“What are we doing for Christmas this year?”
This was a question that popped up one time too many in a group chat with some of my closest friends. Being part of a friend group that liked to be a little bit on the extra side over the holidays, I was a bit surprised, and maybe even a little disappointed, that no one seemed enthusiastic about planning this year’s get-together. For the past eight years, we’d willingly take turns organizing and hosting the yearly festivities.
But I realized quickly that I couldn’t blame my friends for their lack of eagerness. After all the work video calls we’ve had over the past almost two years, nobody really wanted another Zoom Christmas; nor did anyone want the responsibility of planning another celebration that would pale in comparison to those of pre-pandemic times.
If I’m being completely honest, this is the first time in a long time that I haven’t really felt the holiday spirit. Last year’s Christmas and New Year spent online seemed like a “for-the-time-being” situation, where we were all hopeful that the following year’s celebrations would be far from what they were then; that maybe last year’s small or online gatherings were only temporary.
This year, my family had planned to fly out and celebrate Christmas and New Year with relatives we haven’t seen in years. The prospect of being with family I don’t get to see regularly (even more so now during the pandemic) had me way more excited than I’d like to admit — it felt good, and almost normal, to finally have something to look forward to again.
But because of the unpredictability of our situation, I have yet to accept the reality of another canceled trip. As someone who usually takes the time between Christmas and New Year to travel, whether it be to see extended family abroad or to spend quality time with the little that I have here, having nowhere to go made it feel like a big part of the holidays was missing.
And so, we scrambled for plans that would make up for the ones we were losing. Planning was done half-heartedly at first, but talks of when to see who and how we could make the most out of the situation made me realize that the holidays are never really about the destination, but rather who they’re spent with.
Luckily for some, they’ve started new holiday traditions that keep them hopeful and excited. Last year, Gaby’s family ditched giving gifts to everyone and started a customized version of Kris Kringle instead: this involved a sizable budget for their Santa baby and absolutely no wishlists!
“A lot of subtle hints, teaming up with other family members to brainstorm on presents, and trying to guess who picked who makes opening presents all the more exciting,” Gaby adds. This pandemic-born tradition has not only made an enjoyable twist to their holidays, but it’s become a great way to bond and get to know her family even more.
For the likes of Miguel who was already no stranger to more intimate Christmas and New Year celebrations, his favorite new tradition is whipping up a holiday feast with his mom. He shares that while his home life brings him a rollercoaster of emotions during this time, “one thing's for sure: food, especially during the holidays, has an unusual way of bringing people together."
While this is true, especially for Filipinos, Andrea sadly recalls last year’s holidays to feel “like any other day, except with more food.” While she spent Christmas and New Year working, she enjoyed the virtual Noche Buena she was able to share with one of her best friends — they, at least, were still able to celebrate together somehow.
After having to get resourceful and creative last year, here we are again: still having to see each other through screens; and still having to be more selective about whom we spend the holidays with. The only difference now is that the novelty of it all has worn off.
While we’re not where we used to be yet, Andi points out that “we’re not in limbo anymore: there’s a semblance of what getting together feels like,” and being with family and friends is something we’re slowly getting to do again. “I’m actually able to see people in small groups, without being as scared as I was before,” she adds.
For Georgia, who comes from a big family of 25 that celebrates Noche Buena up until Christmas day together, last year’s gatherings weren’t as festive, and had an overall somber mood. Not everyone could get together at their grandmother’s house all at once as they would usually do over the holidays.
But this year, she’s a lot more hopeful. She believes that we are returning to pre-pandemic ways and norms, and although it’s at a slow pace, “I’m excited about the possibility of easing into another new normal: one where I can be with and see loved ones more easily.”
“Despite the situation, I’m still hopeful this holiday season because I know there’s still so much to be thankful for,” Lou recounts.
This year, as she’s slowly making her big move to be closer to her siblings and finally fulfill her lifelong dream, she says that 2021 taught her “to look back on all the little wins I’ve accomplished.” She adds that she discovered new things about herself, improved her skillset, but most importantly, strengthened connections with loved ones — both online and in real life.
And so, if there’s anything we’ve learned from the past almost two years of being cooped up and deprived of the lives we once knew, it’s that accepting things as they are, while still remaining hopeful of what’s yet to come, is what inspires us to find ways to keep going.
As Georgia points out, “I feel that this year’s holidays are an indicator of what’s to come in 2022: reconnection and community.”
And if that’s not something to be hopeful for, then I don’t know what is.