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Well, Thanksgiving is in the books. Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa are next up and then New Year’s, the day we can hit the imaginary reset button and make the next 365 days better than the last 365 days. 2019 served as our last year of full holiday traditions, I guess. What I mean to say is that, by the end of 2020 things had calmed down, but confidence was low for a larger set of the population and big holiday gatherings seemed to be out of reach. Indeed, a strange time, but also a good time. It forced us to refocus and realign our priorities. We were forced to remember the value of family and friends and focused less on the commerce piece. The true meaning of being philanthropic and kind really bubbled back to the surface for 2020 and 2021. But, as Americans, we have short attention spans, and as 2022 draws to a close and all of those holiday traditions aren’t the stretch, like they were for the last 24 months, we’re back to our old habits.

The simplicity of the season is what it used to be about. In my day, there was no such thing as Black Friday, Cyber Monday or even a Small Business Saturday; there were sales, but not the marketing tsunami there is now. We just went out and purchased gifts for the ones we loved and the friends we held dear to our hearts. Sometimes we simply got together with holiday parties and gatherings where not a single present was exchanged. There is a pressure that gets applied around this time of the year and, yes, socioeconomics will play a huge part in that pressure. Obviously, if you don’t struggle financially then your pressure is less than someone who struggles to make ends meet. Societal pressure can be enormous and firmly place someone into a holiday funk. But only if you buy into it, and I understand that I’m drawing with a very broad brush and not everybody is seeing what I’m seeing or feeling. But it’s out there, it exists.

My wife and I were talking just the other day about one of the purest and more organic holiday gatherings we had. It was on I-95 in New Haven, Connecticut; it was the Christmas of 2020. New Haven was roughly the center point for all my family, and we decided to get together a few days prior to Christmas. It was to be our COVID family gathering. Folks were still wary about gathering, but we agreed to socially distance and take a run at it. After all, we’ve never not spent the holidays together in some way and something like a pandemic wasn’t going to interrupt that! We met at a place called Food Truck Paradise; if you’ve ever driven on I-95 through New Haven before heading south you can’t miss it: it’s a mile of food truck after food truck along the New Haven Harbor waterfront. We brought folding chairs and soft drinks, my wife packed some snacks, and we bought Christmas dinner (closer to lunch actually) from places that sold tacos, pizza and ribs. We sat in a circle freezing our butts off and loving every minute. We exchanged gifts, my wife broke the rules and hugged the grandchildren (so did I) and an hour and half later we were heading back to our respective homes.

In 2019 we would have thought that to be the worst way to spend a holiday together. But 2020 made us refocus and realize that 90 minutes together and some street food could be pretty amazing. I don’t want to ever experience a pandemic again, but I do want to hold onto some of the things it taught us, or at least me. I don’t know if the impact of that Christmas holiday holds the same feeling for all of those that attended, but I do know that the shear simplicity of it, the raw nature of the gathering, forced us to focus on the things that were the most important: each other. So, I guess as we prepare to take on the holiday season once again, we need to find our way back to a place where cherishing each other will always be more important than any gift purchased.

Peter “Fish” Case is a man with an opinion. He offers up a weekly podcast discussion that can be heard at www.theearspoon.com. Questions, compliments and complaints can be sent to him at fish@theearspoon.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.