Rising COVID-19 cases and fear over the new Omicron variant are making many Angelenos anxious about this holiday season. Regardless, folks from across the Southland are heading home to see loved ones after a long 2021. For some, it’s the first holiday they’ve been able to share with family and friends since March 2020.
Kate Wathall already knows the first thing she's going to do when she lands in her native England: Eat a plate of fish and chips. It’s part of a family tradition that traces back four years, when she first moved to LA. All of that was put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I go home every Christmas because Christmas in California doesn't feel that Christmassy to me. It's too sunny, too warm. I'm used to snow and all that stuff,” she tells KCRW. “I mean, there’s worse places to be trapped, but it was still very strange for me because my parents usually come out twice a year.”
She adds, “I have a brother — he would normally visit. I missed a couple of weddings, a couple of cousins and friends having babies. So when I get back, I will be meeting some new husbands, some new babies, new family members.”
Those reunions make Wathall’s trip back to her hometown of Sheffield, England so important, but they’ll also be bittersweet since a lot has changed since she last saw her loved ones.
“People that I'm friends with have lost people. My friend's father passed away, another friend's brother passed away. And I [was] sending them messages, and I'm being available for phone calls and sending flowers. But it's not the same as actually being there and going and sitting and having a cup of tea with someone and checking they’re okay. It's just been difficult.”
But despite the challenges, Wathall and her family can’t wait to be back together again.
“I'm just excited to be at home and seeing my parents. They're acting as if I'm a tourist. They've got all these plans. I'm like, ‘It's just like coming home for me. I know where the best food is. And I know about this park or this castle,’” she explains. “[They’re planning] because it's been so long. And I just know that it's because they're excited. And they're trying to tick off all the things off the list that they think I'll have missed.”
Starting new traditions with family
Chicago native Ariana Jordan moved to LA a year ago, and although she’s settling into life on the West Coast, she’s missed being so close to family, especially her grandma, who she calls her “sweet lady.”
“I'm just very excited to just sit with her and be there with her and just hear her talk about what's going on with it on the news. So I think that is the person I'm going back home for. No, don't tell my nephews that but it's my grandma for sure. My sweet lady,” Jordan says.
This year also marks a new phase in Jordan’s life — one where she wants to start creating traditions that she and her family can participate in every year.
“I'm in this stage of my life where I'm just like, I need to start thinking about what I want my family to look like — not that I'm trying to even have kids. But I want to be a person that is really into the holiday stuff. I want to do the gingerbread houses, have the tree, and all this stuff,” she explains. “When I get home, I'm gonna basically make them get into a tradition. We're gonna watch the Polar Express. We're gonna do the gingerbread house [and] dress up [in the] same pajamas. We're going to do the whole nine.”
Making up for lost time
Playa del Rey resident Alexander Schafer hasn’t seen his family in Germany since Christmas 2019. And he says that in the months since, he’s realized how important his family back home really is.
“One of the things that I often felt during the pandemic: I'm losing time and I felt like I'm missing out,” he says. “During this time, I was like, ‘Shit, like, I'm not there.’ What if something happens to my parents, right?”
During the pandemic, his mom also got hurt after a fall down the stairs, which added some perspective to where he was in life.
“I feel like I always was this type of guy who thinks he can be alone. … But this year, that really got tested and pushed it to the limit. I really kind of felt a degree of isolation. I really felt some moments were really lonely, right? … I was asking myself: Why am I sitting here in LA in an apartment, working remotely for a company when I don't even need to be here?”
During his winter holiday back home, Shafer is most excited for quality time with his parents and brother.
“When I think of home, I think of my father, smoking cigars with him right on the balcony, hugging my mother on the stairs. She’s smaller than I am. And so she always gets on the steps so I can hug her,” he explains. “Just doing normal things with them. I think that's what I would love to do, just enjoy the time together with them.”