‘Lay on the bed, eat food, play with the dogs’: A very chill COVID New Year’s in Philly

Mackenzie Warren prepping for her day of playing video games on Nintendo Switch and hanging out with her cat.

Mackenzie Warren prepping for her day of playing video games on Nintendo Switch and hanging out with her cat. (Courtesy of Mackenzie Warren).

Indoor parties, streamers, confetti, fireworks, and a lot of booze — the stereotypical new year celebration is the absolute nightmare of health officials who have been telling everyone to physically distance and not mix households due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the beginning of the holiday season, family and friends have had to navigate the desire to keep traditions alive with the need to keep safe.

On Thanksgiving, outdoor gatherings were more feasible due to mild weather. Now, with temperatures near freezing and tighter COVID-19 restrictions in place, many people in Philadelphia opted for a cozier, yet still enjoyable, holiday.

Most were ready to say goodbye to 2020 and opted out of making New Year’s resolutions. If anything, the year has taught them making plans can be a fool’s errand.

Enjoying solitude with video games and pets

Mackenzie Warren, 27, lives in South Philly and was thrilled to have a party of one.

“I’m mostly excited for pancakes,” she said.

She had her night and morning planned out. She fed her cats at 5 p.m., had a half-hour dance party by herself at 8 p.m., and then went to bed.

This morning, she cooked pancakes and bacon, having made sure to go to the grocery store Thursday to prepare for the ideal breakfast on New Year’s Day.

After eating, she got into a porcupine hedgehog onesie and set out to play video games all day. Right now, her obsession is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch, the gaming system she called her favorite purchase of the year.

As 2019 ended, she spent New Year’s Eve getting locked out of her apartment after going to a party and had to ride her bike in the snow to her landlord’s house.

So her chill intro to 2021 was very much welcomed.

“Spending it by myself with my cats, having a dance party is just totally fine by me,” she said.

Ringing in the year with a concert

Mike Kaiser, 34,  from East Falls, knew he would stay in for the holiday. Usually, he would host an annual New Year’s Eve party for his friends, but the pandemic thwarted that tradition.

He still had plans though. He tuned in to a livestream Low Cut Connie concert. Kaiser describes the Philadelphia-based band as one of his favorite discoveries of 2020 and said their live streams are uplifting.

“It’s not the same as a live concert, [but] that’s really not the point,” Kaiser said. “It’s something entirely different. It’s much more personal than when you’re at a live show in a crowd.”

Mike Kaiser and his dog, Rooney, watching a Low Cut Connie livestream concert New Year's Eve.
Mike Kaiser and his dog, Rooney, watching a Low Cut Connie livestream concert on New Year’s Eve. (Courtesy of Mike Kaiser)

He said the lead singer, Adam Weiner, uses the personal aspect to connect with fans by giving pep talks, and it’s something that Kaiser has needed this year. The live stream is more like a variety show with music rather than just a traditional concert.

“It’s not the same, but it does give you the same connection,” said Kaiser, a Northeast Philly native who averaged about two live shows a month before the pandemic.

In the morning, Kaiser and his husband, Wade Keller, spent the beginning of New Year’s Day taking their dog, Rooney for a walk in the Wissahickon Valley Park. They adopted Rooney soon after coronavirus hit the U.S. in March.

“It’s a nice way to celebrate the holiday in some way, even if it’s something we do not on the holidays,” he said.

Mike Kaiser and his husband, Wade Keller, and their dog, Rooney, taking a walk at Wissahickon Valley Park.
Mike Kaiser and his husband, Wade Keller, and their dog, Rooney, taking a walk at Wissahickon Valley Park. (Courtesy of Mike Kaiser)

Trivia night and tradition

Ali Hodges, 31, lives in Spring Garden and moved to Philadelphia from Detroit in August for graduate school at Temple University.

She spent her night doing an epic game of trivia over Zoom. It was dubbed as the “New Years Eve Supersized Trivia Event.”

Her friend from Michigan organized it, but it was open to anyone who wanted to play. It was a zany event with prizes for both the correct and funniest answers. It went from 9 p.m. until midnight.

Ali Hodges playing trivia over Zoom on New Year's Eve
Ali Hodges playing trivia over Zoom on New Year’s Eve. (Courtesy of Ali Hodges)

“We all have that friend who is creative and out of this world,” she said.

Questions ranged anywhere from music to whale facts.

“It’s odd and peculiar and just fun,” she said.

She also capped her 2020 watching When Harry Met Sally. The big romance climax scene is on New Year’s Eve, so Hodges makes a point to watch it every year.

Ali Hodges watching "When Harry Met Sally."
Ali Hodges watching “When Harry Met Sally.” It’s a tradition she does every year because the climax of the romantic comedy happens on New Year’s Eve. (Courtesy of Ali Hodges)

“I feel like New Year’s is one of those holidays that set people up for disappointment because if you try to go out and make a big thing of it, you always end up spending so much money,” she said.

As far as New Year’s Day, she’s just going with the flow. She slept in and plans to reflect on the year using templates onlines that ask questions about life.

“I’m looking to spend some time just thinking about this year, taking some notes, putting it down in writing so I can tuck it away,” she said. “[I want] to be able to come back and think about 2020 was like when we’re hopefully far, far away from this experience.”

Doing absolutely nothing…and loving it

Steven Buller, 30, a teacher living in South Philly, spent the start of New Year’s Eve planning what to order in. He and his wife, Katie Retherford, wanted to opt out of cooking and instead support local restaurants because of the losses they’ve suffered due to pandemic restrictions.

The two planned to watch Netflix all night on an air mattress they bought to attach to their couch. First on the viewing list was Death to 2020, a mockumentary all about the year from the creators of Black Mirror.

“We’re going to lay on the bed, eat food, play with the dogs, and maybe take a nap,” he said. “That’s what we want to do and it’s pretty awesome.”

Steven Buller and his wife, Katie Retherford, set up an air mattress and attached it to the couch for a day full of watching Netflix.
Steven Buller and his wife, Katie Retherford, set up an air mattress and attached it to the couch for a day full of watching Netflix. (Courtesy of Steven Buller).

The last few years he spent bar-hopping with friends all night. He actually prefers this version of New Year’s.

“I think it’s just mentally way more healthy,” he said. “Every other year felt like we were just zooming through this and trying to do that instead of just experiencing the moment and it’s a nice change of pace.”

Like the others, he’s ready for the year to end, but it wasn’t all bad for him. He acknowledges that 2020 has been destructive in many ways, but he also called it “a nice reset button.”

Pork and sausage
Steven Buller picks up pork and sausage on New Year’s Day because of the tradition he grew up with living in Lancaster. (Courtesy of Steven Buller).

He sees the past year as one that exposed the shortcomings of the social safety net and hopes society reflects on the needed changes as much as he’s been doing so for his own life.

“It’s been a good year for personal growth,” he said. “It’s been good to review what I’ve been doing and if I’ve been holding myself true to my beliefs. It’s a lot of self-analysis.”

In the morning, his only plan was to get pork and sauerkraut. Originally from Lancaster, he grew up doing it every year with his family and didn’t want to miss the tradition because “it’s just natural to do.”

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