Why I won't let omicron ruin my first holiday season as a New Yorker
Electricity courses through New York City once December hits, almost as if it’s crackling through the air. You can see it as people break out their scarves and mittens and join arms as they galavant down the avenues and streets. You can see it in the crumpled brown shopping bags they carry full of presents, wine and gifts to bring to holiday parties. It’s especially evident inside the bars and restaurants, where there's palpable excitement as the holiday season gets underway.
But this year, it’s as if someone flipped a switch and the circuit was broken.
This was supposed to be a story about enjoying the holidays in the city for the first time as a resident. Sure, I’ve seen New York City during the holiday season before, but living here is entirely different. You become a part of the city when you live here. It's like a living, breathing being that thrives on the energy of its inhabitants.
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On Wednesday, Dec. 15, I skated at Rockefeller Center and enjoyed holiday tea at The Plaza — my first time doing both. I smiled to myself as I walked along Fifth Avenue, taking in the Christmas decorations and window installments. I really am living my dream. But as I write this, the state of New York is posting record-shattering COVID-19 numbers, with a huge number of them coming from the city.
The atmosphere in the city shifted almost overnight.
The mood was eerie throughout Thursday, Dec. 16. Soon, more and more people I knew were either getting tests due to potential exposures or canceling plans for the weekend. I fell into the latter group. COVID-19 testing lines stretched down sidewalks.
While the city is home to millions of people, it’s very easy to feel alone. Add precautionary isolation, and the feeling pervades all aspects of life. I wasn’t here during the first devastating wave of COVID-19 in 2020, but I no longer have to guess what it was like.
When I think back on tea at The Palm Court at The Plaza while eating macaroons and caviar on a tiny, perfect cracker or ice skating with the giant tree towering over me as I circled the tiny rink, it all seems so frivolous. But now as the reality sets in about what this winter might look like, I'm holding closer to those moments of happiness.
When I think back to Rockefeller Center and the couple twirling in the middle of the rink, I realize it’s the people that make New York City holidays so special.
People emerge from their cramped apartments and join together for Broadway shows and ugly sweater parties and karaoke. That’s why COVID-19 is so disruptive; it forces us into isolation and away from the life that exists out in the open on the streets of New York.
COVID-19 has disrupted many things for me: my college graduation, moving to the city, spending time with friends and family and countless other things. But it has also instilled in me a deep determination to enjoy this life, despite the challenges that COVID-19 has posed.
My first holiday season was merry in the city, and I refuse to remember it any other way. Instead of focusing on what I didn't do, like venturing into Christmas-themed bars and wearing an ugly sweater to a gathering with friends, I'm choosing to focus on what I did do and how it made me feel. Walking along 5th Avenue and window shopping with my sister was a full-circle moment; it represented all of the work that I had done to get to NYC.
I finally feel like a part of it; it's as if I'm a conductor for the wonderful energy that surges through the city. Despite the challenges this season continues to present, I'm still aglow with it.