NEW YORK – Corritta Lewis has a huge extended family. Her mom is one of 12 siblings. Usually, Christmas means that she, her wife and their 2-year-old son dig out their cold-weather gear for the schlep from home in sunny Southern California to Ohio and days of holiday chaos.
Not this year.
“We're happy to be saving money, spending more time together, and to just have a less stressful holiday,” said the 31-year-old human resources analyst in Oceanside. “We don’t have to deal with the crowded airports, stores and overall mania that the holiday brings. We're going to lie in our pajamas and watch movies all day.”
Though Thanksgiving pleas to stay put were ignored by thousands, and authorities fear the same for Christmas and New Year's, many around the world are gleefully looking forward to spending the December holidays at home without the expense, family drama and travel headaches they normally endure.
Some plan to use the money they save to buy gifts for those in need as coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations rage on nearly 10 months into the pandemic.
Many who stayed home during Thanksgiving to keep safe already experienced the restfulness of opting out of holiday madness, said Maryanna Klatt, a professor of clinical family medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and a facilitator of mindfulness classes.
“What has emerged is that many people discovered something via the Thanksgiving restriction of gathering with less people — they loved it. They thought they would feel a huge sense of loss from the inability to travel and the typical gathering with larger groups," she said.
Participants in her classes reported less anxiety without extended family and friends around, and deeper, more meaningful conversations with the smaller numbers left around them.
“COVID-19 and its ensuing collateral damage may have some realizations that sculpt future behavior, and not all in a negative way. We just need to have our eyes open to these surprising realizations,” Klatt said, falling short of the "silver lining" cliche.
In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 33-year-old Shannon O'Reilly usually travels back home to New Jersey at Christmas, “and it never, ever feels like a vacation.” She and her husband both have large extended families. Trying to squeeze in visits with all of them leaves little meaningful face time for any, she said.
“We're constantly house hopping and never really feel settled when we go back up there. Quite frankly, as soon as we land on the tarmac in Newark, we both look at each other every time and say, ‘Why are we doing this?’”
This year, it will be just the two of them in 80-degree weather with “zero familial obligations.”
As it did for Thanksgiving, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people to avoid travel during the December holidays while the pandemic continues to surge. For those who don't heed the call, the CDC recommends travelers get tested for COVID-19 before and after their trips. Testing before travel is critical to help stave off asymptomatic spread of the virus, warns Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator.
On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, 38-year-old Rosalin Siv can't say she's happy to be missing her annual holiday trip to Southern California with her husband and 4-year-old son to visit her parents, siblings, and extended family and friends.
But she's relieved.
“This year I'm pregnant, and the thought of juggling a busy work schedule with holiday and family activities is more stressful than usual," said Siv, the founder of an online bakery. “I can't say I'll miss all the logistics.”
There's the 5- to 6-hour plane trip, for one, requiring numerous activities and snacks to keep their child calm and contented in transit.
The sentiments are shared around the world.
Ben Taylor, 43, lives on the Kent coastline of southeast England with his wife and two kids, ages 6 and 2. He calls their normal Christmas holiday a “crazy magical mystery tour” that lasts about a week. They usually travel by car, about four hours, to visit relatives and old friends in Norfolk.
“I’ve always felt a little envious because it feels like we visit house after house where people are relaxing, whilst not getting to do the same thing ourselves," he said. "Well, now it’s our turn!”
Vaccines for COVID-19 are on the way, but they won't come in time to save Christmas for most. Birx and other virus experts couldn't be clearer about the need to avoid travel and large gatherings, along with hugging and kissing loved ones outside of one's protective social bubble.
Nicoletta Barbata is an Italian who's been living on the Greek island of Santorini for nearly four years. Christmas is usually her one and only trip home to Milan every year.
“I usually stay for four to six weeks,” said the single Barbata, who's 39. “My time back to Milan is devoted to catching up with my family and friends, spending time with my parents and meeting friends all over Italy who I haven't seen for months.”
While she'll “deeply miss” the trip this year, she'll happily make do with the friends she's made in Greece.
“I'm a person who always tries to see the positive side of every situation,” Barbata said.
Christmas is tinged with sadness this year for Holly Nordenberg in Madison, Wisconsin.
“My grandfather passed away from COVID last month,” said the mom of two girls, ages 3 and 5.
With their patriarch gone, the 36-year-old Nordenberg said the usual extended family get-together with up to 40 people back home in Rock Island, Illinois, may not happen, regardless of whether she goes.
There are other reasons why she's fine not returning.
“I’ve been dreading our Christmas gathering this year because of the political climate and how polarized my family is regarding politics,” Nordenberg said.
Instead, she, her husband and their kids will focus on “gratitude and baking” at home.
“I'm honestly looking forward to a quiet holiday season,” Nordenberg said. “We have all our decorations up, a pantry full of baking supplies, and we’re finding ways to really appreciate how fortunate we are each day.”