The holiday season is a time of rituals. Singing carols, decorating a tree, hanging stockings on the mantle. If you’re Cuban, like me, it means eating lechón roast pig — on Christmas Eve and 12 grapes at midnight to celebrate the new year. And this year, I’m thinking those grapes will taste sweeter and juicier than ever.

January 1 will mark 306 days — or 7,344 hours, or 440,640 minutes, or 26,438,400 seconds — since the first American died of COVID-19. Since then, we’ve been asked to sacrifice or modify life-affirming rituals central to our cultures and vital to our sanity and sense of community. Over 324,000 people have died in the United States because of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and staying apart helps to stem the virus’ spread.

But it isn’t easy.

I wrote the “People of the Pandemic” series between April and June, when lockdowns were still new, but these short profiles still illustrate the constant tug-of-war between doing what feels right — celebrating birthdays and weddings; going on first dates; rocking a newborn grandchild to sleep — and doing what feels unnatural but helps to protect those facing the highest risk, like the elderly and front-line healthcare workers.

As Americans celebrate a most unusual Christmas and New Year, with many embracing restraint and compromise for the sake of their fellow man, let these vignettes remind us what we’ve lost, what we haven’t, and why our traditions are worth preserving — even if that means pausing now to ensure the whole family can be together next year.