Tired of being cooped up in an apartment and eager for a fresh start to the new year, Karen Fine, a schoolteacher in Chicago, is planning a family vacation…to Chicago.
Next month, Ms. Fine, husband Eric Fine and their children Asher, 8, Molly, 7, and Lucy, 4, will pack up the car and drive 2 miles away to a hotel downtown, where they spent Christmas Eve in December. Plans include swimming in the hotel pool and drinking hot chocolate while watching movies in their room. On Saturday they’ll do some window shopping on Michigan Avenue followed by an afternoon outing to a bowling alley.
“It will break up the monotony of waking up every day and it’s Groundhog Day,” says Ms. Fine, a 40-year-old Spanish teacher who spends most of her workday alone in front of a computer, leading virtual classes to mostly ninth- and 10th-graders. By going to a hotel, says Asher, the couple’s third-grader, “you get a break from your house.”
Right now, the pandemic–along with social and political unrest—have Americans going a little stir crazy. And January can be hard even in normal times. “There is a subconscious kind of depression we get coming off the high from the holidays,” says John Dick, chief executive of CivicScience, a Pittsburgh consumer-research firm. The company surveyed nearly 3,000 adults between Jan. 8 and Jan. 11, with 27% of the respondents saying they felt the “post-holiday blues” more than last year.
Some families have taken matters into their own hands, making plans for wintertime events and getaways to bring back the joy. On the list are celebratory gatherings with friends, neighbors and co-workers, as well as “some day” vacations for when it’s safer to travel. Even hotels are retooling their offerings, giving fidgety families special programs at weekday rates. Just having something on the calendar to look forward to can perk up spirits.
In Eugene, Ore., members of the Clifford family created what they call a “family dream board.” The collage illustrates activities they would like to accomplish in 2021. Four-year-old Tilden, who said he wants to see an elephant, colored a picture of one with the help of his mom, Puja Clifford, who drew a picture of her parents, whom she hopes to visit in Michigan. Tilden’s father, Andy Clifford, cut-and-glued rustic scenes to depict a weeklong camping trip.
“So far they all seem attainable,” says Ms. Clifford, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom.
Anticipation is a powerful device that can get us through tough times. A growing body of research shows that having an event to look forward to is linked to general feelings of happiness and positivity. As part of ongoing research on the effects of anticipation on emotion during the quarantine period, researchers at Wake Forest University asked 329 adult participants last April to fill out daily reports, rating on a scale from 0 to 6 not only how positively they felt, but also asking to rate on a separate scale from 1 to 4 whether and how much they were anticipating some kind of event or goal—whether positive, negative or neutral. Those respondents who reported anticipating a positive event were assessed to have a more overall positive outlook.
“Positive anticipation of some kind of goal or future event was related to more control and motivation to deal with Covid,” says Christian Waugh, a professor of psychology at Wake Forest who led the study, which is currently under peer review for publication.
Until long-distance travel is back to normal, hotels are increasingly offering getaways for the locals. The
hotel in Chicago offers a “snowed inn” package, putting tent-and-campfire play sets in guest rooms with a weekday rate of about $150 a night. “If your kids are home-schooling, they are taking that laptop with them anyway,” says Christian Hansen, the hotel’s managing director. On Lake Oconee outside of Atlanta, the Ritz-Carlton offers a Ritz Kids Study Buddy Program. While the parents work out of their guest room or cottage, children can attend virtual classes, with a dedicated counselor to help them to stay focused and offer screen breaks and other activities.
In Pawlet, Vt., Marc Harrington recently sent invitations to a half-dozen neighboring families for a “midwinter bonfire party” on Feb. 6. “We’ve been cooped up for so long,” says Mr. Harrington, a 51-year-old online-course designer. “But there is also a really strong sense of a new beginning,” he says. For months, he and his husband, Edward Guffey, a landscape designer, have huddled in their 1840s farmhouse. Getting out and celebrating around a fire could help unify neighbors with a wide range of backgrounds and views, Mr. Harrington says. “I know there are some divisive feelings among even friends and neighbors in this community,” he says. “That’s one of the goals of this, to just get people together in a relaxed sort of way,” he says.
Even office parties are an anticipated treat. In New York, dentist Robert Raimondi and his partner Marc Sclafani says they are planning a post-vaccination party at One Manhattan Dental. The practice’s 20 employees, including dentists, assistants and hygienists, received their first round of vaccinations earlier this month, and the second dose will be administered by mid-February. Five weeks after that, Dr. Raimondi plans to throw an office party with cucumber-lime-lavender cocktails, sushi and cupcakes.
“We will be able to unmask and have an office party with Champagne,” says Dr. Raimondi, who says the staff has been working with three layers of face coverings since June. “We have hired people that we don’t even know what they look like.”
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