Hey, 2020, don’t let the door hit ‘cha on the way out!
Should auld acquaintance be forgot? – You bet, if we’re talking about the year that brought us COVID-19, economic hardship, social isolation, deferred plans and dreams and the loss of thousands of warming smiles behind face masks.
Yet, it seems, no matter how dark the shadow that the pandemic casts, Virgin Islanders will refuse to let it block out the celebrations that traditionally mark the passage from one year to the next.
That was the unmistakable conclusion drawn from a highly informal and utterly unscientific survey conducted recently by this reporter in anticipation of New Year’s.
Three questions were asked: How will you celebrate and how is that different from the usual? What’s the menu? What do you wish for the new year?
Things will be “very different” for Alani Henneman-Todman, Tourism spokeswoman, who said she’ll be staying close to home and avoiding formal gatherings.
Retired St. Thomas teacher Carmen Dennis said she and her husband, former senator Hugo, will be “home alone” this year.
“Usually we go to St. Croix where we receive the new year with a group of friends … Everybody brings something. We party and eat all night.”
The year gone by was not only about the pandemic for Caroline Fawkes. As supervisor of Elections, she faced an unusually busy election year, that included implementing new protocols because of the virus. She’s ready for a break and said her celebration won’t be much different from the usual which is always “simple/joyful with family.”
Hadiyah Charles, the deputy commissioner for the Health Department, said she normally celebrates “big” – making the rounds of various parties. But this year she’s being cautious and observing health guidance. She’ll ring in the new year “with a few close friends, of course, while observing a six-foot distance.”
“We usually go out and meet up with friends, often ending up on a beach at midnight,” said Renata Platenberg, assistant professor of natural resource management at the University of the Virgin Islands, who is well-known for her work with frogs and bats. “Or, if we’re off-island, finding live music and fireworks.”
But this year, she plans to watch fireworks on TV and celebrate along with folks in the United Kingdom, where midnight arrives at 8 p.m. Virgin Islands time. That way she can get to bed early.
“I feel like we should usher out 2020 and make sure it’s gone, but I don’t think I have the stamina to wait up,” she said.
Dr. Alfred O. Heath will begin the new year in church. “I will attend Mass at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, then sequester at home to share conversations with my children off-island and friends.”
Ordinarily, he said, he would have had dinner with friends or at a restaurant, but not this year.
Labor Commissioner Gary Molloy also said his typical observance begins in church, then he celebrates with his wife, family and close friends. This year he’ll do the same, but with a twist. “We will attend Mass virtually and celebrate with family and close friends virtually as well.” Still, he plans to dress for the occasion, as he normally would.
He’s not the only one dressing up, despite the temptation to shorts and sweatpants in this age of zoom gatherings.
“As it turns out,” former UVI president LaVerne Ragster wrote at the top of her survey, “I was looking in my closet this morning, trying to determine what I should wear for Old Year’s Night, even though we are not going out.” As an alternative, “I am planning a midnight picnic on our porch to bring in the New Year.”
Proposed menus for this year are heavy with traditional favorites. Fish, seafood, pork, kallaloo and black-eyed peas predominate. At Fawkes’ home, add turkey, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, fruit cake and Armstrong ice cream. At Ragster’s pour some wine and pass the cornbread. Don’t forget the champagne at Charles’ celebration, or the souse, potato salad and tarts at Molloy’s. Dennis wasn’t sure of this year’s menu; it will be a drastically pared-down version of the feast they usually enjoy which includes a lot of Puerto Rican dishes along with V.I. classics and typically is accompanied by coquito and guavaberry.
Everyone wishes everyone a better, healthier new year. Some survey respondents had additional thoughts.
“My wish for the new year, the same as always, is that there will be more interest in and concern for wildlife across the world,” Platenberg wrote. “I am hopeful with the new administration in the U.S., that climate change is finally going to be addressed across the government rather than relegated to a single underbudgeted, obscure agency. The past year has demonstrated that no one is immune from detrimental influences of environmental destruction, even if those actions are far away from us. I hope people remember as things start to get back to ‘normal.’”
Molloy is hoping for health and strength and an end to the pandemic and its effects. He’s also wishing for people to be “working together as a community. Let’s be humble enough to admit our mistakes, smart enough to learn from them and mature enough to fix them.”
“I wish for 2021 to be a better year because communities, countries and people all over the world, especially our country, learn from the hard, costly lessons of 2020, and we are better stewards of the environment, comfortable with learning to live in a diverse world and convinced that kindness, family and continued learning are precious and should not be taken for granted or ignored,” Ragster said. She also hopes the year is filled with people “working on reducing violence, reducing behavioral dysfunction across generations, improving integration of wellness into ‘normal’ living and modeling sustainable lifestyles at all economic levels.”
On a more personal level, Ragster added a wish “for the wisdom to age peacefully and still have fun” and for “good health and joy for all my friends and family.”
Fawkes said she hopes for getting the pandemic under control and, with the help of the vaccine and other medical protocols, diminishing its impact. She also wants a “peaceful year, God’s blessings, health and strength, [the] ability to face each opportunity and obstacle as God sees fit. [And] financial prosperity for the government and citizens.”
Henneman-Todman honed in on one, fundamental wish for all. She is looking forward to a “healthier 2021 for the world.”
After relief from COVID around the world, good health and peace on earth, Heath would also like to see the reopening of Seaview Nursing Home.
Charles wants to “beat COVID-19 and one day soon, we can greet our family, friends and neighbors with big, warm hugs, sans masks.”
“Let’s pray that we can control this virus and that we can go back to observing our traditions,” Dennis said. “Please stay safe and see if we can celebrate another year together.”