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How to celebrate Easter and Passover while social distancing

These families are spending the spring holidays together while remaining socially distant amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Eric Elkins/Amy Kritzer
/ Source: TODAY

Since last March, the pandemic has shuttered schools, closed businesses and canceled sporting events. But as we've learned over the last year, it doesn't have to cancel holidays.

Americans all over the country have found creative ways to celebrate special occasions amid mandated social distancing.

While traditional Easter and Passover festivities may not be happening this year, plenty of people are staying connected to loved ones from afar. From a family who left an iPhone on their 92-year-old grandmother's doorstop so she could participate in Passover, to a 31-year-old only child whose new boyfriend will have to meet the parents via Zoom, here's how eight American families are making the spring holidays special.

Google Slides for the win

Leah Lupo in the kitchen
Leah Lupo is so proud of her Italian roots she cooks in an apron with the colors of Italy's flag. Leah Lupo

Leah Lupo, who lives in Long Island, New York, usually spends Easter surrounded by 40 members of her big Italian-American family. But this year she gets to take a break from preparing dozens of cannolis and rice balls.

"My mother just got over breast cancer, my father got over two open heart surgeries and my daughter has a rare genetic disorder," said Lupo. With high-risk individuals in her family, Lupo said they're adapting dinnertime. Her parents and in-laws are planning to drive over to her house and leave Easter baskets and eggs for the kids on her lawn.

Instead of playing cards after dinner like usual, they're making a "Friends"-themed trivia game using Google Slides that they can all play from their respective devices in their own homes.

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Zimmern will be Zooming

Andrew Zimmern making matzo ball soup
Chef Andrew Zimmern, making his signature matzo ball soup, is grateful to have Zoom this Passover.Andrew Zimmern

"No one should feel bad about not having all the bells and whistles at the table this year," said chef Andrew Zimmern.

That said, Zimmern, who is Jewish, told TODAY Food he still plans on dressing up and setting the table, despite the fact his family and friends won't be joining him in person — they'll be celebrating Passover via Zoom.

Zimmern said everyone takes turns reading from the Haggadah and will carry on the tradition of tasting the ceremonial foods by sending out directions ahead of time to those who usually don’t prepare the Seder plate.

If you're attempting to make a dish this year that you don't normally make, Zimmern said the most important thing is to remain positive. "If the food isn’t great, you’re only disappointing your (own) household — and it’s less people to clean up after!"

Planting special Easter trees in California

Kim Stanwood Terranova's pepper trees
Instead of seeing her godchildren in person this year, Kim Stanwood Terranova will be planting a pepper tree for each of them.Kim Stanwood Terranova

Last year, Kim Stanwood Terranova couldn't host her annual Easter egg hunt, brunch and blessing because she lost her home in the Woolsey fire that devastated Southern California.

This year, the inspirational speaker and godmother of 15, who now lives in an Airstream, is unable to host due to the shelter-in-place ordinance.

"With my godchildren not able to join me again this year, I decided to get creative," Stanwood Terranova said. To mark the holiday, she'll be planting 15 pepper trees, indigenous to California, one for each godchild on her property. She'll also FaceTime each godchild while doing a blessing over their special tree.

"One day, in the future, they will rest under their special 'Easter Tree' here with me," she said.

First Passover alone in 92 years

Amy Kritzer's beloved Bubbe
"Bubbe," a 92-year-old grandmother in Connecticut, is close with her family but will have to spend this year's Seder alone.Amy Kritzer / Amy Kritzer

"My 92-year-old Bubbe (grandma) lives alone and isn't a technology person," explained Amy Kritzer Becker, the founder of What Jew Wanna Eat. So this year, for Bubbe's first Passover spent alone, Kritzer Becker's mom re-activated her old iPhone6 and left it at Bubbe's front door in Connecticut, along with instructions on how to use it.

"Bubbe doesn't even have a computer, so I was impressed at how quickly she was texting, FaceTiming and checking her stocks on her new phone," said Kritzer Becker. For Seder dinner — which she'll co-host virtually with her mom and Bubbe FaceTiming in — they'll make some substitutes.

"I couldn't get apples for charoset, so I'm going to do a nut and honey mixture," she told TODAY. "I also don't have a shank bone, so I'll use a carrot and we'll all try to make similar meals of chicken and matzo ball soup so we feel more connected."

A video hunt for the Afikomen

Roy Ackerman's "Pandemic Haggadah"
This year Roy Ackerman made a "Pandemic Haggadah" which he's sending family members so they can read it together, virtually, during Seder.Shanna Hocking

Shanna Hocking and her family have been sheltering-in-place for weeks, so the prospect of trying to get together with others for Passover was tempting.

"We had plans to be in Alexandria at (my) dad's house as always," said Hocking, who lives in Philadelphia where she fundraises for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "But we made the right, and tough, decision to remain at home."

Her son, Eli, 11, recommended they connect via Zoom instead. Her father, meanwhile, created a Haggadah and emailed it to everyone so they'll have the same version to read from. And the Afikomen hunt?

"The plan is for my dad to hide it at his house and then my son will send him around the house to go look for it via video," explained Hocking. "We’ll probably have to use hot (and) cold directions!"

Meet the parents ... virtually

The Wire family together
As an only child, Lauren finds it hard to be away from her parents during Passover.Lauren Wire

As an only child, New York City resident Lauren Wire is incredibly close to her parents, but they reside in Pennsylvania. She was looking forward to bringing her boyfriend home for this year's Passover to meet them.

Instead, he'll be meeting them over Zoom from Wire's apartment. However, not all is lost.

"My aunt, who is the big baker in our family, is mailing me baked goods," said Wire who, as the youngest in the family, always had to find the hidden matzo.

"One year my mom brought matzo into my elementary school with peanut butter and jelly along with the 'Rugrats Passover Special' because I was one of the few Jewish kids in my class," recalled Wire, who added that she'll be getting her matzo ball soup from a deli this year. "My parents always made it special."

Cooking for 2 instead of 20

Jeopardy "Jew-party" game
Every year Eric Elkins and his family play their version of Jeopardy, "Jew-party," during Passover.Eric Elkins / Eric Elkins

On the second night of Passover, Eric Elkins has always hosted a seder for those who live apart from their relatives.

"We invite people who don't have family nearby or (another) seder to go to," said the single father who lives in Colorado. Elkins usually invites 10 or so people, but cooks for many more, as around 20 people usually show up. Although he's just cooking for himself and his daughter this year, he's continuing the tradition of hosting "Jewpardy" — a trivia game with a Passover twist.

"It's our version of 'Jeopardy,' but with answers about the Passover story," explained Elkins. While the game is normally played in person, this year he created a Facebook event page for the game. It includes the Zoom login info, of course.

Big taste with zero waste

Lamb chops prepared by The Grill Dads
The Grill Dads will be preparing lamb chops for Easter dinner gain this year, but they'll be doing it separately. The Grill Dads

Chef Mark Anderson normally makes multiple trips to multiple stores in search of specialty ingredients for his special Easter dinner. This year however, the Grill Dads co-founder, who lives with an elderly relative, is keeping it simple.

"The entire dinner will come out of the freezer and pantry," he told TODAY. He does, however, plan on smoking a leg of lamb so he'll have lots of tasty leftovers.

The other founder of Grill Dads, Ryan Fey, is also forgoing his family's typical excessive spread. "We plan to really dial it back and focus on just a few dishes that will feel like a celebration while being efficient and smart with ingredients," said Fey. "Big taste and zero waste."