So, this is Christmas.
No travel, and no family or friends outside our secure little bubbles. If we are to take care of one another, this is what we must do, one household at a time.
Many packages are arriving later than hoped, and social media is filling with laments from parents worrying about what to tell their children if Santa is late.
Blame COVID-19, I say. Dr. Anthony Fauci declared Santa to be immune from the virus, but the jolly old elf is not about to stop setting an example. It takes time to sanitize one’s hands and swap out masks after every visit. He’s going to be a while longer this year.
For children living in poverty or whose parents are out of work, Santa may not be coming at all. I do not mean to scold when I suggest many of us are luckier than we think or want to admit. Disappointment is real, and every child is an innocent bystander. For many families, though, this is a blip in time. For some, it is a setback from which they will not recover.
We are also a nation in mourning. As of 5 p.m. on Dec. 17, more than 310,000 people have died from COVID-19-related illnesses. They leave behind millions who grieve. If you and those you love have managed to stay safe, you may be growing tired of my mentioning this. If you are someone who has lost a friend or loved one to COVID-19, you may feel we are failing to acknowledge the hole in your heart.
This, too, is Christmas.
For those who think it is a partisan statement or a lie to say it didn’t have to be this way, I’m going to try my hardest to forgive you. Someday.
Here at the homestead, it’s been a season of inner negotiations as I sort through decorations. I was raised by the Queen of Christmas, who used to set up elves next to the family creche made in Italy. I once suggested to my Christian mother that the Three Wise Men did not arrive with elves in striped pajamas. She turned to me and said, “And you were there.”
The guiding principle of my decorating this season has not been hitched to organizer Marie Kondo’s now-famous question, “Does this bring me joy?” My query has been more along the lines of, “Will this decoration make me mope around the house like the ghost of Christmas past?”
Our grandchildren have reset the compass of our lives. There is not a room in this house that hasn’t changed because they’ve been in it. I look to my right and see the jar of brightly painted maracas next to the latest framed painting by our oldest grandson. In the lighted Christmas village on the top of the piano, a small red dinosaur stands next to the Bumpus house, which belonged to Ralphie Parker’s neighbors in “A Christmas Story.”
One of our favorite newer traditions is to hang the homemade stockings with stitched felt figures that, despite my best efforts, bear no resemblance to the grandchildren for whom they are named.
“Too much,” I told my husband as I explained why they will remain in the box this year, along with all of the framed Santa pictures. None of them will be here this time. The good news, Sherrod likes to point out, is that our kids love us so much they’re willing to make us miserable at Christmas to keep us safe. He could find a high note bobbing in a sea of baritones, my guy.
Once I gave myself permission not to do everything, I found the will to do more decorating than I had expected. The tree is up, with a new, Latina angel on top, a tribute to our increasingly diverse family. My mother’s old ceramic Christmas trees glow on tabletops, and the amaryllis is in bloom.
I’ve slowed down this Christmas. Instead of Christmas music being the backdrop of all my hustling and bustling, I sit opposite my husband in the living room and listen to the lyrics. It’s been years since I’ve done that. So many messages of hope and joy, no matter where we are.
For the first time, the only people who will wake up here on Christmas morning are my husband and me. We have each other and a shared faith that better days are coming. If 2020 has taught me anything, this is more than enough. It is everything.
Merry Christmas to those who celebrate. For all of you who are struggling, may the day land gently.