I was thinking about starting to write this piece when I got a notification to my phone, from one of the few apps whose notifications I still have on: are your priorities today different than they were a year ago? Well, of course they are, now that you ask. In the middle of everything going on right now, it felt rare to stop and actually think about things in terms of where they might have been a year ago. Even though places all over the world have come to a standstill at one time or another throughout 2020, there has been no significant respite from the relentless pace of modern living. Perspective feels so hard to come by, because, well… How do you put a year like this in perspective? Seriously?

Want ideas on what to read, watch, and listen to at home during this strange holiday season? Check out our recommendations from our Layover series.

From quarantine fatigue to vitriolic elections and the brain fog in-between them, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that life feels really out of focus of late, like I’m sitting in a half-lit room. I still go about the daily rhythms of work, play, relax (even if they each now take place in my home), having now at least half-adapted to our new normal, but there are plenty of times when I wonder why. Why the five-day work week? Why is Election Day still not a national holiday, in a freaking pandemic? Even if things aren’t all bad, why don’t they feel more different in a year that’s so different? I don’t have the answers to these things, but I could, maybe — we all could. We just have to get comfortable with uncertainty, and with the possibility of great change, in degrees.

ice skating rink at rijksmuseum amsterdam

Queue the holiday season, a time of year that’s already a source of stress and touchy subject for so many. Whether you’re 18 or 35, close to your family or not, you might feel obligated to see people you otherwise wouldn’t and put your life on hold to do so, all in the name of tradition.

For young people like myself, this year might the first time that we don’t spend some or any of the holidays without our closest family members, in whatever place our family considers “home.”

This is something that occurs naturally in the course of one’s life as we start to develop traditions of our own, whether with friends or a family we’ve started ourselves — but there’s nothing natural about having to make the sort of calls we have to this year. We may have wrestled before with whether or not to travel, but this is different.

If you arrive at the decision not to head home, but still dread having that conversation with the relevant people, know this: it’s okay to believe in something on principle, and believe it fervently, while still having some misgivings about actually standing on that principle. While it’s perfectly possible that another round of lockdowns arrives, for now, it looks like a lot of decisions around activity levels, socializing, and traveling are in our hands. And if you’re like me, you might feel like you’ve got about a thousand other things going on…  You don’t exactly want to add “disappoint my family” to the top of your to-do list. But there are any number of directions you can take this potential conversation, and it’s worth thinking about how it might go beforehand — I would recommend this comprehensive VICE article that might help you find some of the words.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m really going to miss not having my grandmother’s fudge at a time of year made for comfort food, and indulging in a Christmas Eve trip to the pub with everyone else in the town where my family lives. I’m really tempted to say that the situation isn’t fair, when I know that with better preparation, leadership, and other things that were entirely out of my hands, the impact of the pandemic on our holiday season might have been less severe. Try to keep in mind that your older family members will feel this especially strongly. Time is more of the essence for them, to put it in the simplest terms! At 24 years old, it sucks, but I can afford to lose a year of doing things normally.

When you really have roots down and traditions established, something that I’m sure most people my age eventually want, cancelling a holiday season might be harder to take in stride than just saying “oh well, next year.”

So yes, like it says in the headline of this article, it’s okay not to go home for the holidays. Whatever decision you eventually come to, here are some things to consider and, potentially, to take heart in:

  • If you didn’t like the holidays to begin with — because you eat plant-based and don’t want to eat turkey or spend the energy dodging all the questions about it, because you don’t like drinking quite as much as everyone else likes to, or because otherwise you don’t feel entirely welcome in a place that’s supposed to be “home” — you have a chance this year to curate a space and experience for you to authentically exist, without any judgment or need to explain yourself.
  • We already know that travel puts a massive strain on the planet. If you have always wanted to be more eco-conscious about your travels, but haven’t been able to develop a carbon-neutral or carbon-negative plan for holiday travel in the past, this year is a time to take a step back and prepare for when you feel comfortable resuming travel.
  • While you should absolutely relax and practice self-care throughout the holiday season, if you find yourself with extra time on your hands, this might be an opportune time to push for change and provide for those of our neighbors who are often forgotten in the cold of winter. Follow the example of young Manchester United soccer player Marcus Rashford, who successfully lobbied the UK Parliament to provide winter meals for homebound children missing out on school lunch. Volunteer at a homeless shelter if it is safe, write to your representatives about increasing your city or state’s budget for homeless and mental health services, and take an angel or two from a Salvation Army angel tree.
  • Even if you manage to travel safely and make it home without getting a single person sick, it’s likely that the journey and your time spent with family is overshadowed by anxiety around the pandemic — health and safety measures may mean it’s still not possible to observe some of your favorite traditions, even if you are together.
  • The science is on your side, and institutional change cannot happen without individual change and leadership. Whether another lockdown comes, or you just do your part by wearing a mask and encouraging others to do the same, knowing that you are playing a part to stop the spread. Missing out on the holidays, though it’s not a situation we wanted to find ourselves in, may help us to the other side — a time when a vaccine is readily available.

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Joseph Ozment
Originally from Tennessee, Joseph Ozment is a writer and musician whose relationship with travel was shaped by growing up between the Southern U.S., Wales, and Hong Kong. So far, he's written for a newspaper in Russia, released a handful of home recordings, and started a novel (with plans for more, someday). When he's not busy running country roads or cheering on Liverpool FC, he's most likely making the next cup of coffee, or plans for the next trip.