As the coronavirus continues to spike throughout the United States, nothing about this holiday season will feel “normal.” Health authorities are advising households to keep their gatherings as small as possible and asking people to refrain from traveling. There’ll be fewer multigenerational family dinners, and many will likely spend the holiday season far from home.
With those differences in mind, we asked our features staff to think about what they will and won’t miss about the holidays in this strange pandemic year. Here’s what they said.
“One December night a few decades ago, in a little house on Kodiak Island, Alaska, two more-or-less newlyweds expecting their first child were listening to KMXT, the local community radio station. Coming over the chilly airwaves: a concert by Nowell Sing We Clear, a foursome who play very, very old English Christmas/pre-Christian solstice songs and tell old stories, including how the wren became the king of the birds. (The birds had a high-flyer contest and the tiny wren snuck onto the eagle. Predictably, the eagle beat the rest — but, when it got tired and started to drop, the wren took off, topping the eagle. Go wren. But leadership has its perils: Because the wren is the king of the birds, it became a rite of passage for young men to go out and kill one on St. Stephen’s Day, Dec. 26, and haul it back to the village with great ceremony.)
The more-or-less newlyweds taped the concert, which even gets a little gritty at times: The material predates the sanitization and Hallmark-ization of Christmas by a few centuries. The child in utero was me, and though life frequently changed the backdrop of Christmas (we moved a lot, I got a brother, then a sister, our mother died, all kinds of other things happened), that tape has been one of the only holiday constants. I’ve got a copy and will listen to it myself this year — but I’ll miss hearing it alongside my brother, sister and dad, who are pretty much the only people on earth who appreciate this little relic from an Alaskan community radio station as much as I do.”
— Brendan Kiley, features reporter
What I will miss: Gathering in the living room with my partner’s family and opening presents one by one. I love seeing what other people got, especially if it’s something I got them. (I love giving gifts!) I’ll also miss seeing their dog, Landon, get super excited over his gifts. It’s so cute.
What I won’t miss: The stress of holiday shopping in stores. I plan to do all of my shopping online this year. I think it will help me stay organized and relatively calm. When I shop during the holidays at a store, I can get carried away and spend too much, or stress out if I can’t find what I want.
— Yasmeen Wafai, features news assistant
What I will miss: I’m missing things that in a normal year wouldn’t have crossed my mind. I’m not a practicing Catholic, but I wish I could go to Christmas Mass; it makes my mom happy. The less I’m home, the more comfort I get from that quiet hour in church, which seemed to last all day growing up. I’ll miss the Christmas Eve party my family hasn’t been to in years, an awkward gathering of preteen friends who drifted apart at different middle schools. I don’t know if we would even still be invited. Finally, I wish I could get drinks or lunch with friends at our hometown haunts. I’ll even miss (inevitably) running into a high school classmate (or teacher). Also, holiday work parties. Real happy hours are sorely missed.
What I won’t miss: I won’t miss the pressure I feel at the holidays — for them to mean something profound, for me to have some sort of epiphany or make grand resolutions. I’m focusing on gratitude for family and health. Extended time at home is never all hunky-dory — someone’s feelings will get hurt — but hopefully “these unprecedented times” quell most arguments. Not visiting cousins may help. My pressure-free resolution is to vocally appreciate family more. And to cut soda.
— Trevor Lenzmeier, features desk editor
What I will miss: I will miss the big extended-family gatherings we have during the holidays, the laughter, the crazy $20 gift exchanges, the once-a-year sleepover with my mom and family at our house on Christmas Eve, the hugs and the food. So much food, including an egg strata that we pop into the oven on Christmas morning before opening presents. It’s a recipe (Sausage, Gruyère and Onion Strata, to be exact) that I got from the Times about 15 years ago — when we had a test kitchen! — and highly recommend (here’s the link: st.news/strata). The holidays are going to be so different this year. Maybe I’ll still have to make that strata and deliver some (ho ho ho) comfort and joy — to doorsteps, that is.
What I won’t miss: All the stress and work that comes with what I will miss.
— Lori Taki-Uno, features desk editor
What I will miss: Going to friends’ holiday parties. Making and exchanging Christmas cookies with nonimmediate family. Possibly a ski vacation.
What I won’t miss: The temptation to go overboard on presents, as if my family won’t realize I care about them without the usual wide array of impulse purchases from certain large corporations because I goofed and didn’t shop local in time. This year, I have a lot more lead time (and downtime), so I’m trying to buy a smaller, more curated selection of gifts from local businesses and artists I’d like to help stay afloat through the end of the pandemic. Taking for granted the small pleasures I can still celebrate: watching holiday movies with loved ones remotely, getting and decorating my own Christmas tree, playing Christmas music in early November, baking cookies.
— Megan Burbank, features reporter
And one more thing we won’t miss:
“I suspect I speak for holiday stoics everywhere when I say the strongest won’t-miss feelings this quarantined season concern the company of certain people — but it would be impolite to address the question in any further detail.”
— Submitted anonymously because several of us were thinking it, we know you’re thinking it too … but no one wants to offend the family members in question
Because everyone has that one annoying uncle. Or maybe you really dislike your in-laws.