There’s already a flurry of conversation about how we’ll handle our end-of-year Holidays. Sales for outdoor tables, propane heaters, fire pits, and function-style tents are at an all-time high. This year, our holiday awareness is accompanied by spikes in COVID-19 infection numbers in Massachusetts and across the country.
Cluster outbreaks in schools, college students returning home, and less outdoor time means more indoor time … which leads to a greater risk of exposure. Should we leave windows open? Buy air purifiers for every room? Invest in long johns, thermal blankets, and hand warmers? These realities get our attention, yet we aren’t exactly sure what to do. The sheer volume, contradiction, and relentlessness of “information” puts us on overload. Although completely understandable, shutting down and throwing up our hands is dangerous as cases climb and communities enter the “red zone” – meaning, our risk may be increasing.
Admittedly, I have relaxed my vigilance a bit, which has honestly been a relief. Now I need to take my own advice and re-engage with what I know to be scientifically proven truth. I need to keep myself, my loved ones, my employees, clients, and their families as safe from COVID transmission as I can.
Wow. Pandora’s box. Some of us have suppressed (mostly) negative emotions for the last eight or nine months. We have been shocked, scared, angry, frustrated, sad, depressed, and after a COVID test, greatly relieved if the results were negative. Amidst all of this, maybe we’ve been able to grab some celebratory moments, realize we’re more creative than we thought possible, and savor some outdoor engagement with family and friends.
However, as the colder weather approaches, we see the news, read the papers, and know that indoor time means more virus. More exposure means more virus. Lack of vigilant personal protection means more virus. We are tired – no, we are exhausted. Living in this environment of risk and worry has wiped us out.
Although for locals, our Fourth of July is paramount to THE holiday of the year, the “family” holidays of November and December are generally thought of as “the big ones.” What will holidays look like during the pandemic? It’s safe to say that 2020 is testing our resiliency. We altered our summer vacations, rescheduled events, participated in drive-by birthday parades, and celebrated Mother’s Day on Zoom. Some of us even opted out of gatherings entirely.
The upcoming holidays tend to have a deeper reach. Maybe it’s due to the celebrations' spiritual component or consistency: the same decorations, foods, and music. Holidays mark our time. They connect us to our childhood, to those no longer here, and to the traditions of our ancestors. They are the “portals” through which we remember who we are and where we came from. They remind us (invite us) to “go deep,” go back, and go forward all at the same time. We delight in teaching the younger generations about the recipes, showcasing great grandma’s dishes that we only use once a year, watching family movies, and the stories! So many stories. It keeps us connected. It’s important.
And yet, our holiday gatherings typically take place indoors. They’re the living room and dining room days—the fireplace roars, and sometimes the snow falls. Opting for an outdoor experience may work for some families but clearly won’t for others. What do we do? How do we manage this? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.
Suggestion number one is to grapple with the fact that your holiday plans won’t look the same this year. Acknowledge how difficult and disappointing it is. None of us imagined that COVID would take such a chunk of our calendar year and our lives. We just simply wish it weren’t so. It’s disruptive. It was NOT in the plan. Let that simmer a bit, give it the attention it deserves, and come up with a plan. We are, after all, hearty New Englanders.
I have never seen a Hallmark “Pandemic Christmas” special, but I bet there will be one next year. For most of us, the thought of loved ones being alone on the holidays is painful. Will they feel lonely, unwanted, unloved? What can be done? Can food be delivered? Gifts? A florist decorated boxwood tree? How can you make the best of a pretty disappointing situation? It won’t be great. Really at best, it will be OK - maybe this year, that’s the Martha Stewart goal. “A PB&J Thanksgiving.” “A Grinchy Christmas.” “An Oy-Vey Hanukkah.”
And then, there’s gratitude. We have lost a lot, and that loss continues. Though we do have anxiety, fear, and good reasons for our concerns and worries, most of us have housing, more food than we really want to eat, clothing, gas in the car, and the option of boots on our feet. We “come back to our senses” and realize that the natural world is waiting to be rediscovered and is more refreshing than we remember. We appreciate our eyes to see colors, ears to hear voices, and music that soothes.
There is an opportunity inside of loss to be able to look at things differently. It takes energy to get there, for sure, but it beats the alternative. We’ve lost some things, but we have not lost everything. It’s like a naughty and nice list. Usually, it’s not either / or, but that proverbially, annoying, but ever true, both / and. Let’s have that be our motto for the upcoming holidays. Both / and. I’ll check in with you in January and see how it went.