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Lancaster County readers change, cancel traditional holiday celebrations amid pandemic

In a year in which Pennsylvanians have been asked to adapt and overcome hurdles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the holiday season presents another time for change.  

We asked readers in late November and early December to tell us how they would be celebrating the holidays.

Would gatherings be canceled? Smaller family dinners? Virtual church services? Readers responded to our survey with a variety of answers, from canceling everything to making no changes at all.  

Here are their responses.


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

"Dinners with family, gift exchange, then sharing time together.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“Absolutely. [One] side has canceled all. For this side, I am donating monies that I would have spent on gifts to a local organization that helps families in need in the southern end of Lancaster County, the Frogtown Organization.”  

-- Lori Longenecker, Conestoga 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Traditions include going to Longwood Gardens, attending a hymn sing, church on Christmas Eve, holiday parties, and family and friends for meals on Christmas and New Year's.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“My Christmas will be quite different.  There will be just four of us for dinner, only family in my immediate 'bubble'; all the leaves will be in the dining room table so we can sit far apart. Other family and friends will stop by for carry-out. The menu has been simplified, so I will only need to make one trip to the grocery store. In the days before, there will be no in-person hymn sings, parties or trips to Longwood Gardens. On Christmas Day, as a retired nurse, I will think of all the health care providers who are working to save lives and comforting those they cannot save.  I hope others will remember them, too.” 

Frances Keen, Lancaster city  


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“For more than 20 years, we’ve been hosting an Open House Christmas Eve party for our neighbors, friends and family. It’s not only our holiday tradition, but it’s become the tradition for many of our guests.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“That wonderful gathering that brought together more than 30 people on Christmas Eve is going to be canceled so that everyone we love and care about (and all those they come into contact with) can stay safe from COVID-19.” 

Renee and Dan Gallagher, Lancaster Township  


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Usually, I sing with the Lititz Moravian Church choir for seven services in the week leading up to Christmas. Then I spend a quiet Christmas day at home listening to Christmas music and wrapping presents for the family members I expect to see at our get-together between Christmas and New Year's. And on the appointed day, which is determined by group decision depending on who has to work or is traveling when, I go and enjoy the family gathering.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“None of what I have described is going to happen this year. I'll be mailing all the family gifts. Our Vigil Services at church have been canceled, and I'm not comfortable attending anything being held inside, so I won't be going to the very limited services that are scheduled. I'll watch the 2019 Vigil video that our congregation plans to put on the website, enjoy phone and Zoom chats with family members, and am hoping for a drive-by cookie pick-up invitation from my niece. 

“But this I know -- the true meaning of Christmas doesn't depend on observing traditions. No matter whether I'm singing 'Hail to the Lord's Anointed' with 500 others in a packed sanctuary or alone at home watching a video, the Good News is the same. Christ is come, Immanuel --  and that makes all the difference.” 

Marian L. Shatto, Warwick Township  


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Every year, my husband and I go to Connecticut for Christmas to be with my two sons and their families. We have five grandchildren there that we love spending time with. We also visit other friends and family.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“We probably won’t be going to Connecticut this year because of the virus. I hate the idea of not seeing my kids or grandkids, but we want everyone to be safe. I received a package from my daughter in law and she has several activities set up for us when we all share a virtual visit. She’s made it very interesting.  We will be playing Bingo. Then she sent everyone an elf, and we have to take pics of the elf being naughty and nice. We also had to send pictures when we participate in the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song. My daughter-in-law is very creative and has provided everyone with a kit and instructions. Even though I can’t see my family in person, it will be fun to play games and just laugh a lot. At this time, we have to do what we can to be together as best we can. This has made me look forward to a day that I was really having mixed emotions as to how it would be being so far from everyone.” 

Sharon Meringer, East Hempfield Township  


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Family together Christmas Eve, share a tenderloin roast dinner, exchange some gifts and attend late-night church service.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“Plan to be isolated Christmas Eve, share a glass of egg nog with my dear partner, listen to Christmas music and be thankful for all we have and hopefully be healthy.  Will virtually partake in church service via YouTube, when available.” 

Bruce Hirte, Lititz 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Christmas Eve has been spent with my brothers and their families, since 1950, a tradition started by our mother. Then for the last 18 years, my wife and I would have Christmas dinner with our son and then leave Christmas afternoon for our daughter and her family in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and then on to Florida for two months.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“Yes, our Christmas Eve will most likely be a Zoom gathering with my brothers and our families. Plus we have made the decision not to travel to our daughter's home in Alabama and then on to Florida this year.” 

Cy and Mary Fritz, Lancaster  


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions? 

“An annual cookie bake of over 2,000 cookies with my mom. We then give most of them away as gifts and at gatherings; a small Christmas with just my partner and my parents; numerous holiday gatherings.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“The annual cookie bake has occurred, but we slashed the number of cookies, since there will be few gatherings and those will be kept small; we will still gather (the four of us) for the couple days around Christmas to celebrate and fellowship; work gathering has us going completely virtual; bowling league gathering will be in a large space with social distancing and masks; LGBTQ holiday fun night of bowling canceled; other traditions still happy, but with masks.” 

Jonathan Brown, Lancaster 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Usually travel upstate Pennsylvania to parents and family.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“[We] will be staying home this year. My brother had the virus and spent five days in the hospital and is still recuperating.  It will be a nice change, I think, to not have to drive three hours each way. 

Rick Stoney, Narvon 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Extended family and friends of about 25 people for homemade egg rolls and signature cocktail on Christmas Day. Lots of food, LOTS of gifts and a Christmas puzzle every year.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“Only immediate family members with social distancing.” 

Gay Sloat, Landisville 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“We normally have a Hanukkah party at our son’s house with cousins and friends from Philly. We also get to get together with my other son and his family for Christmas.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“For Hanukkah, we are getting together with just my son’s family, outside, to exchange gifts. No food, no out-of-town relatives. We don’t have plans for Christmas, but I am sure it will not include a meal.” 

Harvey Meyer, East Hempfield 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Traveling to Hershey’s Chocolate World and theme park [Hersheypark Christmas Candylane] the weekend prior to Christmas. Stopping at the Sonshine for a bite to eat on the way to HersheyPark. Visiting family and friends after church on Christmas Eve. Christmas day, we have a big meal with family after exchanging gifts. We would always go to the movies on Christmas day evening. The day after Christmas, we would gather with friends for another gift exchange after going out to dinner.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“Yes, we are not doing anything that involves gatherings in restaurants, theaters or parks. We will go to church using the online link and will use Zoom to catch up with family and friends. We will stay home for Christmas this year to ensure we continue to stay safe and well.” 

Colleen Hovanec, Mount Gretna 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Normally, we pack the car Christmas Eve, load the dog up Christmas morning and drive to my sister’s for a 15-[person] Christmas dinner.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“Yes, both my mother and father are elderly, so we are spending the holiday at home. My parents are not going anywhere, either. They have kept safe the last nine months, and we haven't gathered. We have a we just need to wait a few more months. The whole family is sacrificing time together, so we can all be safe. Zoom Christmas, and we will make pancakes together on Christmas, over the internet!” 

Juliette M. Zaengle, Manheim Township 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Christmas Eve dinner with seven to 12 people (two to four households) followed by church. Christmas is usually dinner with five to 10 households, plus an additional two family parties of six to 12 households. Plus fun and events like Hershey at [Christmas], Longwood Gardens, Teddy Bear Throw at Hershey Bears.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“All of it is canceled. While we may do some drive-through light places, we have gone back to older traditions like gingerbread house decorating and lots of holiday movie nights at home.” 

Joyce Stephens, Lititz 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“My spouse and I usually get together with both of our families and my grandparents that live in town, and in January, we travel out of state to see extended family.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“We are about to welcome twins into the world right around Christmas/New Year’s, so we are being extra cautious. If we are not in the hospital for delivery and if the weather is tolerable, we may do a socially distanced bonfire or see our parents outside with propane heaters. We will video chat with other family and friends, and we will not be traveling out of state to see extended family.” 

Michelle Rehkugler, Elizabethtown 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Getting together with all family members for dinner, gift exchanges, etc.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“Yes, this year will be different.  No big family dinner. [We] will have gifts for everyone but will see each family separately to minimize COVID issues.” 

Charlene and Jack Wittmaier, Lancaster 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“We pick a Saturday before Christmas when we all can get together (around 25 of us) and celebrate.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“Yes. We canceled. We will celebrate next year.” 

Janet Hagey, Ephrata 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Normally during Christmas, we would get together with friends on Christmas Eve for dinner.  On Christmas day, we would drive to visit family and open presents.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“We are not getting together for dinner nor driving to see family. There will be other Christmases; it is not worth someone's life or the lifelong guilt of infecting a loved one by bringing the present of COVID for Christmas.” 

Timothy Meyer, Denver 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“We usually have dinner with my husband's side of the family on Christmas Day and gather with my side on a day other than Christmas.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“Yes. Instead of dinner on Christmas, we're planning to get together with that side of the family outdoors at a bonfire at the home of our daughter. On the 27th, we're planning to have a Zoom meeting with my side of the family. Nieces and nephews are scattered in six states plus Malawi, Africa, so we'll actually see some of them who we would not if we met in person.” 

Jean Carr, Lancaster city 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Going to family for the day.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“Yes, my husband and [I] are staying home by ourselves.” 

Debbie and Gary Enterline, Mount Joy 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Going to visit grandson in Camp Hill on Christmas day. Traveling to Scranton area to visit relatives during Christmas week. Hosting relatives for New Year's Day dinner.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“Unlikely to travel to Scranton area or host New Year's Day dinner.” 

Jack Lewis, Elizabethtown


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“We have two. We go to the houses of our two nieces and their families for the company of those we love and to enjoy the delicious food they’ve prepared. Every other year we enjoy Christmas in Sanibel, Fla.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“We aren’t doing either of those two. We’re staying home and celebrating, just the two of us.” 

Nancy Freeman, Lititz 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Our families (25 people in all) join my Dad and stepmother for a weekend of gatherings.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“Yes! We will not be gathering at all. We will each celebrate with our own households only.” 

Lisa A. Mertzman, Lancaster city 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Enjoying Christmas with family.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“No.” 

Rose Ward, West Hempfield Township 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Family get-together Sunday before Christmas. Christmas Eve with just sons and spouses.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how?  

“No family get-together on Sunday before Christmas. Christmas Eve, same as every year.” 

Richard E. Herr, West Lampeter 


What are your normal Christmas/holiday traditions?  

“Visiting friends and family to exchange presents.” 

Are you making any changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions this year? If so, how? 

“[Due to] distancing restrictions, can only use four reindeer plus Rudolph, if he gets off the quarantine list in time, to deliver gifts worldwide; thus, it will take a bit more time.” 

Peter Neperud, Mount Joy 

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