How we celebrate the holidays and special events in our lives has been a changing landscape during 2020.
In the spring and summer, weddings were the hardest hit. People were canceling, rescheduling, or live streaming their events. It was surreal and no one really knew what we were facing.
Now it’s November and we trying to find that sense of gratitude that accompanies Thanksgiving. Christmas is right around the corner, and many of us are tired. We want to spend time with family members that we haven’t seen, in many cases, since this time last year.
There are many lessons that we can learn, and sacrifices that we should emulate, from the everyday heroes that we spent much of the year trying to find ways to thank. These heroes include the members of our military, our doctors and nurses, and even our essential retail workers.
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”—Christopher Reeve
What the military can teach us about celebrating the holidays
Members of the military have been missing important family events and holidays for centuries. They used to communicate with loved ones via the regular post and telegraph, but thankfully we have advanced to email and programs like Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts. They sacrifice so much time with their loved ones in order to keep us safe.
My best friend from high school is married to a Submarine Lieutenant Commander of The US Navy (who was also my friend in high school). I asked her what things he has missed, and her response was flooring.
She said, “He has missed our daughter’s birthday multiple times. Easters. Anniversaries. My birthday. His birthday.” After a few moments, she added, “The first time one of our daughters rode a two-wheel bike.” Here we are worried about a single holiday, and I can’t imagine how many moments my friends have missed together.
These two are high-school sweethearts, and I know each of them well. Her husband is sentimental and thoughtful, and this has been achingly painful for him. My friend is one of the strongest women I know. She devotes her time to her children and husband, so they don’t feel the pain of separation as much. I asked her what ways they celebrate or mark these milestones.
She stated that “He always records a video for the girls before he leaves, and now that they are older he records multiple videos for the specific things he is going to miss. He writes them a letter that they usually read in the car on the way home from dropping him off. He takes a little stuffed frog with him and takes pictures of his journey. Then he creates fictional stories, being careful to not reveal where he was.” He is under the water, so they can’t even communicate easily by mail. Also, she told me it is all screened, so privacy is not a thing.
Sure, he chose this career and he is ‘compensated’ for his sacrifice, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel the pain of missing his wife and children. It doesn’t mean that his young daughters don’t wish he could be there at the softball or soccer games.
Our response should never be apathetic to this! Yes, it was a choice, but we, as citizens, should be thankful that he and others like him make this choice; especially since they do it for us. The least we can do is try to keep our neighbors safe and wear a mask when asked to, or not travel for a holiday.
“I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” — Maya Angelou
Words we need to heed from our doctors and nurses
Doctors and nurses are begging Americans to stay home. They keep telling us how there are no hospital beds, and their colleagues are sick. In a profession that doesn’t take time off for the holidays because the hospitals can not close, they are feeling fatigued. Beyond that, some of our behavior is a slap in the face of all their efforts.
I watch interview after interview of doctors and nurses crying because their patients are dying alone and afraid. These heroes get emotional when they talk about their coworkers contracting COVID-19.
As of the end of September, “over 1700 healthcare workers have died of COVID-19.” How many of their friends are they going to watch die before these people with the skills to heal us, get angry at our willful ignorance.
On a practical note, doctors and nurses are not easily replaceable, so as they get sick and die, there isn’t a simple way to ‘hire someone new.’ These are trained people, and we need to be willing to not travel and do what we can to mitigate the damage so they are there and able to help us.
What are we going to do if there aren’t enough healthcare workers willing to put themselves at risk? Or if they are sick and unable to work? Or if we lose more than we can replace. It really might be in our best interest to listen to the guidelines they are putting forth.
“I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.” — Florence Nightingale
Lessons from retail workers on celebrating in a less traditional way
Almost all retail workers experience blackout dates from October through December. That makes it next to impossible to travel out of state and see family members who live far away from them.
The day after Thanksgiving, known as ‘Black Friday,’ is an all hands on deck day, and almost everyone is required to work. This can make traveling even a few hours away to spend time with family a nearly impossible task.
In my time spent in retail, I have seen some ingenious ways that these people celebrate the holidays with their families. I used to work with a manager who had a family reunion every summer. They would cook a full Thanksgiving dinner one day, then a barbeque the next, and she would take a week off to spend with her loved ones.
We can get creative like this! We can plan a Christmas in July with the people we wanted to see in December. Instead of snow, we could all go to the beach and have a tropical ‘Christmas.’ Or maybe you live where it doesn’t snow and could go somewhere next winter and have a white Christmas!
Not all the solutions are this extreme, and I know many other people who celebrate on a different day. My sister had to work on Thanksgiving this year (she works in a direct care home), and so we had Thanksgiving on Saturday. We were all masked and spent the day with the windows open, even though it was 35 degrees outside.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” — John F. Kennedy
So what do we do about the holiday season?
There are many lessons we can take from each group of heroes that protect us and have been invaluable during this pandemic. We can continue to use Zoom and other programs to celebrate virtually. We can gather in smaller groups with the members of our extended bubble, as long as we follow all the guidelines like:
- Wear a mask
- Open the windows
- Turn the fan on with the setting that pulls the air up
- Take outside breaks
- Stay 6 feet apart whenever possible
- Wash our hands and use sanitizer
The other thing that we can do is make some uncomfortable sacrifices that will not feel fun right now. However, if we follow the example of the people we praise as heroes, then maybe we can all make it out of this together. I think that is the spirit of these holidays and events that we want to celebrate, that we need to keep in the forefront of our minds.
They are about love, gratitude, generosity, and concern for our fellow humans. Let’s try for just a little longer to be the most compassionate versions of ourselves that we can be and do what needs to be done to keep us all safe and healthy this holiday season.
“To be heroic may mean nothing more than this then, to stand in the face of the status quo, in the face of an easy collapse into the madness of an increasingly chaotic world and represent another way.” — Mike Alsford