Home for the holidays

I’ll Be Home For Christmas is the most ironic song of the 2020 holiday season. Because of the pandemic, most of us have no choice but to be home for Christmas. If you are one of the annual travelers who journey home for Christmas, it’s safe to say you probably won’t be home for Christmas this year. You might have to settle for “if only in your dreams”, like the singer says. Try listening to that song without tearing up especially if you have loved ones you won’t be seeing this year. Blue Christmas is more like it, that’s what I’ll be having.

To say the holidays have been difficult during the pandemic is an understatement. Before we entered the current “new normal”, our last “normal” holiday was Valentine’s Day way back in February, you remember, before the world changed. I hope everyone enjoyed date night, a nice meal in a nice restaurant (indoors!), and slowly strolling along crowded city streets holding hands with loved ones without any thoughts of Purell to ruin the mood. 

The month of April gave us Easter and our first experience with Zoom for the holidays. To say something was missing is an understatement. The family’s familiar faces were there, mostly, except for relatives who were trying to adjust screens, press buttons and speak at the same time. Wishes of “Happy Easter” became “Can you hear me now? I think I’m on mute. Hello…?” Pure joy.

There was hope in the spring that the number of virus cases would decrease. Reports hinted that the virus doesn’t like the sun or warm weather. Unfortunately, thousands of Spring Breakers still do. And when all of those traveling college students returned from their week-long Bacchanalian parties on the Florida coast, they brought the virus home with them. Sharing is caring after all.

Governor Baker was criticized for his invasive lockdowns, mask mandates and social gathering restrictions. Social justice protesters were exempt from the rules, chanting as they congregated on the streets. At the same time, church congregations were silenced from singing hymns. Something didn’t seem right. Everyone everywhere was outraged about everything.

Summertime brought an onslaught of racial violence and demand for social change. Outdoor dining became all the rage by necessity. People were hungry for a morsel of normalcy even if it meant dining on the street behind cement road barriers. The number of virus cases seemed to level off. But this disease proved to be as fickle and unpredictable as New England weather.

August arrived delivering a new set of problems to contend with. Children were ready to return to school but no one could decide the correct course of action. Home-schooling Zoom classrooms left a lot to be desired. Some parents wanted their children in school. Some teachers were afraid to return to classrooms. Hybrid learning models with confusing schedules left everyone scratching their heads, especially parents trying to coordinate which child would be where on what day. Meanwhile, many students were falling through the cracks and their grades were just…well…falling.

A summer vacation became a thing of the past. Stay-cations were a sad alternative. Traveling to a different state became a nightmarish fourteen days of quarantine, and that was before your vacation could even begin. The hot weather seemed to stem the rise of the virus. People relaxed a little bit. Masks came off. Social gatherings returned as people, shut in for so long, desperately tried to reconnect. One thing everyone learned: humanity isn’t screen compatible 24/7. 

Labor Day weekend brought summer to an abrupt close, as seasonal businesses were destroyed by the hurricane blow of the pandemic, worse than any storm weathered in the past. When summer ended so did any hope of the virus burning itself out, no matter how much light or bleach was injected in your body. 

An October snowstorm ushered in Halloween. The holiday was cancelled in many towns as the debate dragged on about which was the lesser evil: small close-knit parties or door-to-door trick-or-treating. Masks over masks were the costumes of the night as candy was dispensed through cardboard tubes and innovative clothes-line pulleys. Parents tried to make the best of it while children tried to enjoy it. It was evident things were never going to be the same.

When the month of November began, so did the great Thanksgiving dilemma. The governor suggested family dinners should be cancelled or just enjoyed with members of your immediate household. Does Butterball make a turkey for one? People were so desperate to continue their traditions, just to feel normal for a moment, they couldn’t resist the urge to travel. And against better judgment, they did. When the post holiday COVID-19 numbers were posted, the virus was once again on the rise. A surge on top of a surge is never a good thing. Was this the second wave or the first wave still rising? Either way, it was bad news.

And now, December places us on the threshold of the “darkest winter in our country’s history”. The most challenging and horrific health crisis our country has ever faced is sending season’s greetings to all of us. Once again we are asked to hunker down, shop from home and avoid human contact. Maybe immersing ourselves in holiday lights and festive decorations will deflect our attention for a couple of weeks.

2020 is coming to a close. The bright star of hope for a vaccine shines on the horizon, moving just within reach. The new year has to be better. This was supposed to be my uplifting year-end column. I’d like to thank the coronavirus for sucking the joy out of everything. Happy holidays.

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