Why Christmas 2020 Could Be An All-Time Nightmare

I cling to optimism because it's the only thing keeping me from going nuts in a Trader Joe's. As such, I like to think the worst of the pandemic has passed and that we're now in a (long, brutal) recovery phase. But there's one ticking time bomb left, a cultural and political bundle of C4 strapped to the proverbial mobster's Caddie:

Christmas.

All joking aside, this could get bad, folks. Like, worse than anything we've seen so far. 

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COVID Restrictions Will Be Called A New "War On Christmas"

Fox News' astonishingly stupid "War on Christmas" narrative is somehow in its 16th year. Now imagine all of the Americans who seethe whenever a cashier says "Happy holidays" start hearing from Tucker Carlson that The Left is using COVID hysteria to put Christians in jail. As proof, he cuts to a clip of cops in some Democrat-controlled city breaking up a Christmas pageant for violating COVID bans on large indoor gatherings. We already had these stories back in the spring:

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What does the reaction to that look like when we're in full War On Christmas mode, when all of conservatives' most paranoid fantasies are suddenly coming true on camera?

Now imagine Tucker cuts to a clip of a weeping woman, saying she was just told they were cancelling their city's annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony ("My grandmother is devastated! This could be her last Christmas!"), a clip that is run side-by-side with footage of the massive BLM protests from the summer. "So the left says this is okay to do during this supposed deadly pandemic, but Christians can't celebrate Christ's birthday?" Tucker will say. "We all know the real agenda here."

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Jesus, I'm making myself mad just imagining that in his voice.

Oh, wait, it gets worse. Now imagine Trump is coming off a lost election, loudly proclaiming every day that it was stolen due to mail ballot fraud. He now has literally nothing to do with his day but stoke the culture wars full-time. He's taking to Twitter every four minutes or so with some version of, "Just as we told you! As soon as a DEMOCRAT is ELECTED they make CHRISTMAS ILLEGAL! This time next year, being a Christian in America will get you PRISON! LIBERATE BLITZEN!"

At that point, what are city and state governments with active outbreaks to do? Just allow the gatherings to happen to avoid the backlash from people who believe they're literal martyrs? And keep in mind...

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No, There Won't Be A Vaccine By The Holidays

The best-case scenario for a widely-available COVID-19 vaccine is sometime in 2021. If everyone has been vaccinated by Christmas of next year, that would be a massive victory worthy of a parade. (Remember, they have to manufacture billions of doses.) And there's definitely danger of a second wave hitting in the fall due to a whole bunch of factors (people staying indoors due to the cold, healthcare systems stressed by the usual flu outbreaks, the public having totally given up on distancing by doing things like reopening schools, etc). So you could have an okay October followed by a November where COVID springs back to life like the henchman at the end of Die Hard.

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So now imagine infections are rising again, but lockdowns have become politically untenable and you have most of a country that hasn't engaged in any big family celebrations all year. Maybe there's a feeling of relief after the election, a sense of having crested a hill. So who is going to be in the mood to socially distance again? "Haven't we sacrificed enough?!?"

Keep in mind, nothing that we've canceled so far has anything like the national cultural significance of Christmas -- nothing compares. Christmas is the embodiment of the modern American religion, this weird blend of Christianity and consumerism, a celebration of all the things we still believe in: Family, generosity and, uh, winter, I guess? Sorry, I can never figure out how Frosty fits into it. The point is, it's no surprise people get worked up about any perceived restrictions. But that's a problem, because ...

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Every Holiday Tradition Is A Potential COVID Bonanza

Imagine it's late November. The news is showing us video of packed airports, packed planes, packed busses, packed train terminals. Millions of trips to see elderly relatives and have Thanksgiving dinner with a dozen unmasked people crowded around a table. It's the equivalent of picking up America's lingering COVID hotspots and shaking them out like pepper across the continent (more than 55 million Americans typically travel at Thanksgiving). On Black Friday, those people will pack malls, department stores and restaurants. 

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If that triggers an even greater rise in infections, how do you stop the much worse version of that scheduled to come a few weeks later? Black Friday is actually not the busiest retail day -- shopping only gets more frenzied as Christmas approaches. And you can double the travel stats I just cited -- an astounding 115 million Americans travel at Christmastime. Then there'll be even more indoor family gatherings, plus Christmas plays and concerts, church services, parties ... all of the prolonged, indoor, mask-free contact that got us into this mess in the first place.

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And if you think it was hard keeping Americans out of bars and restaurants over the summer, wait until you see the reaction from parents who've been socialized to believe that failing to provide a good Christmas for their kids is gross parental malpractice. Think about how many of their own childhood memories revolve around Christmas, how aware they are that they won't get many of them before the kids turn into cynical teens. Think about how much they'll be guilted by their own elderly Trump-loving parents into making the trip ("We haven't seen the grandkids since last year!").

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Even if these hypothetical parents have been playing perfectly by the rules every minute up until then, wouldn't this be where they draw the line? ("I mean, even world wars stopped for Christmas!")

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The Economy Will Be Absolutely Desperate For Holiday Cash

An average retailer depends on the holiday season for 20 to 30 percent of their sales for the entire year. Now add in all of the revenue to various industries from the travel I mentioned above -- plane tickets, roadside restaurants, gas stations, hotels. Now imagine an utterly devastated economy (and please note that you haven't seen the real devastation yet -- government cash has been largely keeping it afloat) and how businesses large and small will be starving for that influx of year-end spending.

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That means shutting down in-person shopping and eating will be just as much a political non-starter as shutting down those holiday gatherings. Maybe that'd be okay with strict compliance with masks/distancing/sanitation, but I'm guessing stores absolutely will not want to be the subject of viral fistfights for trying to enforce mask rules during an already-tense season. Keep in mind, if Trump has just lost his election, you'll have around 40% of the country believing the COVID response usurped their king and you'd better believe they'll be in a fighting mood.

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Look, if we're lucky, this whole column will come off as alarmist nonsense by the time the solstice arrives. But it feels like the holidays could be the culmination of everything the virus and Trump has done to us, all of those simmering tensions reaching a boiling point. I don't know what the resulting shitstorm looks like but I'm thinking it won't be good. So, uh, maybe buy my book before then.

You can pre-order Jason "David Wong" Pargin's book Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Bookshop or any place books like this are sold. You can also follow him on Twitter, his Instagram, or Facebook, or YouTube or Goodreads, or any of the many accounts he's forgotten about.

Top image: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

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