Sophomore Nicole Drew has special reason to love the holidays. It’s the only time of the year that her whole family gets together. Add in the decorations, the food, the scents, and the excitement. How can you not love them?
But this year is different. Holidays have turned from happy and cozy memories to a time of loneliness for a lot of students. A silent celebration killer emerges, COVID-19.
“We had to adjust most of our plans this year,” Drew said. “My Grandma who has been in quarantine since March wasn’t able to attend our small Thanksgiving dinner because my dad felt slightly under the weather and we didn’t want to risk it.”
With travel restrictions implemented and quarantines recommended, it’s become harder to celebrate. Chapman students cannot be with their friends and family, and many have to spend these supposedly happy holidays away from these things that make them so happy.
For Drew, COVID put a damper on Thanksgiving. But for other students, it’s Hanukkah, Diwali, Christmas, Eid, New Year’s, Easter, Eid al-Fitr, Chinese New Year, and the list goes on.
Many devout followers are unable to worship in a church, mosque, or synagogue during these times of religious importance.
Chapman has continuously emphasized educating their students holistically through the Four Pillars: the intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual dimensions of life. The embodiment of this spiritual component is seen with the Fish Interfaith Center, the home to many religions on campus.
Despite the lower participation from when it was in person, the Fish Interfaith Center has adapted to doing everything virtually. Weekly worships, meditation courses, qur’anic study, catholic services, and grounding yoga workshops are all being held online.
“I think in this time we need to show each other even more grace,” said Reverend Nancy Brinks, Director of Church Relations at the Fish Interfaith Center. “Zoom fatigue is a real thing, and there is no judgment if you don’t feel like coming on.”
In Orange County, the pandemic numbers have been gradually rising and experts are predicting dour news for another three months at least.
It’s been a year of holiday disappointments.
First, it was Memorial Day. At that time, the country had let its collective guard down. But it paid the price for weeks as hospitalizations and deaths surged.
Then, Halloween. California Governor Gavin Newsom said officials linked this recent increase in cases to all the celebrations that took place that weekend. And two weeks later, Chapman canceled a return to in-person classes because of the spike in cases.
Thanksgiving was a disaster. The numbers rose gradually until most counties across California enforced stricter COVID-19 restrictions. And even worse: Medical experts said that if you do celebrate by traveling to see family, you just add to the breeding ground for Covid-19.
But the hard times make you appreciate the good times even more.
Said Sheer Azoulai, a junior business administration and marketing major, “It feels lonely to not have that experience this year, but I know that I won’t take it for granted in the future.”
Junior business major Nidhi Vedantam points out that too many related activities have been canceled. She added:
“I really miss being able to come together in person and as a community and bond through our shared experiences and values. But even though all these festivities were canceled, my family and I still celebrated at home.”
Students have had to adapt and religious organizations and clubs that were a big part of Chapman’s pre-pandemic student life have taken this challenge head-on.
On November 11th, Chapman’s South Asian Student Association (SASA) celebrated Diwali together virtually. This event was a collaboration between the Cross-cultural Center, Fish Interfaith Center, and the Shukla Family. Members attended a Zoom call where videos were played of other members dancing, singing, or playing an instrument.
“When first starting off the year with our new board, we were worried on how to keep each event fun and fresh,” said the president of SASA, Nidhi Vedantam, “But despite those concerns, they have had a great turnout!”
Freshman English major Juhi Doshi expressed her worries about the virtual settings of these events:
“I was unsure if I would be able to get to know these people,” Doshi said. “But I have found a sense of community with SASA and I’m so glad to participate in these virtual events.”
Another organization that has been very active on campus in the past few years is Chabad at Chapman. With about 10 percent of Chapman students being Jewish, this group has a very vibrant community, and is based in a house near the orange campus and led by Rabbi Eliezer Gurary.
“One of my favorite parts of being Jewish is the emphasis on community and family,” said Sheer Azoulai.
Regardless of the challenges, the organization has continued to be active this year and has successfully adapted all its events to fit the COVID-19 safety guidelines.
“Instead of just showing up, you need to RSVP and include who you feel comfortable sitting at your table, anyone not included will not sit next to you,” said freshman communication studies major Talya Malka. “You have to wear a mask when you’re not eating, and there is one person serving the food to avoid any cross-contamination.
Delight, a Christian women’s community at Chapman, has held a tradition of hosting Friendsgiving events every year. This year looked different as they had only twelve people attend, per student organization rules, and members got their own takeout food and sat separately on distanced blankets.
“It was really important to us to keep our tradition alive since we have all realized now more than ever how imperative it is to be together,” said Haylee Buschhausen, a sophomore psychology major.
“It warmed my heart to reconnect with friends and see a few new faces,” said Alexis Triepke, a junior communication studies major.
At the resident halls and on-campus apartments, resident advisors (RAs) have been working hard to make residents get in the spirit despite the situation.
Leo Ortega, an RA at Chapman Grand, hosted a virtual Friendsgiving on Zoom for all residents on his floor to attend. This event was for people to log on, chat, and share what they’re grateful for.
“As students, we get plagued with schoolwork around this time and it is easy for a lot of us to start complaining about our situation because of how overwhelmed we feel,” Ortega said. “I think in times like these, it is most important to just remember all of the blessings we do have.”
“We know that these times and these memories are what is helping us get through this year,” said Buschhausen. “We’re going to look back and be happy that we tried our best to have a sense of normalcy in the world of chaos we’re living in.”