I must admit that it is sometimes difficult to wish quite so many people quite so much merry.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas and all that goes with it. It is just that it gets so “peoply” out there at this time of year. I can remember how time between Thanksgiving and Christmas used to drag when I was a kid. Now, the festive season of the year seems to go racing past at a dangerous speed as we all try to get our holly on at the same time. Not only is the road to Christmas a superhighway with no apparent speed limit, it is also a highly congested superhighway. As I navigate my fully packed calendar, trying to cram all the jolly possible into a few short weeks, I am regularly dismayed by the endless number of people I must dodge.
I am a bit spoiled because the “Christmas rush” of people was non-existent last year because of COVID. I was out and about and trying to enjoy some festivities in as safe a manner as possible, but most of the rest of the world was still buttoned up. This year, it is something of a free-for-all. I am vaccinated and boosted, as are most of the people I know. Mask mandates and social distancing requirements are becoming less suffocating. Clearly, most of the country feels safe enough to engage with the world again. They all seem to be engaging with it at the same time I am.
I am happy that life is starting to get back to normal. Or, should I say, I am happy the life is going through another one of the “safer” cycles. I have been lulled into thinking normalcy was right around the corner a couple of times over the past twenty months. I was getting ready to have a mask-burning party at one point. Luckily, I stayed my hand. Now, I am even considering buying more masks. The huge wardrobe of masks I purchased in the first nine months of the pandemic are starting to get threadbare. Also, my buying more masks could ensure that there is never a need for masks again. That is the way I roll. It is hard to know what to do when COVID trends are so incredibly fickle.
Despite the lack of certainty, many people have decided to just venture out into the world. And I keep tripping over them.
In my neighborhood, pre-COVID, there was always a significant uptick in traffic between October and May. I live in a community where snowbird migration is a real thing. I am not complaining about traffic because I come from Southern California. Even winter traffic here is for amateurs. Still, it was always noteworthy when the migration occurred each year. Once COVID happened, snow birding stopped. People stayed put wherever they were, north or south. Traffic in central Florida stayed stable. In fact, it decreased because so many people were staying home until they could be vaccinated. This week our winter influx of people has returned with a vengeance.
A week ago, Max and I went on our annual holiday mini-vacation at Disney World. On our last trip to Disney World before we moved to Florida, I grew sad when I realized that I might never stay overnight at Disney World again. Max reminded me that living only forty miles from the most magical place does not mean you are banned from reserving hotel rooms. Disney will happily take our money whether we live across the country or across the street. Starting in 2015, we have spent one or two nights in early December on property. I love being able to see the decorations, lights, and special shows without having to think about driving home in the dark after tramping around a theme park all day.
It was a strange trip in 2020. Although the parks had re-opened with COVID safety measures in place, many hotels and restaurants were still closed. Some of the experiences we love during Disney Christmas were not operational. As far as I am concerned, socially distanced lines should be a forever thing at Disney. Forcing people to keep six feet away from each other and OUT OF MY PERSONAL SPACE was a boon to my comfort level. No kids stepping on the backs of my ankles. No being belted by somebody’s backpack. No co-mingling of oxygen. On the other hand, the quiet was a little spooky. It felt almost furtive to scuttle around in relatively empty parks.
As our trip approached in 2021, we were looking forward to a more “pre-COVID-like” experience. Our favorite resort reopened. Disney was again offering a version of their Candlelight Processional show, which is my favorite thing about a Disney Christmas. In looking through the various Disney food blogs, I saw gingerbread of every ilk on a variety of menus. While some experiences are still not back, the vast majority of our typical Disney holiday trip were again in the offing.
What I did not expect, however, was that the crowds were also back. Let me rephrase that. I did expect that the crowds would be back; I just did not expect that the entire free world would be spending the first week of December at Disney World. I have been to Disney many, many times. I have even been to Disney World the weekend before the 4th of July. Never have I experienced the crowds that we slugged our way through during this trip. Luckily for us, we have annual passes and make many trips a year, so we had no huge agenda for this trip other than seeing the holiday decorations and watching the Candlelight Processional. The crowds, while a bit oppressive to maneuver, were not really a barrier to doing what we wanted to do. It was just an odd experience to see SO MANY PEOPLE.
In retrospect, it makes sense. All the folks who typically take trips once a year or so have been incubating at home for the past two years. They have been bursting with energy, desire for distraction, and entertainment budget dollars. We probably had not only this year’s Disney Christmas crowd, but last year’s as well.
It is taking me a long time to write this piece. Typically, when that happens, it is because something isn’t setting right with me. In reading over what I’ve written so far, I realize I am sounding whiny and ungrateful. I do not mean to be. I am excited to see the world come back to life. Plowing through crowds at Disney is a first world problem of the highest order, both from a global geopolitical perspective and a COVID perspective.
I can certainly handle an excess of people if it means that the world is safer and that the economy is healthier.
The thing is, I am not certain that the world is coming back to life. I fear getting duped again. Last spring, when COVID numbers were falling, I happily slipped into celebration as we started to engage with each other in real life again. Only a few weeks later, the COVID catastrophe grew new legs and shut us down even tighter than before. Now, as we unmask again, I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. Indeed, the omicron variant is increasing the COVID case numbers again. I know we are cautiously optimistic that this variant, while very contagious, may not be as severe as the prior variants. It still seems pretty overwhelming. Just at a time when I should be feeling hopeful, I despair of ever feeling normal again.
My life coach explained something about anxiety to me. He said that anxiety is always future-focused. Anxiety is about wondering what I will do or how I will handle a situation if it happens. I don’t have to wonder about what I will do or how I will manage something that is in the present- I am already doing and handling, so there is no need to wonder. Maybe there is a lesson in this revelation that applies to my COVID despair this Christmas.
Maybe it is time to enjoy the merry right now and stop worrying about whether it will be snatched away tomorrow. Yes, be careful. Keep my vaccination boosted, as necessary. Mask up if the COVID statistics so suggest. Stop passing the peace at church if the need arises. But for now, stop thinking of COVID as either ongoing or over. Just enjoy the pause.
How are you feeling about the COVID progression? What was COVID-19 is about ready to be COVID-22. How do we keep living through this apparently never-ending pandemic? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.