Among the many things in life that have been affected by the pandemic, my Christmases are one of them. Rather than whisking away to the winters of China to spend Christmas Day with family there, our first pandemic holiday last year was spent at home under the Philippines’ heat due to travel restrictions and COVID-19 surges. At that time, I was still taking online classes on a nocturnal schedule.
Even if we were not able to keep tradition last year, we were grateful that our extended family could still meet in Manila to exchange gifts, have dinner and celebrate the new year.
This year, however, I knew it would be different. As early as October, my family and I had decided that it would be much safer for me to remain in the U.S. for winter break rather than fly home. It was a reality that I had to come to terms with as finals finished and the semester drew to a close.
During our weekly FaceTime calls, I would try to convince my family to come to the U.S. for the holidays, but they consistently named COVID-19 as the reason they could not. Fortunately, I knew that I would still enjoy the break with my cousins, but I grappled with the thought that I would not see my family and friends from Manila for an extra six months.
However, little did I know that my family was secretly planning a last-minute Christmas surprise: flying to the U.S. to be together on Christmas Day! After spending Christmas Eve (Philippines Time) with my grandparents and cousins, they successfully made it to the U.S. on time on Christmas (Eastern Time), despite more than 20 hours of travel due to the differing time zones.
They kept the surprise well by texting the family group chat while they were on the plane and hiding photo evidence of their travels from me until I opened the door to see their arrival. Of course, my cousins also kept the day busy with opening presents and preparing Christmas brunch to distract me from the surprise.
So, instead of this column being a lamentation for a different Christmas, it will instead be a celebration of the simple joys that have comprised this past holiday season.
Even without the usual big fireworks and large holiday parties with extended family and friends, this holiday season was made even more special by the intimate moments that we all spent together as a family. From opening presents to cooking New Year’s Eve dinner and waiting for the Times Square Ball to drop, the week between Christmas and New Year’s — usually known for being monotonous — was made memorable. I was also particularly excited to give my younger brother a tour around campus when they dropped me off in Baltimore.
There’s something special about being able to come home and act like a child again when you are with your parents, the everyday pressures of independence and “adulting” melting away.
Though this Christmas was different from our family’s usual traditions due to COVID-19 and the winter season, we upheld our past family customs that usually occurred during the summer, which was when we typically visited our cousins in New Jersey. While pool days and bike rides to the park were replaced by snow days and hot chocolate nights at home, our usual movie marathons, Just Dance workouts and board game and Mahjong sessions remained the same.
Having both of our families all together and complete for the first time in almost four years made me especially excited to have my parents in New Jersey. It was heartwarming to see that the dynamics among my cousins remained the same, even if we only see one another for a few weeks at a time as we all grow older.
Though we are all at different stages in our life, forging our unique professional paths, it is comforting to know that we can always come home to find a bit of stability and comfort amid the world’s unpredictability.
This past Christmas — one that I never expected — will hold a special place in my heart. As my family dropped me off in Baltimore for the spring semester, it dawned on me that the time I will have to spend with them throughout the year will only lessen from here on out. College truly marks our transition into adulthood and the workforce.
However, it makes all of the moments spent together all the more special, as the temporary semblance of childhood during these times fills me with nostalgia for the past, gratitude for the present and excitement for the future.
Michelle Limpe is a junior from the Philippines studying Chemistry and Public Health. She is a Managing Editor for The News-Letter. In her articles, she likes to reflect on finding the silver linings in life to give meaning to her struggles.