How the Virus Stole Christmas (and How We’re Stealing It Back)

Stuyvesant student holiday wishlists and how gift-exchanging is being affected by COVID-19.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

It’s December 24. You’ve put off gift shopping for weeks, and the pressure is on to find the perfect gift for the next day. It’s nearly impossible to guess what a person wants, much less the perfect color, size, or pattern they prefer. “How much easier would this have been if they had just sent me their Christmas list?” you wonder.

Luckily, many Stuyvesant students have created such lists. Senior Aki Yamaguchi shared that a top priority in her 2020 Christmas list is Haikyuu volumes, a Japanese manga series. “I’m always reading. That’s what I like to do in my free time,” she explained. Yamaguchi expressed that with her love of books combined with her new interest in Haikyuu, it only made sense to ask for Haikyuu novels for the upcoming holiday.

Next on her list is a mini waffle maker. Influenced by both her love for food and a memorable experience of her softball coach making waffles in the atrium, Yamaguchi wanted one for herself: “I saw this one that wasn’t too expensive, and it was really cute, and I can probably take it to college,” she explained. Yamaguchi also noted a mini waffle maker is portable and convenient to use. The last request in Yamaguchi’s holiday list is Mildliner calligraphy pens, inspired by her love of organizing her notes to be visually appealing.

Similarly, junior Liesel Wong’s holiday list reflects new interests that she has developed over quarantine. “One of my favorite activities is embroidery—recently I embroidered something from Studio Ghibli and gave it to someone as a present,” she described. “The main thing I want is another embroidery hoop to make the process easier and faster.”

Wong also wishes for a Nintendo Switch as a result of the Animal Crossing fad. “It’s like I can’t stop playing. Even though the craze has shifted to Among Us, I still can’t get over this game,” she exclaimed. Next on her list are cleaning supplies. Having spent so much time in her room, from online school to extracurricular activities, Wong has found herself needing to clean her space more consistently. Finally, Wong hopes to receive new clothing, particularly more shirts and pants, to make up for the lost shopping opportunities due to the pandemic.

Senior Brianna Leung shared a similar sentiment in terms of the way COVID-19 affected her holiday list. “I’d say that quarantine has influenced my list only to the extent that I’ve regained an appreciation for my hobbies and a willingness to take time for myself,” Leung said. Some items on her list include gifts for her pets, such as a tiny shopping cart for her chinchillas and fancy cat food for the nearby stray cats. She also has a few more practical requests, including a drill, a charging cable, gloves, and canvases for painting. “I was inspired by a plethora of things—any and all things from everyday annoyances to the alarming cuteness of my pets,” she shared. “My list this year is fairly similar to my past lists, though perhaps with fewer stuffed animals, as my bed has lost all space for even myself to sleep on it, much less a new friend.”

From cookies to ripped jeans and a Tesla, it is safe to say that one anonymous freshman’s Christmas list is extremely reasonable and diverse. Having said so, he noted that this list applies only in a world where he can get anything he wants without repercussions. For example, a large component in his list are items that would better the quality of his recorded music. “I’m in the Stuyvesant Music Production Club,” he explained. “I’ve definitely been playing music for ages, but to make my own has been more of a recent development.” He noted his enjoyment of music production and elaborated on how a bass guitar, a mixer board, and additional music programs can aid him in pursuing his new interest. His other requests are more extreme, such as a Tesla. “They’re just such cool cars. The smallest detail shows the perfect design for a good car. There’s been a lot of thought put into it, and I very much like that,” he shared. The student emphasized that the DeLorean doors and the effective GPS make Teslas elite to their counterparts.

Though there are many extreme desires, he has a fair share of simpler wishes as well. These include cookies, a dragon fruit, LED lights, hanbok (a traditional Korean clothing), and a specific pair of shoes to recreate a memorable photo of his dad. For the hanbok, he noted his disconnection from his half-Korean identity and reminisced on his childhood: “I remember [at] this international fair when I was a kid, I went out with a [hanbok], and my older brother did too. His was green; mine was pink, and we gave out kimchi and gim,” he described.

Senior Phoebe Park’s list is more on the practical side compared to the freshman’s. “I just put stuff that I would like if my family had no worries about money or could spend all the money that they wanted on gifts,” she shared. Items on her list include a personal computer to replace her broken one, books to read during quarantine, and Apple gift cards to spend on her new interest in video games. Her list is largely influenced by the sudden shift to isolation since these items can all be bought online. “Being at home all the time really changed how I go about day to day. Maybe in the past I would be more concentrated on clothes and things I could use when going outside, but the stuff I have on my list mainly focuses on the things that I would be using during my stay at home,” Park said.

However, with quarantine, several students noted that not only have their Christmas lists changed, but their shopping lists for their friends and family have gotten a lot smaller this year. “I have a lot of friends [who] can’t leave their house, so we didn’t do Secret Santa this year,” Yamaguchi admitted. She explained that many traditions that were previously upheld could not occur because of the pandemic. “It’s been a tradition [that my cousins come here every year]. It’s going to be the first Christmas in a long time where we are not all together,” Yamaguchi revealed.

Likewise, Wong revealed that her gift-giving for both birthdays and holidays has been minimized to a great extent. “[There has] just been less gift-giving […] because it’s more difficult to see people. So far I've given, like, one birthday present,” she explained.

On the other hand, Leung and the anonymous freshman both felt the opposite was true. The freshman actually noted that his list is a lot longer this year due to the extra free time that enabled him to further contemplate his requests. The length of Leung’s list is also fairly similar to the ones from years prior, and it was minimally impacted by quarantine. “I’ve purchased and made some really cool gifts this year as well, and I’m hoping they’ll be well-received,” she revealed.

Despite the hindrances that they all face, each student expressed hope and optimism for this year’s changed holidays. Yamaguchi ended on a positive note, describing how she’s been making the best out of the circumstances, even celebrating the holidays with her friends by coordinating a Christmas movie-watching Zoom call with them to celebrate. Wong emphasized her excitement to enjoy the holiday traditions and spend more time with her family. “My family actually got a tree for like the first time in years,” she stated.

Leung also shared a bright perspective on the pandemic. “I’m actually really excited to spend a quiet holiday season with my family and the friends [whom] I may visit with ample safety precautions. In a way, it almost seems more intimate because of how limited everyone is in their activities,” she said.

Given the extenuating circumstances of the pandemic, the holidays have changed significantly for everyone. For some, COVID has minimized their Christmas list drastically, while for others, it has given them the freedom to express their creativity through their holiday lists. Stuyvesant students have shown that they can handle any curveball thrown their way, whether it be by filling the void with a commemorative Christmas tree or hosting a movie night with friends through a screen. But as Kevin McCallister famously uttered in “Home Alone,” “Will you please tell Santa that instead of presents this year, I just want my family back?” McCallister’s words ring more true than ever today—while staying “home alone” ourselves, all that’s truly on our holiday list is to see our loved ones again.