Outside our windows, December 2020 is in full force: temperatures are dropping, snow is falling, and lights twinkle quietly on our neighbors’ homes. Those special dates – Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s – remain marked on our calendars, inching closer even as the pandemic rages on. It seems inappropriate that the holiday season should come at a time like this, yet here we are.
In a recent survey conducted by The Commoner News on the topic of holidays and COVID, about 98% of respondents said they expected their holidays this year to be different from a typical season.
“Typically my whole family gathers,” one respondent said, “but this year, my sisters aren’t able to make it home because they both are frontline workers. So I’ll be quarantining and getting tested, then driving home from New York.”
What a strange mix of emotions to be feeling at this time: the stale sense of fear that has plagued us for so many months, cautious excitement as vaccines are distributed across the US, and a twinge of familiarity as the holidays make their annual rounds. During a December like no other, plans are shifting rapidly, and individuals are scrambling to find safe ways to experience the joy of the season.
COVID cases have been rising to unprecedented levels across the United States and abroad. In one of the hardest-hit areas of New York City, average daily case numbers have increased 31% over the past two weeks. Even with the vaccine being doled out across the nation, the end of the year will be a frightening time, especially if citizens choose to evade CDC guidelines in the spirit of the holidays. However, many individuals are changing their behaviors this holiday season by lessening travel, gathering in smaller groups, and taking certain precautions to avoid infection.
Over Thanksgiving, millions of Americans went against CDC recommendations and traveled by plane. So what will travel look like at the end of the year? It’s a more popular time to take flight, but an undoubtedly riskier one considering current COVID numbers. Only 13% of our 238 survey respondents indicated that they will be traveling extensively to see others during the holidays, and 3% remain unsure, waiting to see how high COVID numbers get before making a decision.
“My fiancé and I would like to travel back home to Indiana, but if COVID gets worse by Christmas time, we will stay here,” said a respondent from Michigan. “We are not wanting to make any calls on it just yet, but the closer it gets the more unsure we are. We don’t want to be part of the problem, but this would also be my first Christmas away from my family, which would be hard.”
Even for those not traveling extensively, the question of whether to see family and friends still remains. Almost two-thirds of survey participants expect to spend time with their immediate family members, while only 19% plan to see extended family and friends in the coming weeks. Instead of visiting far-away loved ones in person, individuals are finding creative ways to share the holiday with them while still keeping safe.
“We’re doing a virtual gift exchange with extended family, delivering gifts to immediate family, and celebrating within our household,” said one of our survey participants.
Many others are taking to shopping online. One person remarked, “I ordered gifts online to be shipped to people, and I am staying home!”
For many, COVID has put a heightened focus on protecting those we love, especially those most vulnerable. Approximately 30% of our respondents or their household members have preexisting conditions, 19% work in the healthcare field, and another 37% consider themselves essential workers.
“I can’t see the in-laws as many of them work in the hospital system,” one said. Another respondent wrote, “Our daughter won’t come in the house because I’m high risk and she’s an emergency room P.A. So we’ll Zoom.”
Individuals are taking numerous safety precautions when seeing others, including wearing masks, having smaller gatherings, and even quarantining before seeing loved ones.
Beyond physical health, the holiday season during COVID is also impacting our emotional well- being. Many respondents reported feelings of loneliness, anxiety and lack of control.
“I already suffered from depression and anxiety and experienced SAD every year,” said one respondent from Texas, “but with an even lower level of socializing it’s all amplified pretty significantly.”
Ultimately, however, many people are finding ways to make the most of the holiday season during COVID and maintain positivity. Some have turned to volunteering to spread cheer. One participant wrote “I’ve been trying to find ways to help others during this time, as well as trying to adhere to CDC guidelines in order to protect those around me.”
Still others focus on the benefit of adhering to these strict regulations, no matter how difficult. One respondent expressed their appreciation for their loved ones’ dedication to following guidelines, stating “I cope by being thankful that my family and friends are taking COVID seriously, following the protocols, so that we can all stay alive.”
Another participant echoed that sentiment: “These times have been hard, but it has taught me to look on the bright side of things. For example, I still have a job, my family is healthy, and I am able to help other families through the pandemic.”
Those struggling with their mental health during the pandemic advocate getting help through therapy, exercise, and speaking with loved ones. One respondent from the Midwest said, “It’s hard, and I am so grateful that I decided to start going to therapy, because I think it is so necessary to prioritize mental health, especially during times like this.”
It’s incredibly important that we continue to be safe and follow health guidelines, but we should also make sure to take care of ourselves the best we can.
“Reach out for help if you need it for mental health issues,” suggested a survey respondent. “Someone is always available to help. Let family and friends know that they are never alone,”
While December 2020 is undoubtedly a difficult time for all of us, we can still find ways to make the most of it. With the COVID vaccine finally available and with treatments improving, there is much to look forward to. Here’s hoping that everyone has a safe and happy holiday this year, and that we continue to fight this together. Spread holiday cheer this season, but not COVID.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-4357
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text SUPPORT to 741-741
National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1-800-950-6264