What will the holidays look like for you? Will you and your family gather around the warm glow of a computer screen for a virtual get together on Zoom, or will you decorate the family SUV as a would-be sled and drive by grandma's house to either drop off or pick up a plate of turkey with all the trimmings? Or, will this year look like Thanksgivings and Christmases past?
Obviously the coronavirus has disrupted the daily lives and routines of nearly everyone, and as we head into the holiday season, a time when friends and family typically gather in large numbers, people are trying to figure out how to safely celebrate the events this year.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of recommendations and considerations on its website regarding celebrating during the pandemic and cautions that people should be mindful of spreading the disease.
According to the announcement, people should "consider how your holiday plans can be modified to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to keep your friends, families, and communities healthy and safe.
"Unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic is worsening, and small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases," the agency said.
Chattanoogan Robin Howe, 62, said even the lure of seeing her first grandchild isn't enough to get her on a plane to Colorado where son Oliver Townsend, 33, lives with his wife and newborn. Her grandson was born in August, and daughter Ruthie Townsend, 24, lives in Boulder, as well. Making the decision was not an easy one, but Howe said she got some great news the day after making the announcement to her family.
"My plan was to have flown out there to see my new grandson and three kids in Boulder, but I begged out," she said. "When I told my son, there was a pregnant pause, but then he said, 'You do what you think is best.' Then, something quite cool happened that changed everything. He called me the next day and said he was flying out this weekend and getting his brother [Skylar Townsend] in Atlanta and coming up. He is leaving the grandson, but Thanksgiving will not be terrible this year."
How the family will celebrate Christmas is unclear at this point. They lost father and husband, Van Townsend, to cancer two weeks into January in 2013 and since then they've made it a tradition to not be anywhere close to Chattanooga at Christmas.
"It's too emotional, and we take trips together then."
They've traveled to places like Costa Rica, for example, where they lived in a tree house for several days.
"I don't know what we will do," she said of this year. "We haven't talked about it, yet."
Kathy Piner, 45, is a self-described "decorating fiend," who plans to keep her Thanksgiving decorations up after the holiday to go along with her Christmas ones. She said the family canceled several birthday and holiday parties in the past several months, but said she is not canceling Thanksgiving or Christmas for the family this year.
Every year, she and husband John, 58, host a dollar-tree gift exchange for family and friends on Christmas Eve and then on Christmas Day, their blended family with seven children ranging in age from 2 to 37, as well as her mother and now an aunt who has moved in to be cared for after a car accident, come over, and that is the plan this year.
"I'm not changing anything," she said. "We are celebrating as we normally would. Family gathering for Thanksgiving, Christmas party on the 24th, family dinner on the 25th. We decided about two months ago to stop living in fear and if anyone is sick, we understand, but we are living our lives from this point on."
She added, however, that she doesn't go out much, anyway.
"I don't think it's a hoax," she said. "People are dying and it breaks my heart for them, but we will continue our traditions. If we lose our traditions, we've lost everything.
"We need to be hopeful, but be cautious."
Sydney Hamon, 26, is an officer with the Chattanooga Police Department, and one of the first things she did upon moving into a new apartment on Nov. 1 was put up a tree and some Christmas lights around her cabinets. In the past, her family wouldn't decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, she said, "but I don't do Thanksgiving these days because I work that day."
This year is obviously different.
"I also have some small baby trees," she said. "I did it because it makes me happy and I have something to celebrate, and it's cozy."
She said the family will get together at Christmas, "and, to keep my mom safe, I will make everybody wear a mask inside."
Shopping for gifts is a big part of Christmas for many, and Forbes.com predicts that Americans' online Christmas shopping will grow by up to 35% this year and that people will be buying gifts that build relationships and pamper, such as health care products. It also suggests to expect delays and to shop early. Several of the larger shipping companies have released their deadlines to ensure packages get to you on time, but even they say in some of the small print that there are no guarantees.
Howe said she doesn't like to shop and doesn't see that changing this year, even with a grandbaby. Piner, on the other hand, loves buying gifts for others and plans to spend about the same on gifts as in past years.
"Maybe even a little more," she said. "I'm not really sure where I will do most of my shopping."
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.