Ensconced in the warmth of Key West, it is easy to forget that this is a tourist destination. The cozy beaches, the swirling palm trees, and warm sun melt away the chill from the North. Because of tourism, we have wonderful restaurants and many things to do. However, it is what tourists leave behind that puts me in the place where I now find myself.
Tourists bring smiles, drunken laughter, and devil-may-care attitudes. They leave behind garbage and harmful microbes.
My doctor warned me that this year is one of the worst he has experienced. According to him, it began with Fantasy Fest (a bacchanal in October that is unique to Key West and features costumes, body painting, and a zombie bicycle parade with thousands of participants sporting “zombie” costumes.)
My doctor believes that the pent up desire to let loose after the COVID 19 quarantine resulted in thousands of international tourists arriving who were harboring all sorts of viruses and bacteria. Today, the Key West health department is trying to contend with COVID 19, the flu, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). There are effective vaccines for two; but not RSV, as there is neither vaccine nor treatment. My doctor, whose expertise is infectious diseases, explained that RSV used to manifest in children in the form of a minor cold. It is believed to have mutated to its current form, which is dangerous to infants, young children, and older adults. Hopefully, given the rapidity with which scientists are able to create vaccines with the mRNA technology, a vaccine will be on the horizon soon.
All this is a long winded way of explaining why I will be alone at Christmas. Already one member of our group has been diagnosed with COVID. Since there is a little one in the mix, we have decided to go our separate ways this holiday.
But I am not sad, I don’t feel alone. And it is because of the holiday lights.
To me, holiday decorations are a way of sharing love and warmth for the season. People selflessly hang these outdoor lighted garlands; despite cost, the cold, and the potential for serious injury (it is estimated that each year there are ½ million ladder injuries). With nothing to gain, these decorators come from all political stripes to bring joy to all in the holiday season.
In St. Michaels, the magnificent display that can be seen from Oak Creek bridge brought me my first moment of joy after burying my husband.
Some holiday nightscapes are simply beautiful, such as the lights shaped like Christmas trees. Some are dazzling. Others are humorous (in St. Michaels, flying pigs are driving Santa’s sleigh). And some share the meaning of the season—creches and Hanukkah lights. All are welcome.
In Key West, the warm weather makes residents want to create their own winter landscape often with humor. There is a Santa leaving a Port-a-Potty (which proves that even mythological figures have to “go”). Many Santas are using magical boats to deliver gifts, with the assistance, of course, of sea turtles. Other Santas are doing the hula complete with bathing suits and leis. Another Santa is using an RV and still another is in a rocket ship. All manner of animals are assisting Santa, Grinch is heavily favored, as is the Yeti, penguins, flamingos, Mrs. Claus, angels, pandas, teddy bears, dogs, and lot of cute little furry creatures. There is a particular neighborhood in Key West that is known for its universal participation in holiday decorations and homeowners often greet onlookers in costumes.
I even get into the act in a small way, using blinking lights, lighted displays, icicles, and falling stars. But even a simple wreath is welcoming.
To me, these decorations are spreading best wishes and love to all. Amidst all this love and warmth, how could I possibly feel alone?
Happy Holidays to All! And a special thank you to those who make our holidays more enjoyable.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.