November 30, 2020

ST. HILAIRE | Entering a Unique Holiday Season

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I love the holidays. It’s my favorite time of the year. I spent it watching holiday movies, singing the same old Christmas songs, and fantasizing about baking elaborate treats that I somehow never get around to. 

To be honest, that was an old recount of what I used to love about Christmas, however as college life became my new reality my understanding of this season shifted as well. I traded in fun, holiday themed assignments for prelims and final papers. The time that I once spent in bed watching holiday movies was time better spent studying or sleeping. My Christmas themed baking aspirations were forgotten as I made do with Cornell Dining’s sugar cookies.

That may not sound like a picture perfect holiday season, but it worked for me. I became used to Cornell and  this new Christmas marked by various Secret Santas and snow day photo shoots. I wasn’t expecting to deviate from my Cornell holiday traditions so quickly, however, in a surprising fashion COVID-19 entered our lives and called for adaptations and adjustments, some of the repercussions are just hitting me now. 

I came home to Long Island expecting the holidays to look different. I knew that I wouldn’t be surrounded by my younger cousins or spend the day after Thanksgiving in the mall with thousands of other complete strangers looking to take advantage of the same awesome deal. That wouldn’t be safe. I was prepared to make those changes, but no one prepared me for the reality that the little things I took for granted which made this time of year feel particularly festive would be altered as well. 

It’s disappointing because this semester has been gruesomely isolating. I wish that I could pinch my freshman year self who often complained about having no social life while knowing nothing about what it means to socialize solely on zoom. 

My social media feed is popularized by suggestions on “How to Make Your Zoom Thanksgiving a Success,” as if watching my family on a laptop will make up for the overwhelming feeling of emptiness that exists when we aren’t all together complimenting moms and cousins on their culinary masterpieces that line the table.

Please don’t think that I haven’t stopped to count my blessings this year, because I have. I am fortunate enough to have everyone alive and well enough to even jump on a zoom, but is it so selfish to wish that we existed in a place where we could still have these gatherings and hug our grandparents without wondering if we are doing significantly more harm than good.

Since the start of quarantine my parents have taken to having CNN play in the background constantly. While they work, cook, clean, I can often hear the television dispense news for hours as they watch the reporters complete their rotations. This past week, my cousin and I managed to break up the news with Lifetime Movie specials and Netflix movies. In between all of the switching, however, I caught multiple glimpses into what our season was shaping up to be.

This Thanksgiving, more than 1 million people traveled the day before Thanksgiving. I was upset that I couldn’t undergo my annual holiday “transformation” as some may call it; there was no opportunity to trade in Catherine the college student for Kitty, the cousin, daughter, niece, sister who helps set up for dinner every year, plays with the kids and understands that her full name is a mouthful for her younger relatives.

Again, I understand the urge. I understand wanting to create normalcy in a world and in a year that has done everything to ruin that, but it doesn’t make it okay. I fear for my grandparents, my elderly aunts and uncles, people who we have been told on multiple occasions are high-risk and I find myself conflicted with a desire to see them but a fear that my seeing them could ultimately be the end of them. It is a uniquely 2020 dilemma, all things considered.

I applaud the families of my friends who I saw downsize their holiday festivities. They kept things small, socially distanced, or, like I did, hopped onto a Zoom call for a pre-dinner discussion. I understand the pain, and, hopefully, next year it will be different.

This unique Thanksgiving has resulted in a new slew of holiday traditions. Even though our tables are smaller, and honestly the list of what we have to be grateful for this season seems a lot smaller too, it’s hard to not see and feel the magic of the end of the year as lights and trees go up in towns and neighborhoods. Soon, we’ll be burning festive candles, listening to only holiday music and wrapping gifts for family and loved ones.

Despite the mode of celebration — whether it’s small and in-person or large and virtual — the holidays are a time to celebrate what we have. Many of us are facing different hardships this year; all are valid, and all are difficult. And while this desire that I hold for everyone may be built on nothing more than false hope, I truly wish that we retain a piece of the holiday spirit that will soon be in every song played by your local radio station. 

As we did with graduations, weddings and past holidays, we simply have to adapt, but adaptation in no ways requires us to resign from what makes this time of year so special. 

Catherine St. Hilaire is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected]. Candid Cathy runs every other Monday this semester.