How COVID Kickstarted New San Francisco Christmas Traditions
The Paris of the West, our Baghdad by the Bay, shines like an overcast gray diamond once the end of the year rolls in, like so much fog in a bank. Why? Certainly because most everyone leaves. The streets run empty like ancient Greece with invisible wine. Any who happen to travel here for the holidays stick to the touristy areas. And the locals bask in all of the line-less glory, like Cobb and his loopy wife in their mind city (does an “Inception” reference date me?) For me, it was December 2020 that revealed this other side of San Francisco. There’s no way I’m going to let these new Bay Area traditions fall on the wayside just because I can fly out of the city again.
Let’s start at the start: December 2020. After months of misery, depression, and drinking sangria while reinstalling, uninstalling, and reinstalling World of Warcraft, I wasn’t sure there was any kind of light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. And since my hometown is in the dead center of Washington state, as I’ve mentioned, there was no shot I’d be doing anything new for Christmas. That is, until my partner and I decided there could be a way to shake things up after all. Since 2016 I’ve elaborately calendared all of my Octobers, renaming the month “Coctober,” just to bring joy and planned spontaneity into my life. The end of 2020 presented the chance to do so with December, renaming the month “Darncember.”
My partner and I, alongside the one remaining housemate who stuck around, drafted a list of wacky things to keep ourselves entertained. We rewatched the Harry Potter movie franchise (which, in my humble opinion, is far less fucked up when pirated rather than paid for, given how little I want to financially contribute to Hogwarts’ creator these days). We baked everything from cinnamon rolls to peppermint ginger cookies to whoopie pies, debating the merits of each submission to our impromptu baking competitions. We bought multiple gingerbread house DIY kits and kept them up around the house as long as their sugary bricks and nails allowed. Even the Christmas tree got a mask. We worked, yes, but admittedly not very hard and — as was the case for many white collar employees during the pandemic — there wasn’t always a lot to do. We decided to mask up and sally forth.
The remaining housemate and I dove two feet into surfing kookdom, taking pre-dawn drives to Santa Cruz to tear up Cowell’s or to Bolinas to scoot around the Groin. We went out almost every day and spotted sea otters in Monterey and whales at Stinson Beach. When it came time for the holidays themselves, we popped a bottle of champagne at the beach on Christmas Eve Day and lit the candles of the menorah. On Christmas morning, we ordered Dragon Beaux and had a feast of chicken feet and siu mai while tearing into presents mailed in by well-wishing and socially-distanced family members. New Year’s eve was a four-person party, saying farewell to Darncember and burning our Christmas tree as it went up fast and loud as a firecracker.
For the first time in my life, I felt like flying home to spend time with my myriad family members (shout out adult children of divorce) was simply not worth it. There was a terrible freedom in the world COVID created; sure, we “couldn’t” travel, but it also meant San Francisco and the Bay Area became a blank canvas. Nobody else to schedule around, no expensive plane tickets or bodies running on empty from tight travel turn-around timelines. Everything was simple. And, in that way, everything was wonderful.
Moreover, these traditions carried on, allowing me to enjoy San Francisco in richer ways that I only dreamt of before the pandemic. In 2021 I got rowdy at Bitter’s End with grad school fellows and managed to get better at surfing throughout the year, meaning Darncember round two was all the more enjoyable. Darncember 2 saw Koi Palace rather than Dragon Beaux, another Ng Brother classic. We attempted recipes out of the La Cocina cookbook and stayed up until 4 a.m. on New Year’s, dodging Omicron as well as we could. Though travel restrictions were lighter, my family understood my desire to stay in the city and keep this newfound flame lit.
And Darncember 3 is already showing tremendous promise this year. The surf’s been a bit colder this year, and I’m out of grad school and soundly into a job again — plus the world is back to expecting, more or less, full capacity of all its denizens at all times. I baked a terrible tiramisu for this year’s baking competition, and we’re ordering China Live for Christmas Day dim sum. Our third Christmas tree from 7th Avenue’s Clancy’s Tree Farm keeps Abuela’s straw angel at the top just as proud as it did last year, though our tree isn’t sporting the mask anymore. And while I sure wish COVID had never happened — it would be psychotic to count the pandemic as a holiday miracle — I’m ever grateful for the catapulting of new traditions into my Inner Sunset home. If you’re looking for permission to turn your phone on airplane mode for a month, checking your needy parents’ perennial expectations of time at the holidays at the door, consider it granted by yours truly.
Howdy! My name is Katy Atchison and I'm an Associate Editor for Broke-Ass Stuart.
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