British Columbia·Point of View

Don't scrimp on the tinsel or icing sugar. It's OK to brighten a COVID-19 Christmas

December is typically filled with joyful traditions and celebrations filled with family and good cheer. But COVID-19 is the lump of coal for many holiday plans. 

From quarantined elves to over-the-top decorations, people are bringing light to the darkest days 

Many people have hyped up their holiday decorations this year. (CBC)

Typically, I mock people who get into the holiday season too early, but this year I've not only relaxed my stance, I have fully jumped on board the Christmas train and it's full speed ahead. 

Had your tree up since Halloween? I salute you. Went full Clark Griswald with your light display? Well done! And don't get me started on all the cookies and squares I plan on baking and eating in my snowflake PJs while carols blast in the background.

I have embraced it all because, if not, I am afraid the overwhelming sadness and anxiety of 2020 will consume me and I'll never be the same again. And I'm not the only one who desperately needs joy and light in their lives right now.

For the first time, many people won't gather around their tables to share a feast with extended families and trips to exotic locales will have to wait — and so to prevent this from becoming a season of sadness, many people are decking the halls with as much holiday happiness as they can handle. 

New Westminster mom Jen Arbo has certainly hyped up her holiday cheer this year. While she hasn't been a Grinch in Christmases past, she's only needed a small dose of the season. But this year, she was determined to do more and so she applied for a community grant to spruce up a popular pedestrian route in her neighborhood. Twinkly lights, a small tree, a place to leave Christmas wishes — all just to make people passing by feel happy.

"It feels like this year is the year that it's just OK to embrace that tacky, long, delight of the Christmas season, " says Arbo. "I'm going all in." 

The bigger the better during a COVID Christmas. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

And while Arbo and her family are doing their best to keep their neighborhood spirits up, as well as their own, there is a lot of sadness that comes from not being able to travel to Vancouver Island to see all the grandparents. But Arbo's mom has a pretty solid reason for not letting this become a blue Christmas.

"It's not what she would want and she's disappointed, but she would rather be able to see me next Christmas, " according to Arbo. 

Hanukkah starts this year on Dec. 10th, and it's also going to look very different for all the families used to gathering at synagogues and each other's homes to mark the eight-day celebration of light. But when I spoke with Rabbi Hannah Dresner of Or Shalom Synagogue in Vancouver, she explained they have a full roster of online events. 

"We want to be connect and want to be sure we see what's going on and get out there and participate in being the light in our greater community," says Dresner. 

Hayden Steven's Elf on the Shelf has been quarantining for the past two weeks. (Amanda Stevens)

Once Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that Santa was exempt from any COVID-19 restrictions, there was a collective sigh of relief among kids and their parents. But things will be very different this year for the younger set, with yearly events like Christmas train, pantomimes, and huge light displays off the table.

I spoke with nine-year-old Hayden Stevens about all the changes he's expecting this Christmas. As we chatted, I was struck by how good the smaller set has been throughout the pandemic at adapting. As have many an Elf on the Shelf, such as Hayden's friend Cookie.

"He's quarantining right now in his jar, slash, house " explains Stevens "and he's wearing a tiny face mask" 

And even though Hayden will be spending time with his moms, and his two older siblings — he won't be able to see his grandparents in Florida this year. They will continue with their usual zoom chats until things are safe, and he knows it's just one holiday out of a lifetime of special times. 

I think this year is all about embracing every shiny, sparkly thing we can possibly grab. And sharing it with those we can safely be around.  Like so many things in this pandemic, this is a temporary darkness for many in an otherwise bright life. But you know that feeling of sadness, loneliness and longing you're feeling this year? That's what a lot of people feel each year around this time.

So reach out to them. Include them in some way and let them know they matter to you — especially single people who have been isolated for months.  And remember them next year when life has returned to normal. Now go drape yourself with tinsel and hit play on It's a Wonderful Life — because we are going for a full month of merriment whether you like it or not!


Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.


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