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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Families Look to Preserve Holiday Joy Despite Covid

Olivia Suit

By Bill Barlow

This is the third in a series on celebrating Christmas differently in Cape May County due to Covid. 

COURT HOUSE – Anthony Anderson, of Court House, will miss the closeness and warmth of spending Christmas Eve with family, in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania, but he will not miss the drive.  

His girlfriend, Megan Conyers, gathered there with her family for many years. It’s one of the many traditions that will be set aside this year.  

 “We go there for the day and exchange gifts. We’ve been doing that for the last 10 years,” he said. “This year, we’ll be home.” 

Like many in Cape May County and around the nation, families decided it was too risky to gather this year. The first vaccines for Covid are being distributed to health care workers and the most vulnerable populations, but officials have seen the number of cases climb sharply this winter.  

Health experts around the nation reported a spike in cases after Thanksgiving, which many attributed to travel and family gatherings. New Jersey issued guidelines, encouraging families to limit gatherings and to hold events outside wherever possible.  

Even Santa’s lap is off-limits. The big man should remain behind plexiglass, the state Health Department recommends, with Santa, staff, and anyone over 2 years old wearing a mask. Holiday parades are discouraged – several Cape May County communities canceled theirs – and choirs and carolers should also maintain distance from each other and from the audience.  

In short, everything is different this year.  

Anderson usually sees his mother  Christmas Day. His 15-year-old daughter and  son, who just turned 12, will have to adjust to the difference and make do with family Zoom calls.  

“At least we can do that, so we will be able to see each other,” he said. “It’s very difficult for the kids. They love going there, seeing everybody, and listening to Christmas music. I don’t mind not having to drive home on Christmas Eve at 10 at night.”  

Those interviewed tried to find a bright side. Some hope traditions born in 2020 will remain long after, hopefully, Covid is an unpleasant memory.  

“While it’s sad in some ways, it’s been nice in some ways. I know it’s corny and it sounds like “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” but it’s a little less commercial this year,” said Lauren Suit, of Lower Township. She and her husband, Carl, tried to keep a sense of holiday joy for their daughter, Olivia, 8. “It’s been nice to find meaning in the smaller things,” she said.  

Some favorites, like seeing The Nutcracker, big gatherings of friends and family, or trips to New York to see the tree in Rockefeller Plaza are not options. Suit said they’ve managed to find local activities, like visits to Storybook Land, in Egg Harbor Township, Misty Meadowsheep farm, in Upper Township, and drives to see decorated lights.  

The family also took a carriage ride, in Cape May.  

“We’ve been trying to do things that are a little fun and exciting and bringing the feeling of holiday magic, and we’ve gotten really good at avoiding crowds,” she said.  

Keeping these activities safe and socially distant required extensive planning, she said, including visiting on off-hours and scheduling visits where capacity is limited. Businesses seem to be taking precautions seriously, she said, and taking extra steps to look after their customers.  

“This year, there’s been no spur-of-the-moment stuff,” Suit said. She also avoids talking about plans with her daughter, to reduce the possibility of disappointment if things change. Her daughter misses activities at school and time with friends 

“Loneliness due to the pandemic is particularly tough on children,” reads a report posted to the website of the Mayo Clinic. “Compared with adults, kids tend to have a harder time communicating their feelings, and in this situation, kids can’t rely on familiar coping strategies, such as visiting with friends.” 

The virus had devastating impacts on families and communities, including a staggering loss of life nationally and globally and a battered economy. The Mayo Clinic suggests the social impact on children should not be discounted.  

Social distance protocols are important to prevent the virus’s spread, but the report says children need to feel connected and supported, as well.  

A list of holiday recommendations from the Child Mind Institute supported Suit’s method of careful planning, quoting a child psychologist stating that detailed plans allow everyone to get comfortable with the changes this year will bring, especially if they will be dramatically different than other years.  

Clear and pre-agreed ground rules can also help maintain distance, the report states. A wave to Grandma may not feel as emotionally satisfying as a hug, but if everyone agrees and understands before the visit, it may help keep people safe.  

Other recommendations include giving children a role in the planning process, listening to their input, and allowing them space to express disappointment at canceled trips or missed visits. The recommendations also suggest starting new traditions. 

There are things that Suit hopes remain in future years, including outdoor Christmas markets, in Wildwood and elsewhere.  

“That’s been awesome. It’s so cool. It would be great if it were to become an ongoing thing,” she said.  

Jim Ludgate, of Upper Township, said his young grandchildren were disappointed in some changes, but are happy about the coming holidays. A retired social worker who spent decades working in the Ocean City School District, he said families should make sure children feel supported and loved, but he would not worry too much about the long-term impact of the missed events and newfound isolation of 2020.  

“I don’t think this is going to leave scars. Children are very resilient. People are resilient,” he said.  

Still, he is looking forward to there being enough vaccine available for the general population, and a time when some of the strictures and anxiety of the “new normal” can be set aside.  

Anderson has the lights and decorations up inside, but he may not decorate outside this year. He’s found himself exceptionally busy, he said. Some neighbors have gone in the opposite direction as if trying to ensure a joyful time by the sheer magnitude of the displays.  

Another change this year: Rather than being distributed over several days in different places,  presents will be together, making a more impressive sight, he said.  

“All of the gifts will be under one tree. I guess that’s one of the virtues, he added. 

To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com. 

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