It already denied people of the accustomed religious experiences of Easter, and the close family interactions of Thanksgiving, now the dreaded pandemic—COVID-19, is robbing them of the traditional celebratory joy of Christmas.
“How can we enjoy the usual joy and spirit of Christmas this year when every day we learn of hundreds more being sick and dying,” bemoaned 78-year-old Miramar resident and Caribbean American Greta Belnavis as she contemplated the approaching Christmas of 2020.
The Christmas Season, which for people from the Caribbean begins the first day of December and lasts until New Year’s Day in January, is a time of special joy and celebration, characterized by decorated homes, brightly lit Christmas trees, food and drinks galore, exchange of gifts, visits to homes of friends and relatives, and church services with lusty caroling, will not be the same this year.
“Most people, even doctors like myself, were hopeful when the coronavirus pandemic reached America last February that it would be under control by mid-year and people could resume their normal life. But we did not know much about the virus then. We are still learning today, and far from having the virus under control,” said West Kendall general practitioner Dr. Leopold Angus.
On Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) warned that at the current rate of COVID-19 infections some 330,000 Americans could die from the virus by Christmas Day, with cases approximating 20 million. Again, like over the Thanksgiving holiday, people are being warned to stay home over the Christmas holidays, not to travel to visit relatives and refrain from having visitors over at their homes.
This advice is totally contrary to the Christmas most Caribbean Americans know. Traditionally, Caribbean Americans travel home to the Caribbean than any other time of the year. Miami travel agent Winsome Ricketts said in her experience, “Every year since 2000 the period from December 20 to January 2 has seen the heaviest bookings by Caribbean Americans traveling to and from the Caribbean. This year, reservations are down some 74 percent. People are just not traveling home to the Caribbean this year.”
Actually, it isn’t easy to travel home to the Caribbean, or neighboring Canada. Canada continues to impose a travel ban on travelers from the U.S. to that country, and to travel to Caribbean countries like Jamaica, travelers must apply online for permission to travel, must be pretested and proven negative for COVID. Moreover, several Caribbean leaders are encouraging the Caribbean diaspora not to travel home this year. Those who persist in traveling home have been forewarned that strict curfews exist and they’ll not be able to enjoy the traditional celebration with house parties, and joyous visits with friends and relatives.
Thelma and Hugh Foster, Jamaican Americans living in Plantation, Florida, have traveled home for Christmas every year since 2013.
“Christmas just isn’t the same here in America like Jamaica. It’s just special in Jamaica. The mood, the music, the church services, the food, the love. We look forward to go home every year. We booked our tickets to go home this year from February. But we can’t go home this year. Even our own family in Jamaica don’t want us to come home because of COVID,” said Thelma.
“I guess we can greet one another through Zoom over Christmas,” said Trinidadian Vicky Mendez of Port St. Lucie, “But, Lord man, we can’t hug and touch the people we love and want to be with over Zoom. This will be a painful Christmas not able to visit home and be with those we love.”
“‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas,’ is my most popular Christmas song, looking forward to returning to Antigua for the Christmas holidays. This year, I will be truly home for Christmas, only it’s my Tamarac home,” quipped Monty Bird sarcastically.
Monica Dreyfuus, another Jamaican in West Kendall, has two married daughters living in Brampton, Canada. She said they had made plans from last year to be home with their families this Christmas but, because of COVID those plans are canceled. “I had made so many plans, especially to welcome my three grandchildren. Now I don’t even feel to put up the Christmas tree. It was for the kids. It will be a sad Christmas. Not even the Christmas music is bringing me joy this year.”
But, Rev. Muriel Lofters, a Methodist cleric in South Miami, said although some people are bemoaning that some of the Christmas traditions won’t be possible this year, they should be happy and thankful for two special gifts. “If they are healthy and alive on Christmas Day they must rejoice for the gifts of health and life. Many people across the world will not receive these gifts.”