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This week, First Person celebrates the joys of Christmastime.

Illustration by Heidi Berton

Since becoming an adult living outside the family nest, I’ve never, not even once, spent Christmas at home. I’m talking about the home I’m currently paying for every month. Ten years ago, my now-husband and I moved out of our parents’ houses and made our way to the big city: Montreal. That means that for the past decade, we (including our now five-year-old son) have hopped on a Via train and returned to our hometown of Gatineau to be with our families over the holidays. While the experience is sometimes reminiscent of a Chevy Chase movie, we generally enjoy the intense family bonding. But we always come back to Montreal completely depleted, staring blankly at a balsam fir we never had the chance to enjoy. We need a vacation from our Christmas vacation but not spending the holidays with our families has never been an option, until now.

Nobody is happy about the pandemic. It sucks. Many people have lost their livelihoods or loved ones because of this terrible outbreak. As for me, my hypochondriac tendencies resurfaced with a vengeance in March. My anxiety has been testing my resilience incessantly. I had a panic attack this fall. It hadn’t happened in years. Confined life in the era of COVID-19 hasn’t been easy, especially on my mental health (I know I’m not the only one). Nevertheless, I’m grateful to be safe at home with my husband and son. I know this isn’t the case for many folks. Many don’t have the option to work from home – health care workers, essential workers and first responders come to mind. We’ve heard time and time again how important it is to physically distance, wear a mask and wash our hands to help prevent the spread of the virus in our communities. This is why I won’t be home for Christmas this year. We’re staying put in Montreal. And I’m relieved.

Story continues below advertisement

Like most people, I’ve always associated the holidays with family reunions. I’ve also associated the most wonderful time of the year with excess drinking, constant bloating and going to bed way past my bedtime. I view this coming holiday season as an opportunity to try something new: Christmas on my own terms. So what does that entail, exactly? There will be no stress-packing two-weeks’ worth of clothes. No train ride that ends with my child throwing up a cream cheese bagel. No late nights. I’ll maybe have a glass of wine, but that’s it. I assure you: I’m not being a Grinch. I’m in my 30s. I can’t drink like I used to and I really value my sleep. Especially with a young child running around the apartment. When Dec. 25 rolls around, my husband and I won’t be exerting ourselves in the kitchen all day to cook a special meal. It has been decided: We’re ordering takeout.

I’m looking forward to not feeling like I’m seven-months pregnant on New Year’s Eve. I’m delighted at the thought of wearing jogging pants while watching a Schitt’s Creek marathon. Maybe I’ll throw on a blonde wig and pretend I’m a loungewear-donning Moira Rose. I’m especially happy that Santa will be stopping by our place for the first time. What a treat! I’ve already thought about the logistics of living in a fireplace-less apartment: Santa comes through the dryer vent.

I’m aware that our decision won’t necessarily be met with open arms. Our families will probably be disappointed. We’ve never been apart on Christmas morning. My son has always spent the holidays with his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. While I like the idea of switching it up in Montreal this year, I know deep down I’ll yearn to be with my loved ones. I can already feel the pinch of sorrow in the pit of my stomach. I’ll probably shed some tears and wonder why we made this decision in the first place. But I also know I’ll come back to my senses pretty quick. I know what’s at stake. As the daughter of two ER nurses, I have nothing but respect and admiration for health care workers. I don’t feel compelled to come up with creative solutions to circumvent public-health rules either. I just don’t think I could – nor should – participate in a big family reunion. Not when we have superheroes putting their life and their family’s lives at risk to care for patients in need.

In the wise words of Mariah Carey, “I don’t want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need.” All I want is for this wretched virus to go away. Since I don’t have control over that, I’ll be doing my part to protect health care workers, my parents, my in-laws and extended family this year.

I have no clue what 2021 has in store. I don’t know when this COVID-19 nightmare will be over. Will there be a vaccine available? Will I have another pandemic-induced panic attack? Will I wear something other than jogging pants ever again? There are a lot of unknowns. What I do know for sure, is that we will reunite with our families one day. Until then, I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

Michelle Béland lives in Montreal.

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

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