It’s New Year’s Eve, and the celebrations will be muted.
There will be no sparkling champagne revelry, no boisterous pub singalongs of Auld Lang Syne, strangers’ arms draped around strangers’ shoulders, no crowds of frosty-cheeked folks jockeying for a position to see the fireworks, those ephemeral bursts of joy, light up the inky sky over the frozen rivers. Midnight kisses with people in your household only, please.
New Year’s Eve is far from the only event we’ve had to reimagine in a year altered by a global pandemic, but flipping the calendar page on this year — this strange, terrible year — feels like an occasion worth commemorating, somehow. Maybe even celebrating.
On Dec. 31, 2019, we could not have imagined how much our world was about to change, nor how fast. We were celebrating the dawn of a new decade, flush and alive with possibility. On the other side of a globe, a then-unknown virus was beginning to circulate; by March, it was here.
In the spring, life in Manitoba seemed to freeze. Everything was closed — even school, which was relegated to dining room tables and living rooms. People baked sourdough and hosted games night over Zoom. No one had any obligations to rush to. It felt novel. More than that, it felt doable. We were in this together. We’d flatten the curve.
With summer came a thaw. Manitoba was a strange island in a sea of coronavirus; our COVID-19 case counts were low, as was our death toll, the envy of the nation. Summer felt almost normal, save for the omnipresence of hand sanitizer. There were no festivals, but one could eat in a restaurant.
For almost two golden weeks in July, there was one active case of COVID-19 in the entire province and no new cases. The curve was flat.
But then, as the elms turned gold and the weather grew cool, Manitoba quickly went down a devastating path that saw spiking case counts and deaths, outbreaks at personal care homes and hospitals, and rapidly filling ICUs. A code-orange Halloween became a code-red Christmas. Almost 25,000 cases. Over 600 dead. And a provincial government that was too slow to act, too slow to respond.
So now, we’re here again. Our mission, once again: stay home, flatten the curve.
It’s hard to make plans during a pandemic, let alone New Year’s resolutions. But let us resolve to keep taking care of each other, to keep wearing masks, to keep staying home and staying apart.
Let us celebrate what was good, because there was good in a bad year. People showed up for each other in so many ways, whether by following public health guidelines or supporting local businesses. People made sacrifices, large and small, in the name of collective health. If you made it to New Year’s Eve, that’s worth celebrating.
And let us have hope. The dark days of December brought with them a vaccine. Nearly 2,500 Manitobans have received their shot in the arm, with more to join them over the coming months. People can start thinking about their post-pandemic lives, and the lessons they want to carry with them into the coming years. Just as spring will come, the pandemic will end.
Just think of the celebrations we’ll have then.