With a deadly second surge bearing down on the state, mounting financial woes, and the very fabric of our democracy under assault, it’s probably not a shock to hear that the vast majority of Massachusetts residents aren’t feeling all that jolly this holiday season.
More than 70 percent of Massachusetts adults say this holiday season will be worse than most or the worst ever, according to a new poll by Suffolk University and The Boston Globe.
Jennifer Nguyen, 52, of Malden counts herself among that group that sees this season as the nadir. In an interview, she said her three adult children “don’t even want to have a holiday,” in part because they’re afraid of unknowingly infecting their grandmother, who has cancer and lives with Nguyen.
Nguyen, meanwhile, has not been able to find work because of the pandemic. She was supposed to start work at the Encore Boston Harbor casino, but the job hasn’t materialized due to COVID-related cutbacks.
“COVID is overwhelming us,” she said of her outlook on the holidays.
“It’s lonely,” said John Driscoll, 74, of Waltham. “You used to be able to go down the park, play some ball or something. You just can’t do that anymore.”
Several of his adult children live in faraway states, though two of his sons and their partners who live nearby plan to come over for Christmas Day, he said. That’s a much smaller gathering than he’s used to, though.
Driscoll focused, also, on the losses in his day-to-day life. He used to read the paper at the library, then walk around the corner to his local senior center “to shoot pool or something.” He can’t do any of those things at the moment.
“Even [when] you walk downtown, you got to wear a mask and you see somebody you know, you just go ‘Hi, how ya doing,’ and just keep moving,” he said, laughing a bit.
Still, he sounded hopeful that the future would be brighter. “I think if everybody gets these shots within the year, and everybody keeps their mask on, and just does the right thing, we should get through this,” he said.
Feeling less than joyful this year is completely normal and understandable, said Dr. Edward Silberman, a psychiatrist at Tufts Medical Center.
“The vast majority of people will certainly be demoralized by it,” he said. “This is a Christmas holiday that Scrooge is in charge of.”
Aside from the good news of the arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccine, Silberman said he believes this second wave of the virus is proving much harder emotionally for people.
“Last March, none of us were sure how long it was going to go on, and there were many people who thought, ‘Well, OK, you know, a couple months [of this] and by the summer, this will be much better,’ ” said Silberman.
This time around, the wave is hitting with winter around the corner, not the summer with its promise of outdoor activities, he noted. And the second surge means the usual indoor gatherings that help people through the cold, dark months also aren’t safe.
“There’s a reason we fill our lives with all these other things. They make a difference and when they’re not available, people get fatigued, they get demoralized, and they get bored,” said Silberman.
Not surprisingly, those at the lowest end of the income scale, making less than $20,000 a year, were more likely to rate this holiday season the worst ever. But 1 in 4 people making between $75,000 and $100,000 also predicted the most terrible holiday season they’d ever known.
In general, the dark view of the season extended across income, age, and other demographic lines.
Alan Gentile, 39, of Orleans didn’t go so far as to rate this “the worst” holiday season ever, but said it will be less merry than usual. As a white-collar professional who can easily work from home, he counts himself among the fortunate. But the holiday season still won’t be the same.
He grew up in Western Massachusetts, and his partner hails from Leominster, “so normally for us, Christmas is just kind of a whirlwind tour of Massachusetts, going to see everybody.”
This year, they’re not planning on doing anything — in part, Gentile said, because his partner is a teacher, and “there’s some exposure there that I don’t really feel comfortable putting on everybody else.”
The Globe/Suffolk poll also has some gloomy news for retailers and other businesses for whom the December holidays are a crucial season. Nearly 54 percent of Massachusetts residents said they plan to spend less on gifts than they did last year.
Slightly more than one-third of poll respondents said they planned to spend about the same amount of money as they did last year.
The poll also underscored the strain pandemic holiday shopping is putting on the US Post Office and other shipping services. Nearly 8 out of 10 people reported they planned to do most of their holiday shopping online, as opposed to in physical stores.
But with all the death and sickness and worry in the state, the survey of 500 residents still found that people see light at the end of the tunnel.
Seventy-one percent of Massachusetts residents said they feel optimistic about their futures.