28 November, Los Angeles, California, USA

By Ruth McKee

Typically, my neighbors give respect to each holiday, and wait to start decorating for the next one until the last one has passed. But this year, with us all still stuck in our homes, it seems no one could wait for Thanksgiving to pass before decorating for Christmas. Many people started hanging their lights weeks ago. In our house we waited, but this weekend, the minute Thanksgiving was over, we pulled out all the trimmings, including the extra things I bought last year when we hosted my husband’s whole family from Ohio. Lights, trees, stockings, all went up over the course of an afternoon, bedazzling our home in anticipation of the next break from routine.

The days are getting shorter. This evening, when I walk the dog before dinner, it is already pitch black outside. The streets are empty again, the way they were in April, but it’s not entirely clear whether people are starting to heed the new restrictions, or if it’s just the lull of the holiday weekend. This week we’ve seen a series of new measures come down in the city, as the virus surges out of control. First, restaurants were told to close their outdoor dining areas and move to take-out only. Then yesterday, they reduced capacity in retail businesses, and banned all social gatherings of people outside of their own households, starting Monday. But today was a beautiful sunny day and people were still milling about, picking up coffee and shopping with their friends, perhaps getting in one last visit. For my family, the only change will be the social one. No more masked meet-ups with the kids’ friends for hikes and bike rides, at least for the moment. But otherwise it seems we never really left the first lockdown.

I walk the dog up the street that leads to the hill by our house, so I can take in the view of the valley this evening. It’s quiet now, but somewhere out there the virus rages at levels we’ve never seen before. I have little hope that this shutdown will make a difference, we’re all entrenched in our behavior at this point, and people will keep doing what they’re doing until the virus comes to their door. The weeks ahead will be dark. The days are getting shorter. So many more people will die before this year is over.

A few years ago, my family spent a gray December in Indiana and I came to appreciate the necessity of celebrating the winter solstice. As the sun hid from sight a little more each day, I felt deeply the need to hang lights and mark the time until the sun would return, the way as a child we lit candles to mark the weeks of Advent. It’s dark now, getting darker still, but the light will return. In a few weeks, our health care workers will start receiving a vaccine. A few weeks after that, we’ll have a new government. I turn the corner towards my own home and can see from a distance all the lights I’ve hung, glowing in the night.