Roads in Frostburg, MD were icy. In Jolly, Texas, the mood was somewhat depressed. Nevertheless, despite having a season full of challenges at every turn, by the time I arrived in Snowbird, Utah, it was clear that the holidays were in full swing.
After three months on the East Coast turned upside down by an epidemic to cover the final stretch of an election, it was time for the Long Drive home to Washington State. Leaving Pennsylvania, the campaign signs faded away, and the mood lightened. I drove through Bethlehem, NC, Antler, Okla and Garland, Texas, looking for weather signs, and stopping at holiday events in Ashville, NC, Memphis and Dallas.
The bloopup snowman boldly announces that Christmas is coming. The houses were wrapped in twinkling lights. In small towns, people took care of sick neighbors. Tourist sites, revered for their year-long festivities, found ways to open despite the epidemic. Living Nativity, Menorah Lighting and Holiday Music Review were excluded. People donated masks and were eager to get out and participate.
Whether with the help of generous donors or simply by force of will, Americans across the country were closing the festival with joy, faith and a new beginning.
At the show Low, Eries, Aaron Leach created a free performance with 42,000 dancing lights, music and videos, honoring emergency crews and veterans. “As a wildfighter myself, I know what it’s like for communities to risk my life,” he said.
Farther South, Glendale, Ariz. In, Rabbi Sholom Lew guarded the eight-foot manora in an empty parking lot for the drive-in Hanukkah celebration.
“However, it is dark outside,” he said, “if we just give it some effort, each of us can produce a little light and warmth in our lives.”
ASHEVILLE, NC – The Biltmore Estate, a gilted edge mansion in the North Carolina Mountains, typically receives about 400,000 visitors between November and January. This season, there will be fewer guests, but most of the 2,200 employees who were fake in March have returned to work.
Conover, NC – Veronica Sheryl was overwhelmed and ready for a big cry – a good cry, she said, not sadly. Her drive-through Living Nativity performance drew huge crowds on nine evenings, with power cuts in only one performance. The show featured half the congregation of Oxford Baptist Church, in which everyone was checked into the temperature before entering the building to go to the dress.
Ms Sherrill said she was humbled by its success, adding that the organizers decided to do it annually.
“A new tradition, born in Kovid,” she said.
NASHVILLE – The epidemic was the city’s second tragedy this year. In March a tornado ripped through, killing 25 people and causing extensive damage. Crossroads Campus, a nonprofit organization that provides shelter and services for both at-risk youth and animals, was hard-earned but timely recovered for its annual Santa Pav event. 26-year-old Alisha Soto came wearing a grinch dress. A self-described child of trauma, he was thrilled when he got a job there.
“Crossroads definitely have a way of healing you, whether you realize it or not,” she explained. “It has been a very dark year on so many fronts, and I am excited to turn the page, continue the healing process and make 2021 one of the best years ever. And just keep going. “
MEMPHIS – A forest and festival enchanted by a display of old mechanical Christmas figures and community decorated trees, is held annually at the Pink Palace Museum to raise money for La Bonheuer Childens Hospital.
“It won’t happen in the past, but we felt it was important to do it,” said La Bonhauer’s event coordinator Sarah Pfizer. There were fewer trees this year, but still enough to enjoy.
76-year-old Jack Shaffer, dressed as Santa, sat behind a round plexiglass shield, which he decorated like a snow globe, as he used to do with children. He would sometimes ask them to speak. “I can’t hear you through the glass,” he said.
Dallas – 12 Days of Christmas Days performed at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Visitors wander through playful carousel performances of lord-a-leaping and women’s dances, while children discover cats, owls and rabbits in scavenger hunts. Many of the guests were emergency workers and their families, courtesy of Dan Patterson, a donor from the Arboretum.
“People are suffering financially. Looking at the long lines of food banks on the front page of The Dallas Morning News, I remembered the Great Depression, and I thought, it just can’t happen here, “he said. “I am fortunate to be blessed with resources, and I want to make sure I share them.”
OKLAUNION, Texas – 240 miles between Santa Jolly and Nazareth, Texas is inhabited by everyone. Outside Robert Kimbrave’s farmhouse on Route 287, two female mannequins cut an old green convertible – wearing only Christmas bows and Santa hats – to a traffic stop. He jokingly said that at least one lakh people had photographed his annual performance over 20 years.
MAGDALENA, NM – In this dusty village near the Alamo Navajo Reservation, outside Winston Auto Service, employees shine lights on an old Dodge power wagon. The owner, Clara Winston, followed her with a single, waist-length gray braid, offering direction. Her husband insisted that she get a performance earlier this year. The region was hit hard by coronovirus, he said, and he “wanted to get everyone’s spirits.”
PHOENIX – The 31-year-old, Michelle Elias, stage manager for the Phoenix Theater Company, replaced the security compliance officer, the last to leave after “Unvirapped”, an outdoor holiday musical review. It was the company’s first production since March. Ms. Elias now oversees the artists’ health and the hygiene of the venue – taking temperatures, wiping dorknebs and laundering masks.
The company closed the day after a dress rehearsal of “Something Rotten”, an original musical comedy about the plague. He said that coronovirus vaccines have started coming out this month. “We are planning to do ‘something rotten’, once we can find 30 people singing in a room again. This will be the perfect end to this Kovid journey.”
Glendale, Eris. – Around sunset, a car carrying an eight-foot menorah entered a parking lot near the State Farm Arena. Rabbi Sholom Lew and his family set out to mount it before the drive-in Hanukkah celebration. As the other vehicles came along, Rabbi Lew pulled out a small wagon, handing out paper bags filled with donuts and lattes.
He said that after the prayer and more candles were lit, cars slowly pulled away and left the glowing menorah in the empty space.
At LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON, Utah – Snowbird Ski Resort, this season, visitors are limited. Social distancing and masks are required, with goggles, helmets and neck gear that most skiers wear. The tram ride is capped at 25, and the lift is cleaned with a spray gun after every other ride. The resort easily absorbs hundreds of thousands of skiers in most years. On this day, the summit was calm and blanketed by clouds.
Seat – Jessica Lovie, 36, was an intensive care unit nurse in 2009 when H1N1 hit. She remembers the relief when the stress of the flu was kept under control. When he first heard of coronovirus, he thought it would be similar. Instead, the epidemic consumed her life last year, she said.
As an observer of the testing sites, she was the first to have vaccinated Harborview Medical Center. “It’s still kind of real,” she said. “I didn’t realize how tense I was all year. It gives us hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”