Baby, there's covid outside

Where Are You, Christmas?

Yes, this Houston holiday season is going to be different, but all is not lost.

By Craig Hlavaty December 1, 2020 Published in the December 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Jess Suttner

 It’s admittedly a stretch to claim that our hometown becomes a stereotypical Hollywood-style holiday wonderland each winter. We all know there (probably) won’t be snow. You can end up getting a very un-jolly sunburn putting up your Christmas lights one day and shuddering in the cold during your buddy’s annual backyard shindig the next. There’s nothing Bing Crosby about it.

But Houston has its charms during the holidays—we know how to roll out the good cheer and glad tidings. Our extravagant lawn decorations run the gamut from the tasteful, wattage-sucking resplendence of River Oaks to the beloved Outlaw Biker Santa Claus in Deer Park. Homemade tamales become a part of our daily balanced diet, and pie leftover from the office holiday party becomes a breakfast staple. We may not have sleigh rides, but we keep things festive by blasting 99.1 in our cars from November on. Essentially, we are well versed in keeping Christmas, Houston-style.

Although the 2020 holidays (like everything else) are going to look unlike any we’ve ever lived through before, they’ll also be more important than ever. After months of mental and physical distance, we need to extract every iota of joy and light out of this particular winter. To help you make the most of it all, we’ve put together a rundown of what to expect:

The Galleria will still be insane.

Houston-kind can be relied on to pack ourselves into the Galleria and Memorial City and every other shopping center in town from Black Friday on. This year isn’t likely to be much different, aside from the required face masks and the reality of the economic fallout from Covid-19 that H-Towners are still dealing with.

Although most of our budgets will be tighter this year, accept that hunting for the right gift for your mom is still going to mean zigging and zagging around other people on that same mission—albeit hopefully with everyone giving each other a berth of six feet or more.

And not only will the shoppers still be there, but you know parents will still find a way to terrify small children with a visit to a mall Santa—even if Mr. Claus has to sport full, festively colored PPE and be sanitized by his elves after every encounter.

Our office parties will go virtual.

The pandemic has brought a few upsides—no hunting for parking throughout Downtown on a Saturday night? Who’d have thought? Holiday office parties, where company bigwigs splurge on a Tex-Mex buffet and a margarita machine, may be heavily scaled back or virtual, if they happen at all.

This may not immediately sound like a plus, but remember that this will save you from slogging miserably through your miles the next day as you prepare for the Houston Marathon (which has also gone virtual). You’ll also avoid that wonderful moment when you’ve had enough wine to think you really need to sing “Mele Kalikimaka” on karaoke and dedicate it to your coworkers.

Counterpoint: Is anyone else dreading Zoom-only White Elephant parties, assisted through the magic of online shopping?

We’ll pour one out for our favorite (canceled) events.

The Nutcracker Market, that chardonnay-soaked cacophony of shopping dotted with multigenerational groups wearing matching reindeer sweaters, was moved online, and the Houston Ballet’s Nutcracker is not happening at all. There will be no crowding into Jones Hall to savor the vocal gymnastics of the Houston Symphony Chorus, as their annual rendition of Handel’s Messiah will have to be deferred until another, less infectious time as well.

Can we get the same festive feeling attempting to ice-skate at Discovery Green while sporting a Rudolph-themed face mask and trying to stay the CDC-suggested distance away from all the other people trying desperately not to break their ankles? There’s no telling on that one. We’ll just have to wait and see. Sigh.

Our lights and decorations will be the best ever.

Thousands of watts and thousands of lights have a way of making the season a little brighter for even the most hardened holiday hater, especially in Houston. It’s a treat to have ’hoods, from Pearland’s Green Tee Terrace to the South Side’s Scott Terrace, that transform into winter wonderlands each December. It’s hard to explain the pleasure those lights bring to snub-nosed kids in the backseat of the family Suburban, drinking hot chocolate spiked with broken pieces of candy canes, particularly in the lean years when an oil bust or a hurricane whipping through town meant Christmas would be tight. This year Christmas lights will double down as the best pandemic-year tradition: it’s free, and you don’t need to leave your car to enjoy.

We, personally, are also the types to go wild with the decorations at our own homes, and we suggest that you do the same. Buy that corny inflatable reindeer. Splurge on another strand of lights and the Baby Yoda sporting a Santa hat. Deck your tree with so much tinsel it looks like a Christmas elf attacked it, and set that sucker in a window. Even the most half-ass display can make a heart shine, and there’s seldom been a time when we’ve needed that more.

We’ll reconnect with our loved ones.

Admit it, you’ve missed them. As you sit at home wrapping packages while Buddy the Elf drinks a gallon of maple syrup or Ralphie covets a small firearm, take a moment to enjoy the fact that you’re here, in this town, in this moment. And then let that gratitude shape the rest of your holiday season.

Bicker with your cranky uncle about the election results if that’s your thing, but also put down your phone, and your defenses, long enough to appreciate everyone around you. Take the time to recognize how lucky you are to have the people (and animals) in your life that make up your family.

And we’ll give back.

Smile a bit more. Make someone laugh. Wear the Santa face mask. Wave to a stranger as you jog past them on your daily run. Hug your loved ones tighter than you ever have, if you can. Don’t miss any chance to do some good (head to our feature on giving back, p. 91, for some good charitable options), and wrest some peace, love, and, yes, joy from this holiday season. Then keep it going beyond December 25, making the world a little better whenever and wherever you can. But we really don’t have to tell you any of this: As a people, at this point, Houstonians are pros at making the best of things in even the most demanding times.

Here’s us wishing on the ISS flying overhead that the holidays in 2020 lay down a fresh coat of hope for our future.