Sometimes it seems like the coronavirus has changed everything. Not just the way we work, go to school or shop for groceries, but it has also changed the way we celebrate holidays.

On Thursday, many Maine families are planning to skip the annual family gathering, not because they want to but because crowding around a table with people from various households is a textbook way to spread an airborne virus that has already killed 250,000 Americans.

Out-of-state relatives are staying home, and Mainers who would normally travel will follow the advice of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and cancel their plans.

Thanksgiving will come around on the calendar, but people will be celebrating it in ways that they never would have imagined in the past.

That goes for what comes after Thanksgiving, too. The winter COVID surge will probably take us to the end of the year, meaning that Christmas and Hanukkah will fall under the same guidance regarding travel and gatherings.

But just like Thanksgiving, those holidays will come around and people will try to make meaningful connections with friends and family members who they won’t see in person. If gift-giving is part of your holiday tradition, we have two pieces of advice:


Buy local, and start early.

The best way to build the Maine economy is to support small Maine businesses. More than half of the workforce is employed by businesses that have fewer than 100 employees. Small businesses are also the most potent source of new jobs, which is important in an economy that is struggling to recover from the COVID crash. There are about 40,000 Mainers who are unemployed, many who worked for small businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector.

Retail businesses have had to adapt to changes in the way people shop during the pandemic, which has accelerated a trend toward online shopping.

Mainers should remember that it’s just as easy to order products from a local business as it is to order from a national online merchant, but the impact on the local economy is not the same. Research by the Maine Center for Economic Policy has found that for every $100 spent in a local business, $58 will remain in the community, supporting jobs with local suppliers, business services, repairs and maintenance. Chain stores also employ local people, but they keep only $33 of every $100 in the community. Shopping the online giant ships even more money out of state, because it does not employ local people, pay property taxes or advertise.

Even Mainers who want to stay safe and shop from home can still make sure their holiday spending will support local businesses. There are several websites that can connect consumers with Maine businesses that are set up for online sales.

And even if you plan to shop in person, it’s important to get an early start. Stores have to limit the number of customers who are allowed inside to shop at the same time, and they won’t be able to accommodate the typical holiday crush. People who are used to waiting until the last minute may find that they would be better off changing their habits in the COVID era, especially if they are planning to mail gifts for people that they won’t see in person.


It would be unrealistic to expect that a global pandemic that is changing so many aspects of our lives wouldn’t also affect the way we celebrate holidays. But good news is on the horizon.

Two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have separately released data that show their vaccines would be more than 90 percent effective. Food and Drug Administration approval could be weeks away, and sufficient quantities of vaccine could be manufactured and distributed everywhere by next summer, meaning next Thanksgiving will not be celebrated under pandemic conditions.

The end is in sight, and these inconveniences are temporary. Our goal for the next few months should be slowing the spread of this virus, keeping the case counts, hospitalizations and deaths as low as possible until a vaccine can come into wide use.

The coronavirus has changed everything, but it hasn’t changed everything forever.

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