A roaring fire, twinkling lights, talking about holiday memories, a cold drink, frosted cut out cookies, holiday music in the background. This scene is so familiar for most of us. But this year, 2020, is different. For me, the fire is streaming on Netflix, the conversations are on text threads on my phone, and the cookies were left on my porch by my sweet sister, who knows I don’t have time to bake this time of year. And I am alone. So many people are #inexileforthegoodoftherealm (the hashtag my mom has been using for months on her social media, the most consistent contact she’s had with the outside world since March.) This is most definitely a holiday season like no other.
Last night was our Christmas Eve family Zoom call. My youngest sister posed a question of the group, “What was your most memorable Christmas gift?” And from the very youngest to the oldest, we gave our answer. My sister said one of hers was a box of Wheat Thins, and then we each shared what we received the year my parents wrapped up each of our favorite snacks as presents. Then my brother shared that his favorite was the galvanized steel garbage can he got when he was little, because he loved Oscar the Grouch and my mom told the story about how that Christmas he was in his garbage can with his flashlight and the rest of us were in an upstairs closet watching our Easy Show movie projector, and her parents came in and were stunned when they didn’t see any children (with 6 of us, we were hard to miss!) As the oldest sibling, I had some time to consider my answer and I changed it twice. When it was my turn I shared that when I was in my 20’s, my mom had made a cloth rabbit for Barbara, our Spanish exchange student. I told her I would really love one, so she made me one for Christmas, with an extra set of clothes so I could change it up. Everyone was really thoughtful with their answers and it was a wonderful way to share our holiday memories.
I have spent many Christmases alone, by choice. Despite their best intentions, I often felt left out and alone at family gatherings when my siblings all shared about the gifts they had received from in-laws and spouses, not realizing that I had not received any gifts that year from anyone. So at first, spending Christmas alone was a ‘head in the sand’ response for me, trying to will away the holiday. Then one year I went away for the weekend (well, 5 minutes away) in a hotel, ordering room service and sleeping in and reading books in bed. After that, every Christmas has been all me time and I love it!! Mimosas and lounging around in my Christmas pjs and watching holiday movies (or The Godfather) is now my usual routine. This year is no exception.
But for a lot of people, holidays depicted in Norman Rockwell paintings of yesteryear simply do not exist. This spending time alone on Christmas is not a new concept for many people in our world. Blended families and fractured families needed to get creative to have time together and try and feel festive, and spent more time than they may like by themselves. So many people are alone because of geography or legal situations or family drama. Many people have careers or part time jobs that require them to work on a holiday. And for some, their mental or physical illnesses do not allow for gatherings, too exhausted or frayed to even think about spending time with people. And for others, financial difficulties preclude them from having a celebration that is usually taken for granted by so many.
So, 2020 has given us a unique holiday, with porch visits and zoom calls and family time and empty seats at a usually full table. Possibly some new traditions and family game night and jigsaw puzzles or reading books for hours on end. There are unexpected blessings that will come from this holiday season, with us finding new ways to connect and celebrate family and friends and community, and even ourselves. And one of the blessings this season, I think, is an inside look into what holidays are like for those who are usually alone, or live with chronic illness, or cannot afford basic necessities. And maybe it will give us the gift of patience and compassion for people who don’t live in a Christmas card tableau. Those who need our help or acceptance. Those who give of themselves selflessly. And maybe that will be the greatest gift of all. And if we can just stay the course and wear our masks and do our part by getting the vaccine so that everyone can be safe. We can all imagine what Kenny Loggins feels when he is singing “Please Celebrate Me Home.” Happy Christmas and God bless us, every one!