Locals just want ‘that piece of Christmas’ amidst the coronavirus pandemic

Emilee Geist

Every year for Christmas, Margaret Lewis would go next door to her sister-in-law’s house and celebrate the holiday cheer with about 20 other people. But this year, because of COVID-19, that won’t be happening.

Lewis and dozens of other Hudson County residents did some Christmas tree and decoration shopping on Sunday. As customers wore their masks, socially distanced and browsed through various trees and wreaths, they said getting ready for the holidays helps them feel “normal.”

“(Christmas decorations) make things normal. It can also be very uplifting,” Lewis told The Jersey Journal.

Lewis, of Jersey City, was looking at wreaths in the parking lot of Magic Fountain in Bayonne. She said her family doesn’t put up a Christmas tree, but instead hangs a Christmas mantel and puts a nine-inch Nativity scene set out on her front porch.

In Christian and Catholic tradition, the Nativity scene depicts the birth of Jesus, which is the reason they celebrate Christmas.

Lewis said although 20 people won’t be surrounding the dinner table on Christmas, she’s grateful that she can still talk to relatives over the phone or video chat, and that they’re in “good health.” This year, Lewis is expecting to see five or six other people.

On Nov. 16, state Governor Phil Murphy reinstated restrictions to help curb the growing positive COVID-19 cases in New Jersey. Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people, down from 25. Murphy urged families to abide by these rules, especially during the holiday season.

“We’ve been saying for weeks that this will not be a normal Thanksgiving. It’s not a normal school year, it’s not a normal Thanksgiving, it wasn’t a normal Halloween, it won’t be a normal Hanukkah or Christmas. And 2020 won’t be normal, period,” Murphy said earlier this month.

Sunday morning, Murphy said a statewide shutdown, like the one back in March, is still “on the table.”

For Anthony Orlando, a Bayonne resident and worker at Magic Fountain’s Christmas tree lot, he said he’s also having a smaller gathering this year.

“It’s unfortunate, but you got to do what you got to do,” Orlando said. “I also have grandparents, and I wouldn’t want to put them at risk.”

Still, Orlando said having a Christmas tree in his house helps put him at ease because it gives him something he’s used to.

A couple of blocks down on Broadway is Family Florist, a local flower shop that also sells Christmas trees and decorations during the holiday season.

Christmas decorations at Family Florist

Luis Lebron, who was shopping at Family Florist, said it’s hard not seeing all relatives during the holidays.Adrienne Romero | The Jersey Journal

Luis Lebron, of Jersey City, was picking up flowers to bring to the cemetery because “you can’t forget those who passed” during this time. As he waited for his order to be put together, he stepped outside and picked up a wreath with a bright, red bow and gold bells on it.

He thought about his kids, and how this year will be a different Christmas.

“(Putting up a tree) makes Christmas feel ‘normal’ for the young kids, at least,” Lebron said. “… Coming from Latino descent, it’s tough not being with family.”

Lebron said only he and his immediate family will spend the holiday together.

Earlier this month, Murphy advised families to keep their Thanksgiving celebrations “as small as possible.”

About 12 minutes away was Bamni Ketheesan who was searching for the right tree at Dairy Queen’s Christmas tree lot on West Side Avenue in Jersey City.

Ketheesan moved to Fair Lawn in 2018, but originally lived in the West Side area for 15 years; she said she comes back to the city to buy her holiday decorations. For her, the right tree meant some hope for her and her family, she said.

“(A Christmas tree) makes us feel normal. It also brings a little light to the family and saves us through this time,” Ketheesan said.

Christmas trees in Jersey City

Customers at the Christmas tree selling lot at Dairy Queen on West Side Avenue said this Christmas will be something different.Adrienne Romero | The Jersey Journal

Kethesaan said she’s not inviting people to her home this year to abide by Murphy’s statewide restrictions. She added that she’s grateful her family is healthy, and that there may be an option to gather later when it’s safer.

James D’Elia, the manager of the Dairy Queen tree lot, was helping customers with their selections on Sunday as he sported a face shield over his mask – a much different attire than last year. He said he has a “positive” mindset when it comes to following the state’s indoor restrictions.

“There’s no reason to put relatives at risk, especially since I’m out here every day,” D’Elia said. “It means next Thanksgiving and next Christmas will be 10 times better.”

As for his sales, D’Elia said it’s been good. Customers have been wearing facemasks, which pleasantly surprised him, he said.

“I think they just want to have that piece of Christmas,” he added. “… A tree in your house means Christmas, even if it’s just the aroma from the tree.”

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