Op/Ed

Jessie Raymond: OK, I miss our Christmas party

I started my holiday vacation — by which I mean “not working” as opposed to “traveling” — a week ago. I’ve already lost track of what day it is, a sensation I don’t usually feel until the no-man’s-land between Christmas and New Year’s. Then again, this entire year has upended my sense of time.
Normally, Mark and I would have held our annual Christmas shindig last weekend. While we lean antisocial, the Christmas party is a celebration we look forward to every year. Many friends and family members we haven’t seen since summer drop in (and as hosts, we don’t have to drive home in the cold).
In my mind, it’s a glittery, classy gathering in which jazzy holiday music plays in the background, glassware clinks and guests mingle throughout the house. In reality, it’s just 40 people crammed into the kitchen shouting over one another, because that’s how our crowd rolls.
This was the first time in close to 30 years we’ve canceled the party. Nowadays, the mere thought of being in a room with 40 people causes me to break out in pandemic hives, but I miss the days when we could spray saliva droplets at each other with holiday abandon.
Those were good times.
Instead, I spent the weekend working on painting and decorating the dollhouse that Mark built for our grandchildren.
To pass the time while painting, I put on stupidly idyllic holiday romance movies. I love how, for instance, at the small-town Christmas dance — where the city girl who has returned to her home up north for the holidays runs into her hunky high-school sweetheart, the one who broke up with her over a silly misunderstanding 10 years earlier — all the ladies are wearing sequined, sleeveless dresses and three-inch heels.
As a woman who actually lives up north, I like imagining a December in which I bare my arms for anything other than a hot shower and walk through snow in shoes that don’t have Thinsulate linings. How magical.
While the girl in the movie rekindles her romance during a sleigh ride — still in heels — I’m hunched over the kitchen table in an old sweatshirt, squinting into the dollhouse to check for paint drips. 
Painting the poorly lit interior has challenged my eyesight; the back walls are just out of reading glasses range. I can fit my head inside the house, but then everything is too close, and I risk COVID-testing myself with the pointy end of my artist’s brush.
I won’t have time for all the features I had planned. The faux marble countertops will stay a solid color. And there will be no frescoes in the dining room or individually painted floor boards.
Instead, I’m focusing on the family of felted-wool mice who will live in the house. As my needle-felting skills improve, the newer mice are looking more sophisticated, yet they’re still rustic enough that the lack of marble countertops shouldn’t bother them.
Most of the time the coffee table, scattered with not-yet-joined mouse parts, looks like our welcome mat after the cat has had a busy night — but in a cuddly sort of way, with no entrails.
Work on the mouse project continues around the clock. Between that, winter at this moment and 2020 in general, I’ve lost all sense of routine. I typically walk the dog in the woods daily, but not when it’s in the teens. (You know the rugged outdoorsy type? I’m the rugged indoorsy type.)
I usually exercise in the living room each morning, but when it’s cold and dark outside, and the wood stove is just feet from where I drink my coffee, it seems reckless to leave the kitchen.
And if the pandemic switch to working from home didn’t derail my eating habits, the holidays have. I’m baking just as many cookies as always, but no one is stopping by to eat them, so it’s mostly up to me.
The holidays have amplified all the weirdness of 2020. I like being alone, so I struggle less with the social restrictions of COVID-19 than with the disorienting lack of normalcy. 
Even as a loner, however, I’m looking forward to next December, in the hopes that I can once again cram into my kitchen with 40 people shouting over one another.
That really will be a merry Christmas.

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