After all that this world has been through in 2020 it stands to reason that we will end the year with a Christmas notably different from any we have known in our lifetimes.
My memories take me back to when I was an elementary-age kid. Christmas always started by getting together with family on Christmas Eve. For years we would gather in the basement of my grandparents’ home where my parents, aunt, uncle, and all the kids would sit around the perimeter of my grandfather’s small workshop and exchange gifts. In later years the ritual took place at my aunt’s and uncle’s home. I can still remember being taken aback by the mountain of gifts under the tree.
Evelyn and I (especially Evelyn) did a pretty good job of maintaining the mountain after we started a family of our own. There were always too many gifts under the tree as our kids were growing up. Now that our oldest three have families of their own, their gifts are usually transported in our van (a vehicle, I should mention, that Evelyn thought was a big large for our needs, but which I insisted we would be glad to have. Christmas became only one confirmation of my foresight).
This is the year that transporting gifts from house to house will be out of the question. Instead, our four families will likely choose a central, public location such as a restaurant parking lot and, with maybe only the drivers of each vehicle making the trip, meet to give one another gifts to take home and open. As of this writing, a Zoom session has not been scheduled, but there’s a good possibility that it will happen. For all intents and purposes, this could be a mostly virtual Christmas.
And what about the annual church celebrations? When we come together for candlelight service on Christmas Eve, will there really be that many people attending the in-church service to create the stunning sight that defines the idea of the arrival of the Light of World, or will there be barely enough candles to offset the darkness? Will it really be that meaningful if people watching the service at home light a candle, since they would be the only ones who could see it? I am expecting Christmas services to lack a bit of luster this year.
I have to wonder how things would have turned out if coronavirus-type restrictions had been imposed the year that Jesus was born. Would the Wise Men be required to stand six feet apart from each other in line as they presented their gifts? Would the gathering be restricted to no more than 20 shepherds? And just how many animals would have been permitted to stay in the stable? Picture Mary and Joseph with masks. Picture all the people with masks, for that matter. I imagine the outcome would have been the same: Jesus would still be the Son of God, and his ministry would have proceeded as planned. It would have just gotten off to a much different start.
Perhaps we should be grateful for Christmas 2020’s uniqueness. If nothing else, it will keep this year’s observance from blending into the many that have gone before it. There are a few “traditional” aspects to this year’s Christmas: we still baked cookies. We still put up a tree. There will still be presents under the tree and decorations inside and out. But these are all preliminary activities to prepare us for The Day. And The Day this year is going to look kind of different when we realize that we will not have the opportunity to share time and space with loved ones.
We can only pray that the new vaccines work, that people do not become frustrated or impatient with following the protocols, and that we all work together to exercise caution now so we can all be together this time next year.
However you observe it: Merry Christmas.