Having Myself a Very COVID Christmas

Nothing has been the same in 2020. The holiday season is no exception. The 36 days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day that include Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa will be unlike any other in my lifetime.

We’ve reached December. The music, weather, and lengthy to-do list are the same, but many facets of the holidays are unrecognizable. Here are 10 ways I’m anticipating the pandemic will impact my Christmas celebration:

Exterior of house decorated with lights and wreaths for Christmas.
The 2020 version of our Christmas decorations feature new ribbons on our wreaths and new positioning of the floodlights. It’s the little things during the pandemic that bring joy.

No parties. Typically, our family’s calendar is filled with social gatherings for my wife and me and for our children. I have complained in the past of having an overstuffed December social calendar. Not this year. I have one event on the calendar at the moment, and it is a socially distanced, masked, hour-long party for my middle son. I’m sure a few more social occasions might trickle in, but they won’t resemble the festivities of years’ past.

No concerts. Our boys are musically inclined. Concerts, parades, and recitals are as much a part of our holiday season as parties. Sometimes the performances and parties occur in combination. I will miss my boys’ musical events and the way they set the mood for my Christmas celebration. Music fills me with Christmas spirit, but Spotify can’t replace the live performances that have become our tradition.

Shopping online exclusively. As has been documented in New South Essays in the past, I’m not a fan of shopping. I embraced online shopping a few years back, but I usually take the boys out for individual excursions so they can purchase gifts for family members and each other. We avoid the peak times, but these relatively short forays provide me with all the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping I need. This year, I’m planning for all of it online.

Limited family interaction. Our biggest struggle this year is getting together with family. We traditionally go to Florida after Christmas to spend time with my parents. Occasionally my Texas-based brothers are able to join in, and our boys get to see their cousins. Such was the plan this year, but those plans are shifting. We have been taking precautions for nine months allowing us to stay healthy and care for my immunocompromised mother-in-law. This close to the distribution of a vaccine, we simply can’t risk a trip to be around out-of-state family. The fear of missing out is most acute for me with this component of our holiday celebrations. To compensate, I am placing a high priority on a trip to Texas when the pandemic ends.

Different faith observances. I’ve written extensively over at View from the Pew about how our church experience has been different during the pandemic. Our pastor is determined to make sure we have a Christmas Eve service. We’ll bundle up and gather outdoors, keeping our distance and foregoing parts of the service that bring us into close contact. I will welcome the Christmas Eve service in any form, but there are many other annual observances I am missing, especially our church choir’s Christmas music. Again, Spotify is an imperfect substitute.

Appreciation of health. I am experiencing greater appreciation for my health this holiday season. This year in which I turned 50 has been full of health challenges. In February I had a bout of the flu and pneumonia before COVID-19 raged across the country. Then in March I tore my meniscus which I finally had repaired with arthroscopic surgery in November. In spite of those setbacks, we haven’t had to deal with a case of COVID in my household. I am grateful and hopeful that continues into 2021.

Gratitude for each other. We will be around each other more this Christmas than any other, and while that contributes to the petty arguments and frustrations boiling over, it will also cement our family’s bond. Sitting around our Thanksgiving table and calling my parents later that day filled me with gratitude for the people in my life in a profound way.

Decorating early. I saw a lot of social media posts this year of people “needing a little Christmas, right this very minute” back on Nov. 1. We weren’t quite there, but this year I’ve forsaken my annual complaint of people skipping Thanksgiving and going right to Christmas. We all do what we have to do to make it through. Our own Christmas decorations didn’t go up early. In fact, because of some home projects, our tree sat lit but undecorated longer than usual, but early decorating is the rule rather than the exception in 2020.

Clinging to tradition. We’re not giving up traditions this year, we’re reinventing and re-interpreting them. We’re boiling them down to their essential quality and meaning and finding a way to do them safely. The best example so far is our Saturday after Thanksgiving trip to Ihop and Christmas tree shopping. This year, we made a huge breakfast at home, had a leisurely morning, cleaned up the kitchen together, and finally made it to the tree lot around noon. There was less time to decorate, but the boys agreed this may be a permanent change to our holiday traditions.

Seeking joy. More than gifts, food or nostalgia, I am seeking joy this Christmas. I cannot remember entering a holiday season in my lifetime with such a desperate need to be uplifted, encouraged and inspired. Whether it’s in the laughter of my family around our table, hearing the familiar words of Luke 2 on Christmas Eve or the strains of Harry Connick’s “Harry for the Holidays” album, I will savor the feeling of joy that has been so elusive these past nine months.

That’s my list. I’m curious how your holiday season will be different this year. Whatever may come, I hope your holidays are safe, meaningful, memorable and above all, joyful.

New South TV

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, I recently spent 53.2 hours, give or take a few minutes, in the charming little town of Bluebell, Alabama.

Never heard of it? Neither had I until a few weeks ago.

Carla and I just finished a pandemic binge of “Hart of Dixie” on Netflix. We’re always late on pop culture trends, so of course we missed this romantic comedy’s original 76-episode run from 2011-2015, before anything with the word “Dixie” in it was widely recognized as problematic. It was on the CW, so a lot of you probably missed it, too. It’s highest ratings came in 2012 when it hit a whopping no. 142 in the Nielsen’s.

Bluebell, Ala., has more triangles than a geometry textbook.

Carla and I usually have a show we watch together, you know, one that’s not “Lord of the Rings,” Star Wars, Marvel or sports. Carla heard about “Hart of Dixie” from her friend and walking partner, Natalie, whose Southern bona fides are indisputable.

Carla took her suggestion as gospel and dived in, watching the first two episodes without me. She was hooked from the beginning. I joined for episode three, and it became our nightly diversion at a time when bad news was followed by worse news.

Not since childhood when I hung out in Mayberry for hours on end have I spent so much time in a fictional, Southern small town. Unlike “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Hart of Dixie” has more love triangles and WAY more festivals. Among the more zany town events are Founder’s Day, Homecoming, Planksgiving, Bluebell Battle, Sweetie Pie Dance, Watermelon Festival, Mother-Daughter Tea, Debutante Ball, Gumbo Cook-Off, Turtle Derby, Miss Cinnamon Cider Pageant, Disaster Preparedness Drill, and the Strawberry Festival. These folks make their own fun, and when they need a taste of big city life they road trip to Mobile or New Orleans.

Make no mistake, this show is not high art. The accents aren’t consistent. The plots are contrived. The characters are cliché. But it is just the kind of escape during COVID-19 that made me overlook all of that and embrace my inner Bluebellian.

Without giving anything away, here’s the basic plot: New York City heart surgeon Dr. Zoe Hart (the show’s namesake and protagonist) moves to Bluebell, Ala., to practice medicine when she’s denied a prestigious surgical fellowship because she lacks bedside manner and genuine concern for her patients. She rents a cottage from the town’s mayor, LaVon Hayes, a former University of Alabama and NFL star who has a pet alligator named Burt Reynolds. Dr. Zoe Hart falls into and out of love with a number of locals – including her bad boy neighbor, Wade Kinsella, and town lawyer and golden boy, George Tucker – and has an ongoing rivalry with Lemon Breland, a debutante and Southern belle who is a force to be reckoned with on every issue and at every town festival.

In my college days, I spent some time in the Mobile area, and I can attest that there is no place like Bluebell in that geography. But I didn’t watch “Hart of Dixie” for realism. By the end, I didn’t even watch for the “will they or won’t they” back-and-forth of the romances. My greatest pleasure was listening for Mayor Hayes’ signature line, expressed at least once per episode when circumstances inevitably turned against him: “Nah! Nah! Nah!”

So if all the bad news is weighing on you and you’re in need of at least a virtual getaway, I highly recommend a visit to Bluebell, Ala. I think Founder’s Day is coming up soon.

All this time in Bluebell has me wondering about depictions of life in the South on TV, and which ones are the best. There are no shortage of rankings available online these days, but I’m curious what your top five would be. Leave a comment below and share your all time favorite Southern shows. You’ll be glad you did.