Home for the Holidays: Teachers’ Plans for the 2020 Holiday Season

A look into how Stuyvesant teachers are spending their holidays.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Sophia Li

Whether it’s decking the house with festive colors, gathering with family, or having the week off from school, nearly everyone has something to look forward to as the holiday season comes around. But, as with everything else, the pandemic is changing the way people will celebrate the 2020 holiday season.

The holiday break means many things: a time to make memories, reflect on the year, and, above all, be in the presence of our loved ones. But this year, Stuyvesant teachers are prioritizing their family’s safety by staying inside their homes and, for many, outside of New York. Music teacher Harold Stephan, who has been staying with his family up in the Catskills, emphasized, “The biggest thing for us is just [to] get through this [...] healthy and alive and ready for 2021.”

Math teacher Andrew Wille also explained, “I’ve been trying to find ways both in school and [in my family to maintain] certain aspects of the in-person interactions while understanding that it’s just the responsible thing for us to make some necessary changes right now.” This reality means that long-held traditions and some of the usual holiday activities will have to be altered. “Normally, my wife and I host Thanksgiving in New York for our families,” Wille described. “We get 10 or more people into a tiny New York apartment and crowd around. It really makes the Thanksgiving table overflow with food because [there are] just too many people in a small apartment. That’s kinda the fun of it.” Of course, Wille and his family weren’t able to do so this year.

For English teacher Ellis Staley, this year marks a big change, putting an end to a long-held tradition. “This will be the first year in 40 years of my life that I’ve not been with my parents for Christmas,” he remarked. “I don’t feel glad. I feel sad. I would much rather be with my family this year.” Stephan echoed similar disappointments, noting that he and his family will not visit Florida, where his mother and sister reside, or spend time at Club Med on Port St. Lucie, an all-inclusive vacation spot with interactive activities for his kids, deeming both to be too big a risk for this year.

Similarly, many teachers will not be able to partake in religious ceremonies that characterize the holidays. In an e-mail interview, history teacher David Hanna explained, “Every year, we go to the Episcopal (Anglican) Church in the town we live in for Christmas morning services. It's the only time we go to church all year. This year, I don't know if we'll be going. [In] fact, I don't know if services will even take place in person.” Though he is not able to enjoy Christmas as he usually does, Hanna still plans to enjoy the holidays with his family. “We'll have a tree, and we'll wrap gifts and put them under it. I got my younger son (who's an artist) some Bob Ross socks, and I think he'll really dig them,” he described.

Hanna isn’t the only one reflecting on the uncertainty of these times. Wille is also unsure of how he is going to celebrate Chiristmas. With the school schedule constantly changing, “It’s just unclear what’s going to happen,” he said.

With many beloved activities being canceled, technology is playing a very meaningful role in bridging the gap between families this holiday. “Because my wife is Jewish, we’d [normally] be getting together with friends from her side for Hanukkah, and then we’d be doing similar things on my side for Christmas,” Stephan continued. “[This year,] we’ll use Zoom to visit our family and friends. [We] look forward to meeting with the family virtually and experiencing some of their joy that way.”

In fact, Wille has already organized a new virtual family tradition to celebrate Thanksgiving. Normally, Wille’s son bakes a Thanksgiving pie with his grandmother. This year was, of course, different: “They were unable to do it in person, so the day before […] they had a Zoom call together where they each made a pie,” he recalled. And then on Thanksgiving Day, the whole family ate the pie together, virtually of course. “We sort of shared eating the pie together, so it was a way of [having] something in common with family members and loved ones even though we weren’t physically in the same space,” Wille said.

Wille acknowledges that social isolation does not only take a toll on younger children: “I think it’s difficult for a lot of people. I see it with my students in class,” he said. “I think the adults and teachers miss [physical interactions] as well.”

Despite the lack of interactions and the inability to travel, Stephan and Staley have both found some silver linings during the upcoming holidays. Staley explained, “My wife and I have talked about this; it’s kind of nice to do things on your own, with your own family, and kind of have a smaller celebration.”

Stephan sees the situation through a similar lens; he will just enjoy the company of his immediate family and anticipates the quality time with them. He’s also grateful for the extra time to create music. “I have a lot of synthesizers and [lots] of guitars and my basses, and everything’s laid out so I can make music,” he added. “I get to make more music than I would have.”

Plus, both Stephan and Staley have time to focus on sprucing up their homes to continue the holiday spirit. “We got a tree, we’re getting more decorations, and you know, just trying to get it a little more festive than usual here in the apartment because [...] we can’t go out and be festive in the world,” Staley commented.

Along with decorations, gift-giving is another integral part of the holiday season. For that tradition, technology continues to be the way to go now more than ever. “Amazon is an amazing website, and you can send whatever you want to anyone in a couple of days,” Wille commented with a chuckle. “I would much rather be able to shop locally, but it is something that I will probably be using a little bit this year.”

In an e-mail interview, English teacher Lauren Stuzin also explained the need to find the perfect gifts for the people in your life, albeit remotely. They wrote, “Call me Odysseus, but I think gifts are a special way of making someone feel welcomed, loved, and cared for.”

This year has brought on an onslaught of challenges, but at the end of the day, it’s all about making the best out of it. Both Staley and Stephan mentioned they will be looking forward to all the things they plan to do this holiday season. So even if there won’t be any holiday shopping in the city or cooking a meal with your family in the same kitchen this year, Wille offered a word of encouragement: “Just [find] what matters the most and embrace that, even if [your] traditions look a little bit different.”