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How The Pandemic May Have Saved The Holidays

I now see that the big parties and entertaining are little more than a distraction.

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Hanna Barczyk
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We have been social distancing for so long now that the thought of a boisterous holiday celebration can seem out of place or downright outlandish. A typical holiday season is marked by feasts, gift exchanges, gatherings and, of course, stress. But all the drama we have endured so far this year may actually result in a rather pleasant year-end celebration. Although it may seem counterintuitive, I suspect we may be about to experience the kind of holiday season we have all been secretly yearning for.

I am among the people who really like the idea of the holidays: dressing up in my favorite ugly Christmas sweater, cooking a beautiful meal and, of course, getting together with family I haven’t seen in months or sometimes years. I always have big plans, bring out boxes of holiday decorations that are no picnic to put up, and go shopping to find the perfect gifts. I look forward to the big day, but it never seems to work out the way I had envisioned. I feel pressure to spend more money than I can afford, entertain with more enthusiasm than I can muster, and keep the glasses filled with more bubbles than I can pour. As an introvert, I become overwhelmed by large gatherings and find myself hiding in the bathroom practicing breathing exercises as the party rages outside. The reality rarely plays out the way I had imagined.

I know I am not the only one who feels this way. Many people experience overwhelming anxiety during the holidays. Every year we read articles about how to beat the stress of the holiday season or how to avoid awkward conversations at the dinner table. But in 2020, to protect our loved ones from the spread of the virus those holiday crowds are not likely to materialize — and that’s OK.

So what are the holidays going to look like this year? Most likely there will be small gatherings at home or on Zoom. Maybe we meet outside if the weather permits, or through other creative means (plexiglass dividers around the dinner table, anyone?). I plan to make more phone calls and write more letters to connect with people individually. The pandemic has forced me to stop and think about what is really important, and now I see that the big parties and entertaining are little more than a distraction. This year has been one of overwhelming loss and anxiety. Many of us have lost loved ones or jobs. Our finances, our health and our families have been threatened in a way never before imagined. Suddenly, spending time together with just a few cherished individuals whom we haven’t seen in a while is a truly special gift. This year I believe we will not take our family and friends for granted.

Try not to worry about the roast and the pie this holiday season. There is no need to decorate or buy the perfect present. We are the gift, just by being present. As we gather let’s make an effort to look into the eyes of those around us and be thankful — truly thankful — that we are together, healthy and safe. Let’s take time to stop and connect, laugh and cry, mourn the loss of a terrible year and look forward with hope to the next. Whoever your family is, whether you are bound by blood or marriage or friendship, these people are your posse. These people are the ones who have helped you through this year of tragic loss. And like so many other things, we have stripped down the holidays to the bare necessity. This year, the pandemic may have saved the holiday season by forcing us to focus on capturing its essence without all the fanfare.