The Worst Christmas Ever
Or is it?
I’ve been reflecting this morning on our Christmas in a pandemic. Scrolling through Facebook, seeing everyone’s photos and descriptions of celebrations that looked different, traditions carried out with a twist, visits taking place bundled up on porches or sheltered in garages or barns, or over zoom. Drives to see light displays instead of parties, holiday shows or fancy dinners held inside…
The people we couldn’t spend the evening with, those who were alone — of course, it isn’t what we would choose. It stinks, it absolutely does. Some days I just ache for want of a bear hug from a missed friend. Some days I didn’t have the will to make the best of it, felt cheated. I felt angry, too, wanting to blame the careless, those I viewed as selfish for ignoring the protective protocols that might have prevented the whole damn thing in the first place.
I watched my daughter exchange little gifts in the driveways of her best friends’ houses on Christmas Eve, out in the cold, with the car headlights glaring on them as they exclaimed over each other’s presents. How weird it was, for them not to hug each other under the warm glow of a tree at our house or theirs.
To FaceTime the kids’ Grandpa as they opened the gifts he sent, instead of having him sitting with a big canister of pretzels within reach at our house Christmas morning, per usual.
It could have been so wrong; even bitter, for us and for all the friends who provided that little social media window into how they were adapting their celebrations. But oddly, it wasn’t.
To steal directly from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, “It didn’t stop Christmas from coming, it came. Somehow or other, it came just the same.”
Because my daughter and her friends are going to remember the gifts they opened hastily together/apart in the blowing snow more than the ones of normal years already forgotten, I think. In future Christmases they’ll be home from college and back in somebody’s basement hanging out for hours, back to “normal” and laughing over the crazy year they ran out into the snow to exchange the carefully selected ramen bowl shaped like an owl and the magic color-changing Harry Potter lipsticks. They are going to remember how good that felt, seeing each other in person for a few minutes.
We had a nice conversation on FaceTime with my Father in Law, where nobody was having side conversations or looking at their phones — everyone took turns talking and commented afterwards that it was cool and they were going to FaceTime him more from now on. Changing the habits we form in our relationships shake us awake, make us see another person more fully, give them the attention they always deserved.
The gifts of carefully made cookies and treats delivered by our cousin, who drove an hour to bring them for a chilly, distanced visit (no hugs) on the sidewalk by our back door — well, they tasted sweeter and better to me because the caring that went into it wasn’t just “what we do every year.” It was harder, unnecessary, less convenient and yet, still she showed up. It felt like love in a plastic wrapped tray, not just cookies.
No sugar coating this, it’s been an awful year. People were sick, hurt, lost income, shuttered their businesses, suffered broken relationships and worst of all, lost people they love to this horrible virus. And not just a virus broke us, disconnected us and distanced us, either. We became so isolated in our separate world views. For many, it went as far as ceasing to see those that disagreed with them as having good motives and being worthy of basic respect or polite restraint. One “side” accusing their perceived opponent of plotting to cancel Christmas. Calling into question the veracity of the faith of others for political points threatened our collective goodwill the way the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come pointed his frightening finger at the recalcitrant Scrooge.
Me, the crazy tree lady who lovingly erects a dozen glowing symbols of Christmas joy in my home, who watches the three wise men in Giancarlo Menotti’s opera sing of the child Savior come to free the prisoner with tears streaming down my cheeks, suddenly not a ‘real’ Catholic. Rattled by the disconnect between my conscience and other’s interpretation of what love of God should represent, I approached this season on edge — feeling disconnected from my usual cheer and optimism. Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men felt distant and unrealistic. I doubted it all, to be perfectly honest.
And then Christmas itself proved me wrong. What lies within the hearts of each of us is not to be trifled with by a pandemic, by an election, by anger or disappointment or fear. We may lose ourselves but the most striking thing to me is that it’s the worst moments for us that reveal our greatest potential to love. And that, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about. The people living in darkness have seen a great light, and all that.
We may laugh over 2020 as a dumpster fire we all hope soon to forget, and that’s probably fair. But, like the Blessed Mary Luke described in his Gospel story of Christ’s birth, I will ponder these things in my heart…for now. I predict with some miles between us and this difficult time, we are going to remember this strange and painful Christmas more kindly, maybe even fondly. I think I already do.