• Joseph F. Berenato

Christmas plans hit COVID-19

HAMMONTON—The number of cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to rise, and with the state still under the restrictions imposed by Governor Phil Murphy on November 16 of Executive Order No. 196 (2020)—which limits indoor gatherings to 10 individuals—plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—for many in Hammonton, the largest family get-togethers of the year—remain uncertain.


For Dave Mauriello, this holiday season is going to be “absolutely different.”


“Both my parents and my wife’s parents are in their 70s, so we’ve elected to go and visit, stay outside, spend a short time there and then leave, instead of doing the normal dinner and gifts and all that stuff. We feel like that’s a better move to try to keep everybody safe,” Mauriello said.


He also noted that their religious observance would be altered for 2020.


“Typically, we go to church on Christmas. We don’t go on Christmas Eve, just because of the timing of it. We’ll probably opt not to do that this year anyhow ... We’re trying to be safe,” he said.


However, Mauriello said, he and his family were, at the very least, going to continue to decorate their home as they do every year.


“Decorating gets you in the spirit. You like to pull up and see your house lit up; it makes you feel like Christmas is here,” Mauriello said.


P.J. Cassario agreed with Mauriello.


“We’ll be decorating the outside of the house, and putting the lights on the tree. We get a real tree,” Cassario said.


Cassario said that his family traditionally has smaller gatherings for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day consisting of “maybe 10 people each day.”


“It’s just like a normal year for us ... Christmas Eve, we’re going to my mother-in-law’s. Christmas Day we’re going to my mother’s and father’s. On Christmas Eve, my mother-in-law cooks; we do the seven fishes. On Christmas Day, my mother cooks,” he said.


Cassario also noted that having children has changed the way that he and his wife Lindsay observe the religious aspect of the holiday.


“We used to go to midnight Mass, but now, with the kids, it’s hard. It changes things,” Cassario said.


For Francesca Morrell, Christmas Eve usually begins with a work shift at Mannino’s Cannoli Express before the familial festivities commence.


“I see my extended family on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day I go to my grandma’s house; it’s a family tradition. We go walk in the woods on trails. After that, we open gifts together, exchange them and eat breakfast. Then, we all go home for a little bit, then we go to my mom’s dad’s house and we usually eat dinner together and exchange gifts again. That’s kind of usually it, then we watch Christmas movies,” Morrell said.


Morrell said that her family has been taking precautions against COVID-19, but is aware that plans may change at any time.


“Our family has been pretty careful, and all of us are getting tested right before Christmas to make sure we don’t have anything before we see each other. Hopefully, it’ll still be the same,” she said.


Asia Andujar anticipates this year’s celebration to be no different than in previous years.

“I get together with my family: with my husband, my daughter, my three grandsons, my niece and her husband and her three kids. We’ll be doing that again this year,” Andujar said.


Each year, Andujar happily takes up the culinary duties.


“I normally cook dinner for my family. We have fun. I make pasteles, and rice and beans—arroz con gandules. I make pernil—pork—and I make pastelillo, which is like empanadas. I also make coquito,” she said.


The one possible change, Andujar said, regards attending Mass.


“I go to church for Christmas. This year, it depends on how many people they’ve got in the church. If they have too many people, I won’t go. I’ll stay home and I’ll watch church on television,” Andujar said.


Samantha Dixon had similar concerns.


“My family usually attends church for Christmas, but this year we may not be doing that because of COVID-19,” Dixon said.


For Dixon’s family, the largest celebration is held on Christmas Eve.


“Every year Christmas Eve is celebrated with my whole entire family. The food is usually the feasts of the seven fishes, other Italian dishes and all types of dessert; my favorite are ricotta cookies. We’re still planning on having the big dinner so far. Also on Christmas Eve, we usually have Santa Claus visit my mom’s house to see all the kids. Christmas Day is the day I take to visit the rest of the family that I didn’t see on Christmas Eve,” she said.


Though she hoped that the holiday celebration will proceed as per usual, there is one factor that could change everything, according to Dixon—who is currently in her third trimester.


“Of course, my pregnancy may impact these plans if I go into labor,” Dixon said.