This Christmas holiday, many families have had to change their plans or even be separated as COVID-19 cases rise rapidly across the United States and many other countries around the world.
Like many international students at IU, sophomore Kushagra Vasishtha decided not to come to IU’s Bloomington campus this semester, having been home since March when campus shut down as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the U.S.
“I usually would have been in college at this time,” he said.
Vasishtha said now in the winter was normally the time when he and his family would catch up with local parties and festivals. When air pollution is high — which often is the case in northern India, where he lives, because of crop burning and the festive season — he and his family would travel abroad or sometimes spend time at the Goa Beach in southern India.
But this year, Vasishtha said his family would not be traveling as much over the Christmas holiday. He said they are worried about catching the coronavirus, and a few close friends of his have already fallen sick from it.
This year will be hard for Vasishtha, who normally would find time to catch up with his friends in India who he would only be able to see over this break. He said the excitement from reuniting with his good friends is not there this year. His parents and his brother will also not be with him during Christmas, since his mom is pursuing a master’s degree in Amsterdam.
Vasishtha will have the company of his girlfriend and his grandparents this year. Having to stay indoors means they will have more chances to bond with each other. It also means his grandparents will cook and feed him a lot of food, he said.
“As they say, ‘2020 has made us worry about the future but has also made us realize how valuable our present is,’” he said.
Junior Natalie Trachsel will also be missing members of her big military family this Christmas. Her cousin is stationed in Japan and her brother in South Korea, and neither are allowed to return home this winter.
“It is frustrating that we are not going to be able to have the whole family together in person, because I think the point of the holiday is to spend time with family and to reconnect,” she said. “And it definitely sucks to not be able to do that.”
All of Trachsel’s other siblings who are not in the military will still go home she said. Having to stay indoors to avoid infection will give them time to reconnect after a busy year. She said she can still talk to her brother and cousin in East Asia through mail and video chatting. Her family will still ice skate in the big pond in their backyard.
But many small things will not be the same this year. Her family will not be able to travel together. They won’t go out for a Christmas dinner this winter. Even Christmas shopping might be just a curbside pickup.
Some people might not go home at all over the entire Christmas season. A survey conducted in September by Travelocity.com, an online travel agency, found almost 60% of Americans wouldn’t be traveling to see friends and family this year.
Sophomore Reece Heald said that like at least five of his friends, he might not see his family in person this holiday and will stay in Bloomington rather than go back home to Indianapolis for the majority of his winter break. He also stayed in Bloomington over Thanksgiving break. He said he chose to do so because as a college student from a college town, he’s worried about passing on the coronavirus to his family.
“Some of my family are not in the greatest shape,” he said. “So just as a precaution, I’ll probably not go.”
Heald said this holiday will be a sadder version of Christmas than usual. Last winter right before he left for home, he held a Christmas party and played “secret Santa'' with his friends. He and his family would also make cookies and drop them off at nursing homes, but he said they might not have the chance to do so this year.
“Everyone seems kind of worn-down from classes and from always being kept inside,” Heald said. “At least earlier in the year you could hike and walk around, but now with it becoming colder, everyone’s staying inside and everyone seems sadder.”
What Heald will do, though, is spend the holiday break with his roommates and friends who won’t get to see their family. He said they had bought a cheap Christmas tree at Dollar General and they will have a Christmas dinner together.
“I’ve never really hung out with my friends during the holiday,” he said. “So it will definitely be interesting.”