Cause for celebration? New Year's Eve won't be the same in 2020

Jennie Geisler
Erie Times-News

Thursday will be a strange night. New Year's Eve 2020 will see few sparkly dresses, no public parties spilling into the streets, no crowded bars.

DJs will sit at home twiddling their thumbs — like most everyone else — with plenty to reflect on, learn from, consider and hope for. Times Square in New York City will be eerily quiet, except for occasional musical performances for TV.

There will be no dehydrated, frozen revelers protecting their cubic foot of personal space for the 12th hour in a row. 

And as New York City goes, so will go the Erie region.

A historian, an Episcopal reverend, small business owners and plain old Erie residents of all ages will be sheltering in place.

They'll all be trying to avoid the grip of the highly contagious novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which wreaked more than its share of disruption, devastation and loss this year — and it's not beaten yet.  

New Year's Eve has long been cause for into-the-night parties and celebrations. Thursday will be different.

"I'm leaning into the promise of a return to some kind of normal," said the Very Rev. Melinda Hall, 36, of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul. "I mean, there's no way that there will be a return to what we once were. Everything has changed. But at least I can hope to be seeing family and friends."

But she hesitates to barrel headlong into 2021. 

"I feel a call forward," Hall said. "But also a call to be reflective. This is a tough time. It feels important to not rush past this. I think we need to leave some space for that — to reflect on people who have lost jobs, lives, to think about what it has been like.

"I mean, we're a forward-looking people, but I don't want to fail to reflect on what I've learned about myself and the community," she said.  

2020 in review:A mother's death, a community's struggle, a vaccine's arrival: How COVID-19 struck Erie


"I'm not sorry to see this year go, although the civics lessons are invaluable. New Year's Eve will be quiet, as usual, (I) will likely be sound asleep by the time The Ball comes down in Times Square. My hope for the new year is that we as a nation (read Congress) will lead the way in learning to focus on the percentage of issues that we agree on and resolve to work in an adult manner on the rest."

– Elizabeth Williams

It's been worse

Chris Magoc, 60, a professor of history at Mercyhurst University, does a great deal of looking back — to the Civil War.

"This is not our first holiday season when the nation was in crisis," Magoc said. "In 1861, here's Lincoln eight months into the Civil War. Troops are scattered everywhere and the war has not gone well. Leaders of Congress go into his office on New Year's Eve ... and pretty soon it's obvious that there was no plan and the president had no conception or execution of raising arms or raising funds and they left that meeting despondent whether the union would endure."

So, even if you pile up COVID-19, systemic racism, income inequality and a divided, polarized government, it's been worse, Magoc said. 

He also mentioned New Year's Eve, 1941, three weeks after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. 

"The anxiety of war did pack churches that night by request of the president," Magoc said. "It was a very somber New Year's Eve. There were midnight services, and bells were rung, but not in a celebratory spirit. Men were being drafted and heading off to the Pacific and European theaters. Times Square was filled, but there was a prohibition on the blowing of horns. The concern was that those horns might be mistaken for air raid sirens."


"My youngest daughter was born on Jan. 1 ... in my home we celebrate New Year's Eve by usually staying up to watch the ball drop, having whatever munchies prepared and just enjoyed the evening. We do not go out for 'amateur night.'  

"This year, like usual, we will all be home watching the ball drop albeit without her older sister who lives in Cleveland and will join us this year via Zoom because of the pandemic.  ...  Our hopes for 2021 are that things return to relative normalcy as best as it can. We count our blessings every day. We have not seen our oldest daughter in person since Labor Day weekend and are hoping we can make her birthday in person, Jan. 31."

– Cassandra Williams

Revelers bring in 2019 at Times Square.

It's been worse, continued

Magoc said back in the early 20th century it wasn't as big a deal as it is now to miss large family gatherings at the holidays.  

"We tend to forget that having big family holiday meals is a big thing for us," he said. "It's often the one time of the year we get to see relatives from around the country, but back then, our families were our neighbors. We had multiple generations in the same household. 

"It was less of a crushing loss not to gather" during the influenza pandemic of 1918, he said. "Also, people had greater faith in public officials and science." 

He said in Ohio, a public health campaign slogan was "Beware the Mistletoe," meaning if you were planning to go to a party big enough to hang mistletoe, don't.  

As for Magoc himself, his hope for 2021 is that people do realize that "we are in this together," he said. "My hope is that we can reaffirm that message. That even in the solitude of our homes, we are connected to each other. It really does still matter what we do. 

"We do have a sense right now of hope," he said. "The vaccine is here and maybe we'll feel the same way as in 1919, that we have come through something really terrible and that's something to be thankful for. 

"While we're celebrating in relative solitude we will be reemerging with more of a feeling of unity, and if the fates allow, and if our behavior allows, one can hope 2021 will be a little less interesting."


"The best way I can put this is patience. We must all go about our lives as best we can. The COVID-19 won't last forever. We stayed home for Thanksgiving and Christmas will be with just our family so New Year's Eve will be the same. And when 2021 arrives, we'll just be thankful that our family is safe and healthy."

– David Harkness

"Stay positive, test negative."

– Charles A. Bennett

Judi Santi, left, of Erie and Jane Mallory, of Millcreek Township, view the Winter Wonderland holiday light displays at the Andrew J. Conner Nature Center at Asbury Woods Nature Center. The lighted boardwalk is open nights through Thursday for a stroll.

No light switch

Shannon Gilchrist, 41, of Millcreek Township, is trying to look reality in the face and stay positive at the same time. 

"If we're being honest, it's not like a light switch is going to go off and all of 2020 is going to disappear," she said. "I feel as though 2020 is going to spill over to 2021 and it's going to be weeks, maybe even months before we start to see improvement."

Gilchrist, like most, rode the 2020 emotional roller coaster. 

"Our family has had loss, sickness, struggle, shock and more sickness — and celebrating — this year. 2021 brings us lots of celebrating ... with a wedding, babies and more on the horizon.

"What I am really looking forward to in 2021, though, is healing. Healing for my family, for my friends and for this country. I pray that our nation can become less divided and this virus can see its end. 

"As the ball drops ... I pray for peace."

Delores Szymanowski, 75, has one hope for 2021, and that's to see her husband again. 

"I have a deep longing to see my husband on New Year's Eve," she said. "(Jerome Szymanowski) was transported from (UPMC) Hamot hospital to Cleveland Clinic the day before Thanksgiving. I drove to Cleveland to see him for a couple of days but had to return because of impending bad weather. 

"Soon my husband will be transported to a nursing home in Conneaut, Ohio, for rehab for several weeks before he can come home. 

"There are no visitors allowed because of COVID-19 and I get that. It is for the safety of everyone.

"I can drive over from Erie and wave to him through the window and only hope that he is able to see me. I hope and pray that he will be able to come home in a few weeks and that we can welcome the new year together."

No one knows the Szymanowskis' situation better than health-care workers, such as Karen Beardsley, 57, public relations manager at UPMC Hamot, but, true to form, she tried to put a positive spin on the difficult year. 

"This year, we’ve all learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and not knowing all the answers," she said. "I’ve read that adaptability is the ability to be creative and flexible when facing new situations. I didn’t realize how adaptable I was until this year."

Melinda Hall, of the Episcopal Church, said the flip of the calendar won't automatically fix what ails us. 

"What's coming is difficult," she admitted. "I mean, (besides COVID-19) there are other issues. We have the issue of racial injustice that needs to be addressed. There's all this political tension facing our country, even within families.

"I'm hoping we come out of this stronger together, and that we can face the difficulties, not run from them and not run from this year, but really reflect on what it's been like for all of us."

Contact Jennie Geisler at Follow her on Twitter @ETNgeisler.

Asbury Woods Winter Wonderland: 5 to 8 p.m., Asbury Woods Nature Center, 4105 Asbury Road. The boardwalk adjacent to the Andrew J. Conner Nature Center at Asbury Woods will be lit up through Dec. 31 for the community to enjoy a peaceful evening stroll through the woods. Holiday lights will twinkle in the woods and wetlands along the boardwalk, which covers one-third of a mile. Donations are accepted on-site but not required. For information, visit 

Holiday Homemade Ravioli Drive-In Dinner: Open Thursdays through Sundays through Jan. 3 in the Waldameer Park parking lot, 220 Peninsula Drive. Also, open New Year’s Day. Lombardo’s Concessions is offering a ravioli dinner including six large cheese ravioli and two meatballs, a cup of Italian wedding soup and two slices of Italian bread for $16. Other festival food items available include Italian sausage, Philly cheesesteaks and loaded fries as well as funnel cakes, cinnamon roasted almonds, lemonade, coffee and soda. Lombardo’s takes cash and credit cards. For information, visit 

Light-Up Cochranton: Corner of Smith and Pine streets showcasing the vintage Christmas decorations of the H. L. Moore Co. For information, call 814-425-7700. 

Conneaut Lake Trees Of Light: A project By Al’s Melons Farm Market to brighten Conneaut Lake during the holiday season with lighted flagpole trees.