The holidays are a time for people to reunite with friends and family, coming together to appreciate what we have during the dark winter months. However, as the coronavirus pandemic took over 2020 and created a new normal of social distancing, at-home working and economic issues, it can be hard to feel that same feeling of cheer that the month of December brings.
Nonetheless, members of Athens have found new ways to safely celebrate the holidays.
Ohio University student Kara Lee, a junior studying exercise physiology, celebrated her first socially distant Christmas. While she was only able to exchange gifts and visit in-person with her immediate family, she organized a Zoom video call in order to virtually visit with her extended relatives.
“It was weird to not see them in person, but we knew it was the best for everyone’s health,” Lee said in a message. “Things weren’t as traditional, but (we) still made the most of it!”
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (UUFA) of Athens has also been utilizing Zoom for their services since the pandemic initially hit in March. The congregation, which is “an eclectic group of people from various spiritual paths” as UUFA President Barb Harrison says, has become quite skilled at meeting through the video conferencing service.
“We have managed to navigate most technical issues,” Harrison said in an email. “The big downside is that participation is low. We meet every Sunday at 11 a.m. and had a special Christmas Eve service this past Thursday.”
Harrison emphasized that it is important for people to not take risks that could endanger the health of others, even during the holidays. Meeting through video chatting services, while different, still allows people to celebrate in a safe way.
“We hope and encourage our members and friends to stay safe,” Harrison said in an email. “We have found that meeting together during the pandemic creates community in a new way.”
Hillel, the center for Jewish life on the OU campus, organized a to-go dinner for the community and students of Athens on Friday, Dec. 11. Served on the second night of Hanukkah, this dinner included gifts of chocolate coins known as candy gelt, candles and dreidels and was followed by a Zoom candle lighting service.
Hillel Director Sarah Livingston said this event replaced the annual Hanukkah party, which usually consists of everyone bringing their menorahs to Hillel and participating in a lighting followed by treats, games and music. Livingston emphasized that this decision to move almost exclusively online meant putting the safety and health of our students and community first.
“All we can do at this point is pray for vaccines that work and safety precautions that help,” Livingston explained in an email. “We are hopeful for a future that involves hugging, dining together and having events and parties without masks that make everyone happy.”