You deserve it. You've survived almost two years of a global pandemic and done everything in your power to take good care of yourself and your family and your larger community, all during a surge in stress, meanness, white supremacist violence, basic Karen-ing, economic hardship, unnecessary bad vibes, and rants about the government infecting people with magic octopi. Good onya, champion! You made it this far! Last year's holiday season was sketchy and filled with family drama (or isolation from family), but this year's doesn't have to be. This year, everyone ages 12 and up (without medical conditions that preclude them from gaining immunity via a vaccine) has had a chance to get fully vaccinated by Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. And everyone ages 5 and up (without those medical exceptions) has a chance to get fully vaccinated by Christmas. Pregnant and breastfeeding parents who get vaccinated can even confer immunity to their little ones in the womb or via breastmilk. How wonderful!
I have an appointment for a booster shot this afternoon. How about you?
This year, everyone of sound mind and heart has earned the right to celebrate the holidays without any toxic behavior at the table. Sometimes taking some more time and space away from a person who has become a zombie for internet conspiracies, or who has any other reason for voluntarily choosing to be dangerous to their own family, is the kindest response for everyone involved. This year, let's put people whose vulnerabilities aren't their own fault first--babies and toddlers, the elderly, and immunocompromised loved ones.
Setting a healthy boundary isn't a punishment, and it doesn't ever ruin a viable relationship, because mutual relationships exist between people who respect each other's right to healthy boundaries. Setting a healthy boundary does not injure the sufferer of a conspiracy or a dangerous compulsion or addiction. In fact, enabling that person to continue without consequences can harm them because it rewards and reinforces an avoidance of healing. It doesn't help that person get better. If you aren't ready to sever a relationship with a conspiracy sufferer completely, you can draw strong boundaries of safety while offering to keep in touch via video chat or meet with them briefly under physically safer conditions such as outdoors, distanced, and masked. If it's a big old drag to accommodate someone in these ways who is not interested in accommodating you, it is fair to bid them farewell until and unless they decide to put in the effort to earn back your time and energy in a way that is truly respectful to you.
I feel extremely fortunate that every living member of my mother's side of the family, in all four generations, agrees on the reality of the pandemic and the importance of vaccination, regardless of diverse political leanings. That means I can look forward to a smallish gathering of local family for Thanksgiving, when my daughter will be the only attendee who is not yet fully vaccinated, and then a larger gathering of four generations of fully vaccinated family for Christmas. What a relief!
Not everyone is so fortunate. Even in families that aren't arguing about magnetic microchips, there may be high risk individuals due to medical conditions or age. In those families, within areas of severe community spread, it is still unsafe to mix two or more households containing those more-at-risk individuals.
Some celebrations will be smaller, centering the needs of those who have truly been left behind without good options during this whole pandemic and who really could benefit from an extra helping of in-person company and care. Fortunately, we have all had time and opportunities to learn some creative ways to gather safely with everyone in our lives who we can still trust with our safety and our children's safety. (Honestly, that should be the bar we set for family gatherings regardless of whether there is a pandemic happening.)
Some people are having Friendsgivings to honor chosen connections that have nothing to do with biological obligation and everything to do with shared values and interpersonal respect and care.
Some people in fair climates are managing outdoor events to mitigate risk.
Some people are volunteering to feed those who don't have their own homes or families to share holidays with.
Some people are delivering home-cooked meals to those who simply cannot leave the safety of their home right now. Sometimes a porch drop of a green bean casserole or a pie can go a long way to nourish the soul as well as the body of someone experiencing loneliness and isolation for reasons truly outside of their control.
This year, we get to do what is right and healthy and good for ourselves and our children--by focusing on those who have shown us that we can trust them and that we can love them within a healthy, safe, mutually respectful relationship.
This year, we can finally get vaxxed and relaxed with the family and friends we have missed over the past couple of years. Together, we can toast to our shared relief and give thanks for modern medicine and all the good, strong, beautiful people who have sustained us over these hard two years by taking good care of themselves and others, no matter what.
Jean Michelle Miernik is the author of Leirah and the Wild Man: A Tale of Obsession and Survival at the Edges of the Byzantine World.