In any other year but this one, my holiday shopping would be complete by now. My blood type would have been seasonally transfused with PSL positive and I would have vacations and parties enthusiastically doodled into boxes on the calendar, lamenting “Gosh, the next few weeks are going to be crazy,” while my eyes twinkled with overbooked excitement.
This year I’m scared, not so much in a life in a plastic bubble to avoid COVID-19 kind of way, but I’m afraid to make plans, afraid to get my hopes up and I’m really afraid of selling another once-in-a-lifetime travel idea to my kids only to crush them with another cancellation.
We all have our own boundaries with the whole COVID-19 thing. What those are or whether or not we share similar views is not what this is about. Because no matter where you fall —“Reopen everything, including the lower half of my face” or “I’m actually good making the masks, grocery delivery and 6-foot thing permanent” — we all have our own brand of cautionary approach to the 2020 holiday season because:
- The last time the kids had a significant school break — Spring Break 2019 — it didn’t end.
- The last time we planned anything involving a suitcase, it was probably jeopardized at best and canceled at worst.
- Any time we try to educate ourselves on what to expect as far as moving from reopening to opened or whether we should expect a COVID-19 resurgence this winter, we don’t get a straight answer. No one knows for sure and predictions land all across the spectrum. I’m no carpenter, but that feels like shaky ground to build plans on.
- If cases begin to rise again, is it worth the risk to gather with friends and family?
- States could maintain or mandate new quarantine restrictions for interstate travel. Is gathering with extended family worth missing school or work after Thanksgiving or winter break to abide by the 14-day isolation rule? (Brief opinion interjection: For me, it is not. See first bullet point.)
When decisions are made for you
I have the privilege of facing the conundrum of, “Do I or don’t I make holiday plans?” Remember we aren’t all “in the same boat” (or “all in this together” — please use whichever overplayed 2020 motto you’d prefer). If you or a member of your family is at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications, the decisions become clearer. You do what you have to do to stay healthy.
The same goes for if (or when) the hammer comes down again with travel bans or stay-at-home orders. If the Department of Defense (or your state or federal government) says we stay put, we stay put. And it isn’t just the road trips to grandma’s or the birthday balls that are on the chopping block this year. Little things may get the axe before we even have time to consider attending — unit parties, school concerts, recitals and local holiday traditions. If that’s the case, we’re all getting the gift (whether we want it or not) of simple, at-home celebrations.
Call it in the air
When we have a choice about whether to gather or not, that’s when we have to do some risk assessment and think through the plan, entertaining the many “what-ifs” that could jump out at us before, during or after travel. We have to consider:
- Testing positive for COVID-19 during the trip or after our return.
- Catching the flu or any number of other forgotten bugs overshadowed by COVID-19 this year.
- Checking bullet one or two and exposing extended family or communities to the virus. No one wants to be the family that shuts the school down, am I right?
- Getting there, if we’re traveling.
- Determining quarantine requirements that may be issued by the state, work or school, or by personal preference, upon arrival or return.
- Adding up travel expenses — whether or not your reservations are refundable.
- Counting the number of people you’ll be interacting with and whether you’re traveling to or through hot spots or densely-populated areas.
- Weighing whether the journey or the destination will be different because of COVID-19. For example, finally making the trip to a bucket list destination only to learn it hasn’t fully reopened, altering your experience.
Rattling off all of the risks might be enough to make you throw your hands up in surrender and decide this is not the year to gamble anything. No shame in the holidays hitting differently this year; we’re tired. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say your gauge for low-key fun at home is full: You don’t really care where you go as long as it is a change of scenery. (This is so me.)
I will climb on my soap box really quickly though and say, if you do travel or attend events this holiday season, just do it safely — for all of our sakes. I refuse to deliberately use the phrase “new normal” because I am tired of it and because I think it is flawed. Routinely washing our hands, giving people personal space and canceling plans when we get sick should have been the old normal too. So, bottom line, just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.
And who says plans have to “just be” or “not be.” (This isn’t a Shakespearean play, we can compromise.) Maybe instead of a big-city vacation or Thanksgiving with all the aunts, uncles and cousins, we go small. Going small is still going somewhere, right? Escape to the mountains or to the coast. It doesn’t have to be far and it doesn’t have to be elaborate to be special.
So whether you power through and commit to all the things this holiday season or you stick close to home because, “Baby, it’s [COVID-19] outside,” make it safe: Do your homework and don your mask when necessary. Make some memories you and your kids will share around crowded holiday dinner tables for years to come because if all goes well, this could be a holiday season we’ll never (have to) experience again.