Masked faces, socially distanced or virtual parties, gifts and sweets sent via couriers instead of being hand-deliveredthese are just some of the unprecedented changes we have seen since 2020. The impact of COVID-19 on festivities and celebrations worldwide has been immense, transcending all religions, regions and ethnicities. To be honest, its not just religious festivals that have been impacted. The notion of gathering together to celebrate anything, whether its a music festival, a conference, team meetings or the publication of a book, has been changed, perhaps forever.And yet, keeping traditions of celebration alive is critical. A 2020 study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Family Process, explains that rituals greet us right at the time of birth and leave an indelible lifelong mark. Rituals ground us and at once also connect us to other people. The study suggests that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, this grounding in rituals and basis in a sense of community was shaken to its very core. Not only were the daily rituals at home changed when adults started working from home or lost their jobs, and kids had to be homeschooled, but holidays and festivals we looked forward to became just like everyday occurrences. There was no sense of a special time or special place anymore, especially with mobility restricted severely.The study mentioned above is a good read, because it lays out exactly how each and every kind of ritual was changed in 2020, whether it was Easter and Christmas, or Diwali and Holi, or Ramadan and Eid. Here are some of the key ways in which festivities changed.The problem with large-scale festivities nowIt doesnt matter if the festivity is around a deity or a musician, large-scale gatherings are just a big no-no now. The reason behind it is simple: the more crowded a place, the more the risk of transmitting the SARS-CoV-2 virus and getting COVID-19. Without going into the nitty-gritty of how the virus enters your mucous membranes through droplet and surface transmissionwere sure youve heard it plenty of times by nowits safe to say that its no longer safe to party in a large group, especially without social distancing, frequent sanitisation and other COVID protocols weve learnt so well. Whats even more important here is the understanding that all viruses, and most bacteria too, can get transmitted easily from person to person in the same way, making large-scale festivities hazardous. So, all sorts of celebratory events have now either become intimate, safe and familial ones, or gone virtual to include as many people as possible.Home is the new stage of festivityGone are the days when you could head out to Goa for a grand music festival, Jaipur, Delhi or Kolkata for a literary one, and pilgrim spots like Shirdi, Haridwar, Benaras, etc for a religious festival, without thinking about it twice. Now, even a well-planned trip to any of these places requires you to check for safety and look forward to joyless travelling where masks, RT-PCR tests and COVID-19 vaccine certificates are checked as thoroughly as your passport was during foreign travel before! This, plus the way we all had to stay at home during the lockdowns in 2020, has now made the home the ultimate stage and centre for all sorts of festivities. This is a space where you can control both safety and comfort while engaging in any kind of celebration at all. For many, it has also provided the realisation that arranging small-scale parties at home can be less of a burden on the pocket too. Moreover, celebrations at home are always more intimate, with people capable of being more attentive and generous. With technology bringing global events to your home via digital and OTT access, theres very little youre likely to miss out on while staying in the comfort of your home. On the flip side, scaling down every ritual and festival can literally take the joy out of celebrations, especially if youve always known the large-scale versions.The age of virtual celebrationVirtual meetings may have been relatively normal at the workplace, especially if you work for a multi-nationaland video calling may have been the norm if you were staying away from your hometown or familybut the pandemic really normalised these to the extent of making them not just about communication, but also celebration. From performing rituals like cutting birthday cakes and engagements to religious ones like praying together, lighting Diwali lamps online and even cooking while on a Zoom call, we have now done it all. With concerts and award shows also going digital, there is very little one can miss out onexcept actual physical contactif you have a steady and strong internet connection and appropriate devices to stream or join through. This change has highlighted the convenience that the digital revolution has brought home. The embrace of virtual celebrations is so all-encompassing and accessible that nobody with a good internet service need ever feel lonely or left out again.Is the new normal here to stay?The question were actually asking ourselves a year-and-a-half since the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged is simple: is this new normal here to stay even beyond the pandemic? Will we continue to have small-scale, intimate, virtual festivities even after the pandemic is well and truly over? Maybe, maybe not. If the warnings of experts and scientists from around the world are anything to go by, then this is not the last pandemic well be witnessing or living through in our lifetimes. The fact is, the human world has encroached irrevocably on the natural world, and more mutations of deadly viruses can easily come up. There is also the increasing risk of natural disasters like floods, wildfires, droughts, etc. Climate change and limited climate action, sustainability efforts and lack of awareness will continue to put human lives at risk due to diseases and disasters.In that sense, strengthening these alternative ways of keeping our rituals alive and celebrating human unity and love can not only keep our hopes alive but also prepare us better for the future. While its normal to yearn for the past and the way we celebrated festivities before is natural, we need to create a new normal around festivals of all sorts so that the next time a global crisis of this sort emerges, we are not disturbed, distressed or saddened like we were in 2020. To that effect, here are some tips you can keep in mind, or use, to get into the rhythm of the new normal after COVID-19.Put your health firstThis is a general rule of thumb you need to keep foremost in your mind now. Your health as well as that of your family comes first. You need to tailor festivities and celebrations according to your health, and not the other way around. If having an indoor, low key or virtual celebration suits your health status, stick with that without attaching any guilt to it.Speak to your familyOpen up to your family and loved ones about any concerns you may have. The family, friend circle or community is the cornerstone of all festivities, and if the pandemic has taught us anything, its keeping all lines of communication open. If festive stress and anxiety are worrying you, you need to be open about it so that it can be addressed.Maintain the traditions you canThe other thing the pandemic taught us is how little we actually need in this world to survive and thrive. There may be rituals and traditions which seem superfluous or excessive now, and there may be some that seem downright excessive or harmful. Instead of clinging on to these, focus on maintaining the traditions that actually add value to your life.Focus on kindnessThe pandemic has also highlighted how a little kindness, towards your own family and friends as well as those beyond your circle, can go a long way. The festive spirit is more about giving than receivingstudies and experts have been telling us this for years, and our parents and grandparents have maintained the same for decades. Since 2020, focusing on this aspect of festivities rather than overindulgence and extravagance, has been the cornerstone globally. So, see how you can give back.