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What Gave Us Joy In 2020


At The Federalist, we recently spent some time thinking over what we missed in 2020: big things, little things, surprising things. We also decided to consider what amid this strange and stressful year brought us joy, sometimes unexpectedly. Enjoy. Merry Christmas, and a happy new year!

Ben Domenech

What a terrible, awful, horrific year for the people of the United States. The scourge of the coronavirus combined with our corrupt governments to ravage the nation. Our public officials, trusted to confront one of the most daunting tasks they will ever face, failed utterly. They compounded one lie after another with the help of a corporate media filled by corrupt or ignorant lickspittles whose lies cost us dearly.

And many Americans proved far too willing to go along with their authoritarian demands. A country that longs for a little revolution now and then is not a bad thing. A country that is docile in the face of government overreach is much worse.

An entire generation of children trapped in the hell-holes they have the audacity to call schools will feel the effects of our nation’s craven partisan failure for decades to come. New York’s media pleasured Andrew Cuomo with the verve and dedication of a committed coke whore, all while his policies ensured grandma died alone.

The Atlantic, once the greatest American magazine, descended into one long petty eye-bulging Anne Applebaum rant. The New York Times became one unending Slack fight and managed to make a bunch of people who cannot stand Tom Cotton defend him from their arrogant stupidity. Big Tech showed how willing they are to invade your privacy and destroy free speech with all the subtlety of setting Julie Andrews on fire. Brian Stelter remained Brian Stelter.

So how does one find joy in such a terrible year for media, for politics, and for freedom of thought in a country ruled by the likes of Cuomo, Gavin Newsom, Gretchen Whitmer, and the spoiled limousine pajama class of essential journalists and politicians already cutting in line for the vaccine? It turns out the best path to finding this joy in this terrible year is to have a purpose.

By many counts, this was an excellent year for us at The Federalist. We doubled in size. Our scope of coverage was incredible. We covered the election and the pandemic with our small team branching out across the country. Our new young talents grew wonderfully. Those who attacked us failed in their efforts or elevated our stature. It’s a very good place to be.

At the same time, work is not a purpose. It is good to be motivated by it, to enjoy it, and to have such a smart, entertaining team of fun-loving rabble-rousers. But that’s only one aspect of life.

A purpose comes when something more important comes along. In my case, the news that we would have a child this year came mere weeks before the news that New York was locking down. Managing pregnancy during a global pandemic seems daunting. Yet at The Federalist, five of our families — nearly half of our staff — did just that this year.

They welcomed five healthy, happy babies in a year that will require a story to be told to them. They kept mom healthy, they followed the rules where they had to and dodged the stupid ones where they could, and at the end, were rewarded with healthy little Americans, born with the right to breathe free.

That is a purpose. And it is one we will meet. This gives me joy.

I always like to read Winston Churchill’s guidance on Christmas Eve, 1941, delivered from the White House to the American people. This year, it seems more appropriate than any other.

This is a strange Christmas Eve. Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other.

Ill would it be for us this Christmastide if we were not sure that no greed for the land or wealth of any other people, no vulgar ambition, no morbid lust for material gain at the expense of others, had led us to the field.

Here, in the midst of war, raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes, here, amid all the tumult, we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous heart.

Therefore we may cast aside for this night at least the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for the children an evening of happiness in a world of storm. Here, then, for one night only, each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace.

Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.

And so, in God’s mercy, a happy Christmas to you all.

Libby Emmons

I got my bike when I was 11, a shiny blue 10-speed, and it’s still the only bike I’ve ever owned. For years after I moved to a city and discovered public transit, it sat idle in the garage. But with gyms closed and much of the world shut down, I took to riding it again.

I rode all around New York City, out to Coney Island, further, down the Jamaica Greenway and out to the Rockaways. I rode out to the Bronx and across the bridges that crisscross the East River, which is actually not a river but a tidal estuary.

I liked how it felt to ride far and fast, I relearned how to ride with no hands. I screwed up my courage and took curves at high speed. I packed fig bars and water so I wouldn’t have to worry if I landed somewhere with no fuel. I listened to loud music on my airpods and sometimes if no one was around I would sing at full voice.

While biking I learned all the words to Fiona Apple’s new record, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” and same for Morrissey’s “I Am Not a Dog on a Chain.” I found power in pedals, strength in pushing, and freedom in sailing through air.

Inez Feltscher Stepman

I know it’s a forced thing, but nevertheless it brings me joy to see our parks, whether national or local, be in use. Unfortunately, too often, parks in large American cities sit basically unused outside of joggers and the homeless. This year, though, they’re full of groups of 20- and 30-somethings, whether sharing a drink or a picnic. In a rough year, it was nice to walk through the parks of D.C. or New York and see them come to life.

Mitch Hall

While many of my fellow Seattleites eagerly abided by nonsensical government lockdowns and shelved their “normal lives,” I found myself on the brink of depression two months into the pandemic. Without a vibrant social scene or thriving culture, city life is pointless for a single twenty-something like me, and clumsy Zoom happy hours mixed with living-room yoga just didn’t cut it.

So in May, after my company became permanently virtual and I realized I could still make my living from anywhere, I packed a duffle bag and a Nikon camera, threw it in my well-loved 1995 Toyota 4Runner, and set out on the road. A tour of the American West had been a dormant dream of mine for years, and it dawned on me that there was no better time to do it.

When all was said and done, I spent 80 days on the road, driving more than 12,000 miles in a rough loop from the Pacific Northwest to Idaho and Montana, down to the Mexican border by way of Colorado and the Southwest, then back up through Utah, Nevada, California, and Oregon. I slept in the back of my truck, worked in any open café I could find, and spent my weekends touring National Parks and pursuing my hobby of photography.

I reconnected with long lost friends in different cities, who offered me shelter and showed me the meaning of true friendship. I traveled over winding mountain passes, through Native reservations, and down many abandoned Main Streets that hearkened back to bygone eras.

I was wholly self-reliant, beholden to the whims of no one but myself, and in this, I found the greatest joy. While each new day offered endless opportunity, it was up to me to make the most of it. I learned just what sort of stuff I was made of, and in doing so, I tasted freedom. Let me tell you: it is utterly and completely intoxicating.

Mollie Hemingway

One of the many benefits of this dismal year has been more time spent at home by everyone. As November drew to a close, it became obvious that more people than ever before were decorating their homes for Christmas.

We were no exception. We had a creche last year, but this year we schlepped to Home Depot and got stakes so we could line our path with lights and get some lights on the bushes. We take long routes home from evening church services and choir practice so we can survey the broader scene in surrounding neighborhoods.

Some of our neighbors have gone above and beyond. One family has decorated their cars with lights. Another has a nutcracker theme. One large house near ours has an indoor Christmas tree and a decorated outdoor Christmas tree.

The quality of roof lighting is markedly improved over previous years. In one part of town, several blocks of houses all got together and decorated their houses similarly. Each house had a large wooden sign set up in their front yard that they had painted with a holiday theme. Only one of them thought it a good opportunity to make a snotty anti-Trump political point — which is a major victory in my very liberal city that heavily pushes virtue signaling.

While I don’t understand secular Christmas traditions as much as the religious ones — someone will have to explain to me why so many of my neighbors think dragons are a good Christmas theme — I love that everyone is getting into the general spirit.

I also noticed a ton of colorful lights, as opposed to the white lights that dominated the neighborhood in years past. White lights can be put up at any time of year — we have them up in our sunroom year-round — but the multi-colored lights are unmistakably for Christmas.

Advent, the period of time leading to Christmas, is when we await the coming of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” It’s a perfect message, in this and every year, and brings those who hear it great joy.

Tristan Justice

I savored the space this year provided.

When the pandemic hit, I lost my D.C. bar job going into peak tourist season, which features the most profitable shifts of the year, a season ultimately canceled anyway. Even as D.C. restaurants began to reopen weeks later, my restaurant had been destroyed in the riots after George Floyd’s death, making a return to waiting tables all the more unlikely.

The loss of my service job was initially a curse, but became a blessing in disguise. I spent my weekends seeking refuge in the sanctuary provided in D.C.’s Rock Creek Park as the pandemic shut down everything exciting the city had to offer. Live music wouldn’t be returning any time soon, socially distant bars felt pointless, and paranoia had set in for an anxious population.

In other words, D.C. had become boring and no less expensive in the beginning months of summer. But my days in Rock Creek Park reignited my appreciation for tranquility, which translated into re-centering my values, my focus, and my faith.

In a year defined by trauma and filled with death, disease, and despair, I find myself still leaving 2020 far better than I entered it. I’ve earned a promotion, moved to a better city, cultivated better relationships, set better goals, learned how to cook, and busted myself into the best shape I’ve ever been.

As much as I miss the music festival — and I deeply miss the music festival — it’s an odd twist to look back and write that life is personally better than it was 12 months ago, even in the midst of a pandemic. I attribute that to prioritizing self-care and spiritual growth, with an optimism that when things open fully back up next year, I’ll be thriving like never before.

For better and for worse, 2020 still remained a series of firsts. My first big purchase. My first major health scare. My first campaign. My first pandemic. My first relationship. My first break up. All of these, however, are guaranteed to happen over the next 60 years or so to just about everyone.

At the age of 23, I understand my darkest days are still ahead, but so too are the brightest. And that is something which brings me joy, and is worth celebrating.

David Marcus

The last time I was at a live professional sports event I went to a Nets versus Sixers game with my buddy Scholnick down in Philly. I’ve been a Nets fan since they arrived at Atlantic and Flatbush in 2012.

It has not been an easy ride. After selling out its future to the Boston Celtics for an aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the early days, they now have a solid core to which they have added future hall of famers Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, both back from injuries and playing together for Brooklyn for the first time.

I enjoyed watching the Nets in the mini-season this summer. They had no star power and got swept in the playoffs opening round. But the other guys, the Jarrett Allens and the Joe Harrises, played with a lot of grit, leaving me salivating to see the team with the new superstars.

At a time there wasn’t much immediate to look forward to I looked forward to winter too now. Tuesday the Nets played their first game, and already they look like easily the best basketball team I have rooted for in my adult life. My ten-year old-son is thrilled. He told me so and that it’s because he’s from Brooklyn.

This is the first time that a Brooklyn Nets team could ever really be thought of as a contender, and it’s fun. It’s that thing to look forward to a few times a week that we missed in spring and early summer. With a little luck and a lot of vaccinations, I could back at the Barclay’s Center with my boy watching the Nets live again soon. They have already brought me joy in 2020; I’m looking for a lot more in the year to come.

Helen Raleigh

Since we are working from home, my husband and I have been taking evening strolls before dinner. These walks bring me much joy. Sometimes we stop by the pond to watch ducks swimming, or boys from our neighborhood trying to catch frogs, or catch a moment of the most glorious sunset. One time we encountered a fawn, which was initially lost but quickly reunited with his mommy deer. Seeing their reunion brought happy tears to my eyes.

On Halloween evening, we put individually wrapped candy bags out on the front porch, wondering if any kids would show up. To our surprise, our neighborhood kids not only showed up but also dressed in costumes — a bumblebee, a butterfly, a Spiderman, and a knight with shining armors and a cape. Seeing these kids, especially how our candy bags had brought big smiles on their faces, made me happy.

It also brought me joy when I first held the author’s review copy of my new book, “Backlash.” I love the smell of fresh print, and the book cover looks amazing. I didn’t let fear, anxiety, and despair run my life during the many months of lockdowns and isolation. Instead, I was focused and productive, and I did something meaningful.

Holly Scheer

2020 was a hard year for many families, and mine certainly had our difficult times. But we also had so many moments of joy this year, too. I’m very thankful for all of the extra time we spent with our children, and the extra time they spent as siblings together, reading books, playing games, creating adventures.

We made memories this year we will treasure forever. 2020 we spent taking long drives through the mountains, cherishing the natural beauty around us. We read books out loud as a family. We did devotions together, praying as a family. My girls mastered sourdough baking, bringing us so much joy in the simple form of bread.

We spent time this year getting to know our neighbors, and learning how much we really like them. We expanded and built our community, involving ourselves in ways we can enrich our local town. 2020 brought us hyper-local and we learned how much joy that gave us as a whole family.

Ilya Shapiro

What gave me joy in 2020 was watching my kids grow. Even if I worked from home as many hours (or more) as I did in the Before Times, the time savings from not having to commute, travel, or attend evening receptions — plus seeing my family throughout the day (especially lunch) — made for a lot of “quantity time.” It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, to be sure, but for my wife and me to just be around all the time was joyous for our young family.

Kylee Zempel

2020 took many things from us, and the worst part is that most of those “things” weren’t really things at all. One little virus robbed us of loved ones and celebrations of milestones and unmasked laughter. It stole youthful experiences and savings accounts and worship the way God intended.

But out of all the loss and the chaos, this year brought the sweet and tangible reminder of God’s providence. 2020 represents not only a year of upheaval, but also the clarity of hindsight — and hindsight reveals this year was also one of joy.

If it weren’t for COVID-19, I never would have left my high-rise apartment in Washington, D.C., and driven back to the Midwest to spend precious time with my family — time that might never come around again. Back home in Wisconsin, I found familiar smiles instead of masks, and warm embraces instead of social distance.

If not for the pandemic, I never would have gone camping this summer — and I went three times. I wouldn’t have gone cliff jumping or spent my birthday with my best friends or realized how much I enjoy running. I wouldn’t have been blessed with my mom’s home-cooked meals, wouldn’t have worked with my dog’s head in my lap, and wouldn’t have helped my dad chop wood to heat the house where I grew up.

If 2020 had gone the way I had expected, I wouldn’t have been around to reconnect with my childhood best friend. This year, I sent snail mail and ate fresh kale straight out of the garden and tried wake-surfing. Heck, I even jumped out of a plane! If not for this hell of a year, I wouldn’t have let go of old friendships, met wonderful people who have become some of my closest companions, and fallen in love.

I never would have chosen 2020, but God has blessed me beyond measure. Soli deo gloria!

Joy Pullmann

What gave me joy in 2020 were my children and husband, especially the new child we welcomed in May. But, as befits the year, this great joy began in suffering, much of it self-inflicted. For much of the year, I resisted the gift of their being, resentful of being pregnant a sixth time. It seemed so unfair when I already had “a billion” children and so many women who want just one cannot. Why couldn’t any of these aching, empty would-be mothers have a baby instead of me?

The problem of evil seemed to blossom in my literal lap. I stroked my sickened ego by resentfully feeling cursed that I had to drag around my belly while already carrying, I thought, such big burdens of life responsibilities. But this sorrow ultimately flowered in joy, thanks to no merit of my own but pure grace.

Like the first son I didn’t want, the second son I didn’t want gave me the gift of a love that breaks the narrow chambers of a selfish heart. The year I didn’t want either taught me, in a miracle of inner change I certainly didn’t cause or deserve, to repent and rejoice.

Inwardly, I had claimed the right to pity my own suffering when hundreds of millions of people in the world go hungry, naked, destitute, and sick, with not a touch of medical relief. I complained about the possibility of giving birth without my husband — because COVID — but in a state-of-the-art birth center with giant Whirlpools accompanied by a host of highly qualified medical attendants.

So this has been an extremely embarrassing year for me, as much it has been for the rest of our pampered and ego-driven elites. I’ve bitterly railed against them, but we have been exactly the same. Thus, this year, I am grateful God has given me the gift of repentance. Without it, no joy can be had. With it, no joy can be denied. “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.”