Celebrating the holidays in the year of the pandemic

2021-01-08 12:05:07

For the first time ever, our family in Beijing made Mrs Claus' potato dumplings this Christmas. That's not only because it was a childhood favorite of mine, but also to commemorate my grandmother, whom we often likened to Kris Kringle's wife because of her appearance and jolly character. Grandma passed away last year, having lived cheerfully until age 91. Our only regret is that we couldn't make our annual visit to see her in the United States this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And even if we'd made it to the country, visitors have for some time been forbidden from the nursing home where she lived with Grandpa. Indeed, COVID changed-if not transformed-the way many of us around the world have celebrated the holidays since its onset. Many people in Beijing, for instance, are opting against traveling outside the municipality during the upcoming Spring Festival holiday, including our family. Many people in my home country and much of the world spent holidays apart from relatives or, at worst, alone, like Grandpa. I called him on Dec 25 and told him:"Hey Gramps! Just wanted to tell you ..." And the whole family burst into song, crooning the seminal carol: "We wish you a merry Christmas! ..." He'd forgotten it was Christmas. While little trick-or-treating took place in the US last Halloween, the international travel restrictions stranded many of the mostly foreign parents who lived in our building and distributed candy to kids in costumes who knocked on their doors. So, we staged a "hide-and-treat" session, in which we stashed sweets in every corner of our home for the kids to find. We've rarely celebrated Thanksgiving as a family since coming to Beijing, aside from attending potlucks organized by friends. In 2020, we felt more grateful than ever and ordered a full traditional feast with such festival foods as turkey, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. We usually wouldn't splurge on such a pricey meal but decided to this year, and invited over a dozen friends to our home to celebrate. Gratitude is one of the best lessons from tough times. That is, whether they hit you full force personally, as has happened to many people I know back home, or whether you're largely spared as tragedy rages around you, as we were since China essentially brought the epidemic under control. The hardest part for us since the lockdowns ended has been that we haven't been able to visit family in the US. We've decided to celebrate Christmas during the first summer we can go back. Our Christmas in Beijing, however, was the most magical I've had since childhood. We did the standard stuff. We decorated the tree, left a note with milk and cookies for Santa, cut out paper snowflakes and watched traditional holiday movies. And we baked pepparkakor spice cookies and kroppkakor pork-stuffed potato-dough dumplings, recipes my Swedish great-grandmother brought to the US, meaning they've spanned three continents in roughly as many generations. We don't know how long they go back in our family. We've always made the cookies since coming to China but added the kroppkakor this year in memory of Grandma, of Mrs Clausof home. And Dec 31 marked the first year in many years we've celebrated. I typically give New Year's Eve a miss, since my experiences have mostly been hangovers and unfulfilled resolutions. But this year, we spent the night recalling 2020 and expressing hopes for the new year with a bottle of sparkling wine. Indeed, 2021 will bring new holidays. How we'll spend them remains to be seen. I hope it's a year of overdue reunions.