Remember When?

COVID-19 has threatened to halt cherished family traditions, but the spirit of the season will survive long after the pandemic ends.


photo by Kristen Kinzler

Large family gatherings may not characterize this year’s holidays, but their absence can prompt us to cherish our memories and to look forward all the more to meeting again.

Kristen Kinzler, Co-Editor-in-Chief

A rite of passage in most families is transitioning from the kids’ table to the adult one at large dinners. Well, I’m one of the youngest of twenty cousins, so I have no hope of ever escaping the kids’ table, even though I’m almost 18. Instead, the rite of passage in my family is getting to participate in the annual game of grab bag on Christmas.

Grab bag, also known as White Elephant and host of other bizarre names, including Steal-a-Thon, is an anonymous gift exchange. Everybody brings one gift, and they all get placed in a pile. They’re unwrapped one by one, then argued over and swapped. The final minutes of the game consist of an insane free for all.

At the Kinzler Christmas party, grab bag is the main event. There’s one game for women and one for men, and everyone who’s not up gathers around to watch the drama. The women’s gifts usually consist of fuzzy blankets and jewelry, while the men bring lottery tickets, prank gifts, and rival sports team merchandise. 

I participated in my first grab bag two years ago, since it was generally agreed upon that all participants should be at least 15 years old. This informal rule was set because the game becomes competitive and aggressive very quickly, and no one wants to hurt a little kid’s feelings. You need to be old enough that no one minds stealing a present from you.

People jokingly yell, play tug of war over the most valuable gifts, lightly throw wrapping paper at each other, and most of all, laugh.

There’s something about being squished in a living room decorated with Christmas lights with people you know would do anything for you.”

My dad was the youngest of ten kids, which means I have a pretty large extended family. I’ve always appreciated having that many loving family members in my life, and secretly enjoyed the chaos, but I’m never more grateful for it than during grab bag. I get to sit with my cousins, whom I consider to be some of my best friends, eat my aunt’s sugar cookies, and just feel right at home.

There’s something about being squished in a living room decorated with Christmas lights with people you know would do anything for you, watching them make fools of themselves, kid around with each other, and then hug it out at the end.

I’ve seen my aunts fight tooth and nail to win a gift and then end up giving it to one of their sisters at the end of the party because they know they’d appreciate it more. My uncles have argued over RC helicopters for hours, only to hand them over to my little brother to take home and play with. For an aggressive gift exchange, grab bag is one of the most selfless ways my family expresses love.

Unfortunately, grab bag won’t happen this year. Like most Americans, my family isn’t getting together to celebrate due to COVID-19. I’m disappointed that I’ll miss getting to see everyone together, and, like most other people, I think a small part of me is grieving the loss of our holiday traditions.

After all, my extended family is loud, a little hectic, and most of the time, all over the place, but they also keep me whole. They’ve taught me that family, albeit imperfect, loves each other intensely, and I can tangibly feel that when I’m in a room with all of them. It’s not something that’s replicable.

So, of course it will be odd to have a Christmas without them. I don’t know what the holidays are without our insane games and huge dinners and amateur ping pong matches in my aunt’s Ohio State themed basement. Those memories have made me who I am.

But as I write this article, I sit under the blanket I won at last year’s grab bag and snack on some of my aunt’s homemade rock candy. I just texted my cousins in our group chat to laugh about something stupid. Over the past few days, I’ve received heartfelt congratulations on a college acceptance from most of my aunts and uncles. My cousin’s wife recently sent me a picture of her three-year-old son wearing the dinosaur slippers I got him last Christmas.

These people and their impact are all around me. The memories I’ve had with them don’t just go away because we miss one holiday party one year. In fact, it makes me pay even more attention to all the wonderful, subtle ways that they’re in my life.

That’s more than a lot of people can ever say, so it’s good enough for me. 

Besides, I can still look forward to the first ever Kinzler Christmas in July— it’s already circled on the calendar.