The Gallagher kids have had fun with their Cardboard Grandma Ruth in lieu of seeing her in person this Christmas. Pictured is Connor, Grandma, Erin and Isabelle.

Local families adapt to change, hold on to traditions

TRI-CITY AREA — This Christmas might look a little different as families navigate the season with the threat of COVID-19 still looming.

The Gawlas family of Attica plans to enjoy Christmas with their extended family, while the Gallagher family of Almont is choosing to stay home and keep their Christmas small this year.

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Stacey Gawlas, her husband Nick and their two daughters are planning to celebrate Christmas as normally as possible this year, including visiting with family.

“We are pretty much doing everything normal for Christmas this year. Christmas Eve is small—just my parents, my kids and husband, as well as myself. And Christmas Day, the same.” They also have plans to celebrate with Nick’s side of the family this week too.

The Gawlas family does not want to miss out on more time with their extended family, especially at Christmastime. Stacey shared, “I don’t think we ever considered NOT getting together for the holidays. I think all of our family members have the same train of thought. We social distance at work, at school, and at stores. We wear masks and avoid big crowds. There is still no guarantee that we won’t get COVID. We all know the risks, and when there has been possible exposure, we quarantined from each other. I can’t say if it is better to be safe or happy, but it is difficult to find a balance, and there is no one best way for each family.”

Early on in the pandemic, Stacey said her family went for several months without seeing each other in person but they did stay connected through video calls and Zoom chats.

Given the time they missed spending together this spring, like many families, they want to keep Christmas as traditional as possible.

“We are just trying to find some semblance of normalcy, some small way to gather and find joy this holiday season,” Stacey said.

After a family member was recently hospitalized for a non COVID-related issue, Stacey said it gave her a new perspective on life currently.

“It made me realize, we are not promised anything. We could get sick from COVID, or the flu, or a stomach bug…have a heart attack or trip and break something. And no one can ever know how severe something will turn out. I wish it was cut and dry for all, but I can only speak for ourselves and our decisions to meet somewhere in the middle,” she said.

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While the Gallagher family wishes they could spend Christmas with extended family, Tim and Jennifer have made the difficult decision to stay home and celebrate together with just their three children.

“This year Christmas will look slightly different for us. Back in the fall when the COVID-19 numbers started rising we decided to just spend the holidays with our immediate household,” Jennifer said.

Some aspects of the Christmas season are a must have for the Gallaghers.

“We still went out to get our tree and drove around to look at lights, but while wearing a mask and staying safe. We will still make cookies and have our traditional Christmas Eve meal, but it will be just us,” Jennifer expressed.

“The hardest part has been that this will be our first Christmas since having kids, 7, 5 & 19 months old, without being able to see Grandma, our great aunts or cousins.”

Jennifer explained that to help her children handle this change, her mother-in-law sent a life size cardboard cutout of herself.

“When it arrived, my husband and I laughed so hard! It was so funny! She has the best sense of humor. It’s not the same
but we have all been having fun with cardboard Grandma. It’s been like Elf on the Shelf but we have Grandma in the house,” she said.

The Gallaghers ‘Cardboard Grandma’ has made breakfast, scraped snow off the car, went to school pick-up, sent Christmas cards and folded laundry. The family posts fun pictures on Facebook everyday with ‘Cardboard Grandma.’

“It’s been so fun and definitely distracted our kids from missing Grandma so much,” Jennifer said.

The Gallaghers do not plan to turn this into a new tradition and cannot wait to return to their normal Christmas plans in the future.

“Next year, I expect the real Grandma in our house from Thanksgiving to New Year’s! Next year, we plan on living it up. You have to do what is right for your own family and this is what we have decided. Keep everyone safe and healthy this year so next year we will do it all together,” Jennifer said.

One thing is for sure, regardless of the family’s decision, all of the children in both families are eager for a visit from Santa Claus!