christmas Eve Zoom. I shall be reading "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" for the little ones.
The "Playbill" my Aunt Loretta made for our Christmas Eve Zoom. I shall be reading "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" for the little ones.

The funny thing is, although this is sort of a new tradition, it's also a replica of one from years ago, when I was a kid, and the adults used to wrangle us into little Christmas pageants to keep us busy during the party. In one small way, this crazy year has helped bring back something I loved as a child that we might have thought we were too old to do anymore.

There aren't a lot of blessings in 2020, but I definitely count this one.

Today's next holiday

December 26 marks the first day of cultural holiday Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration of African and African American culture and heritage from December 26 to January 1. Created in 1966, the name is borrowed from Swahili and draws on Southern African first harvest celebrations.

Celeste E. Whittaker, a reporter with USA TODAY Network's Cherry Hill Courier-Post, reflected on Kwanzaa in 2020 in a really great piece, wondering if it will mean more after a summer of protest and the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. She writes:

Jamiel Alexander, 40, a Philadelphia native and a community activist in York, Pennsylvania, said there is a need to “create and to embrace our culture in new ways.”

Alexander believes Kwanzaa will mean even more this year and will be celebrated by more Black people who want to embrace their culture even more after such a traumatic year.

“People don’t even realize the fact that after the (Watts riots in 1965), Kwanzaa was birthed out of a mind of Dr. (Maulana) Karenga,” said Alexander, who helped lead protest marches over the summer. “People don’t even know that he went to high school here. I’ve always seen Kwanzaa’s principles as more of a lifestyle versus it being celebrated.

“With COVID, everyone’s back home. A lot of people are physical distancing and I respect the fact that there’s ways we have to connect and stay engaged, so why not connect to our roots, why not connect to our culture? Why not take this moment as far as us continuing to be resilient but at that same time finding (within) that solitude ... the strength of connecting to the culture?”

You can read Celeste's full story here. And best wishes to anyone celebrating this week.

Kwanzaa festival concept with seven candles red, black and green, gift box, pumpkins, ears of wheat, grapes, corns, banana, bowl and fruits on wooden background, close up
Kwanzaa festival concept with seven candles red, black and green, gift box, pumpkins, ears of wheat, grapes, corns, banana, bowl and fruits on wooden background, close up

Today's reads

A polar bear cub walks with its mother Nora during its first public appearance at the Schoenbrunn zoo in Vienna, Austria.
A polar bear cub walks with its mother Nora during its first public appearance at the Schoenbrunn zoo in Vienna, Austria.

Today's pet

Since I'm still very much in the Christmas spirit, I had to share the very cutest present I've ever seen under a tree.

Wait, one of those presents looks different than the other ones...
Wait, one of those presents looks different than the other ones...

"This is Jasmine," says human Steve Tomajczyk. "She was a rescue I got in 2016. She had been abused as a kitten and, hence, was very shy and reclusive, and hissed at anyone who came near her. Because of it no one at the shelter wanted to adopt her. I, however, thought she was adorable and believed I had the patience and love to get her to eventually come out of her shell. This Christmas, in the midst of this Covid Crazy world, Jasmine came out of the bedroom and perched atop a gift under the Christmas Tree. For me personally, this was arguably the best gift of 2020!"

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: We got through Christmas. The rest is gravy.