An Empty Wonderland

A look into how students are coping with the indoor holiday season.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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By Chloe Huang

With Halloween over, New Yorkers set their sights on the upcoming winter festivities. Replacing skeletons and cobwebs with turkeys and snowmen, festive decorations and advertisements mark the advent of the holiday season.

As winter rolls around, relatives stop by, longtime plans come to fruition, and hangouts with friends finally happen. Americans use November to reconnect with loved ones and to be thankful. Foods like roasted turkey, pumpkin pies, cornbread, and mashed potatoes with gravy line the dinner table. Seated beside these dishes are family and friends coming from different places. As if it came from a holiday commercial, this idyllic North American holiday is something many people look forward to every November.

However, during such unprecedented times, many are wondering how this year’s holiday season will happen. While people who celebrate with family at home won’t be greatly affected, those who use Thanksgiving to meet others will be much more impacted. “Normally, my family would invite some friends over and we would cook for them, but this year, we won’t be inviting or visiting anyone due to COVID,” senior Aditiya Rashid said.

Rashid’s Thanksgiving plans weren’t the only things changing. At the start of quarantine, her family had to make accommodations for Muslim holidays. “In the case of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha earlier this year, our family held our own Eid prayer at our own home instead of going to the mosque on those days,” Rashid recounted. Faced with the challenges of the pandemic, celebrations were forced to move to her home.

Her predicament is one that resonates with New Yorkers and Americans all around, now faced with great concerns over increases in COVID-19 cases. Tripling in recent months, infection rates are now raising worries of another possible lockdown, with NYC schools having already closed. Similar to Rashid, senior Leo Yuan also faces the strain of a pandemic Thanksgiving. Usually celebrated at his grandmother’s home, Yuan desires to connect with family but also understands the need for caution with the uptick in cases. “I think we’re just going to get COVID tests beforehand since we live literally blocks away from each other,” Yuan explained.

Lockdown hasn’t only placed a wedge between loved ones but has also affected what many New Yorkers consider quintessential to Thanksgiving. Just like many other events of this COVID-stricken era, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will still take place but will only be viewable online. Furthermore, the temporary pause of in-store shopping has led to a large shift to curbside pickup and online shopping. As New Yorkers brace for an indoor winter, the Thanksgiving weekend will involve a much more online presence.

With the pandemic forcing everyone indoors, institutions such as religious communities have also found themselves shifting gears. Even though senior Daniel Berlinsky’s family isn’t particularly religious, they still celebrate Hanukkah. “I read the prayer and light candles,” he said. Because of how home-based those events have been, many observers of Hanukkah haven’t found their observances to be greatly impacted. However, those who usually attend synagogues, meet with rabbis, or connect with loved ones are finding themselves unable to do so.

In addition, other people who celebrate the winter holidays are now also seeing canceled celebrations. “The church my parents and I would go to for Christmas [will] host a Christmas service. This year, we’re probably not going to go, which is unfortunate because I always liked to see my parents happy socializing with their friends,” junior Krista Proteasa said.

To Proteasa, a lot of her holiday cheer comes from her environment. “Getting into the holiday spirit means screaming Christmas songs with my friends as we walk to the subway station and drink exclusively peppermint drinks,” she joked. “The more Christmas lights I see, the more ‘in the holiday spirit’ I am,” she added. To many, the holiday spirit exists as a feeling of joy that comes from the holiday season. Proteasa noted that the inability to share her excitement with her friends has been very off-putting in maintaining this holiday spirit.

For Berlinsky, on the other hand, it’s a matter of aesthetics. “Under normal circumstances, I like to decorate my apartment with my family usually by buying a small Christmas tree and putting lights around the house,” he said. When picturing his ideal holiday season, Berlinsky thinks of presents for family and friends coupled with holiday classics on the television. For people like Proteasa and Berlinsky, the festive season comes from decorations, shopping, music, movies, and spending time with friends.

For others, the winter season yields unique ways to get into the holiday spirit. For Yuan, it’s getting exposure to the outdoors. “I’m part of both the ultimate frisbee and track team, so I’m usually always outdoors late into the evening,” he said. When December comes, Yuan can be found by the East River running in snowstorms wearing nothing but a tank top and short shorts. With a birthday in December, he always looks forward to spending it by watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel, accompanied by some hot chocolate and his friends.

When asked about how COVID-19 has affected this sweet holiday get-together, Yuan admits that it does affect his energy. “Team spirit isn’t as strong as it would be, and it’s much harder to bond,” he said. “[Lockdown] also brings the morale down because running on your own [versus] with the team is a very different experience.”

Likewise, senior Leo Xiao, an ultimate frisbee teammate and friend of Yuan, agrees. He noted, “with large gatherings being canceled, it leaves a hole in the annual traditions that normally form strong community bonds.” Had lockdown not happened, Xiao would have looked forward to attending Stuyvesant’s Ultimate Frisbee Alumni Tournament, an event with many alumni teammates returning to play with them again. As Xiao stated, communities thrive on in-person communication. Stuyvesant is a school largely built on extracurricular activities made up of a diverse array of communities. Teams and clubs are a core part of activities for a Stuyvesant student, and not being able to meet is very disappointing to many.

Since lockdown has stopped students from spending time together, COVID has been an obstacle in communication and opportunity. Whether it was summer or winter plans, many events were unfortunately canceled or moved online. However, people have been finding ways to cope, staying optimistic. To Proteasa, manifesting holiday cheer isn’t impossible. “The holiday spirit, you will soon realize, comes when you’re in contact with what you associate with the time,” she said.

When asked about what she associates with the holidays, she mentioned Spotify playlists, pine and cinnamon scented candles, snow globes, and festive lights. While others may not feel the same way about these items, Proteasa’s words serve as a reminder that a lot of the holiday spirit comes from what people associate with December. Whether it may be sounds or scents, there is always something specific to each person that brings memories of the holidays.

Moreover, many annual seasonal attractions haven’t been canceled even during this time of chaos. While places like Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park Winter Village cannot house visitors, other groups are still at work to honor annual traditions. The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is still being put on display amid the pandemic, and the Saks Fifth Avenue light show is still taking place through live streaming. Furthermore, the Times Square Ball Drop will still occur, now the virtual event to end the year. These traditions provide entertainment to audiences while also reminding New Yorkers of joys that the city still has.

This hope for the future is something that has kept people going, not just the traditions. “I think that when the pandemic is finally over, we’ll have a rebound effect and become even more connected,” senior Don Osipiv said. “But that might just be because I’m generally optimistic,” he joked. Osipov admits that the quarantine has made it difficult to maintain relationships, but he is staying positive. Making attempts to communicate with people, he projects high hopes for the future, something many others could use during these times.

In the meantime, the holiday season will be indoors. It may seem disappointing and at times dreary, but it doesn’t mean that the holiday season is gone. For eight months, New Yorkers have been able to persist, and life has been able to continue. Even when people are stuck at home, they have found ways to communicate with friends and family while also finding joy in different things, whether those are shows or hobbies. Likewise, the holiday season in quarantine can prove to be a new experience and something to look back on years from now. For now, Yuan’s words echo a positivity that everyone could use at this time: “Have some hot chocolate, binge on Hallmark movies, and if your family is still with you, appreciate them.”