Celebrating the holidays under COVID

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There is no denying it, 2020 has been a bummer year. For the last ten months we’ve all lived our lives holding our breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sanitizing after every interaction, wearing a mask everywhere you go, home schooling the kids, dealing with workplace disruptions, we’ve been through the wringer! But by and large, we’ve handled it well! By and large, we’ve come together as a community and a society and have done the unpleasant but necessary things to protect ourselves. 

But now it’s Christmas and it’s getting harder.

It’s one thing to adapt to a new normal of masks and disinfectant in April, we dealt with it like champs. Having to avoid the beach and campgrounds during the summer to stay safe was no fun, but we all understood that you must have the right priorities during a pandemic. But now, after almost an entire year of playing it safe and doing what was necessary, we face a Christmas that barely resembles Christmas. A holiday season with no major gatherings, no sharing a meal with old friends, no getting together with the extended family, and a vastly different church experience than we’re used to. Even the most stoic among us beginning to feel the strain.

I heard someone describe COVID as not just a virus of the body, but a virus of loneliness, and I think that is absolutely true. It’s hard to comprehend the full emotional and spiritual damage this year of isolation and fear has done to us and now we face our greatest challenge yet. For so many of us, the Christmas season is a much-needed restart button, a chance to refresh, recover, and focus on the year ahead. But under COVID, Christmas isn’t bringing joy and peace, it’s bringing fear and uncertainty.

Don’t let the virus ruin the season for you. While things are definitely different this year, there are still ways to find comfort and joy at the end of this crazy mixed up year.

Connect as best as possible with your loved ones

I get it, after ten months of this mess, nobody wants to hear "maybe you can connect with the family on a zoom call!” Being able to talk and see family and friends over the net is a blessing, but it’s no substitute for the real thing. God made us as social creatures, and there is no way a conversation with a computer screen is going to fill in for what we’re missing. That said, there are ways to bring the virtual connection a little closer to home!

Instead of just getting together for a chat, try watching a movie together. Services like Netflix Party let you synchronize a Netflix viewing session and chat together in real time. It’s not the same as being in the same room together, but it’s something! There are also a wide variety of party and social games out there that can be played by people of all skill and comfort levels with technology, from the 12-year old mega gamer in the family, to the recently retired Grandma. Try the mystery guessing game Among Us for some laughs or go old-school and play charades over Zoom. There are plenty of ways to make a Zoom call more fun!

Focus on the people close to you. Those of us living with family should take extra care to appreciate each other over the holidays. Take the time to do something extra special for your spouse. Give the kids an extra squeeze in the morning and ask what they want to get up to over the break. Take the dog for an extra long walk in the snowbanks and give your cat some extra ear scritches. In the absence of others, it’s more important than ever to foster close, deep, affectionate relationships with the people closest to you.

Create new traditions to fill the void

There is no replacing some traditions. Many of us will miss the Christmas Eve and day services at church this year depending on what your personal church is doing and comfort level. Across the country, families will be going without their traditional "everyone’s invited” dinners. No getting together with the grandparents and all the aunts, uncles, and relatives this year. No ice skating over the break, no visits to the mall Santa for the little ones, no Christmas plays or presentations, nothing. There are things we are going to miss this year and there is no way to dress that up as a positive. 

But that doesn’t mean we have to mope through the season. Instead of giving in to sadness and disappointment, we can accept the reality of this year and start new traditions in the family.

First, focus on the traditions and yearly treats you can still enjoy. Things like baking Christmas cookies with the kids, putting up the decorations, watching your favorite holiday movies, you can still do these things so go big! Bake that extra batch of cookies, watch some baking videos online and get inspired to try some new ideas! After putting up the tree, deck the halls of your home with all the Christmas cheer you can muster. Make the good popcorn with extra butter and settle in for a double feature of It’s a Wonderful Life and Jingle All the Way (ok, fine, maybe not Jingle All the Way, but some fun Christmas movie).

Then think of what else you can do. If you have kids that need an outlet for extra energy, get them outside to make a snowman family. Use this homebound time to try out some new board games with the family, see what they enjoy. Nobody will be caroling this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an impromptu living-room karaoke night with your spouse! Make a 2020 Christmas stocking and fill it with "coal” made out of balled up pieces of paper on which you’ve written everything lousy and disappointing about this rotten year. Send it off with better hopes for 2021!

Put some extra love into the season. If you don’t normally send out Christmas cards, or only send out short cards with little more than "Merry Christmas!” and a signature, consider going deeper this year. Take the time to tell the people in your life how important they are, how much you miss them, and what you’re looking forward to in the future. These could be Christmas cards, but they could also be New Years wishes. After all, we could all stand to start 2021 with a little boost.

Refocus your celebrations

Most of all, the best thing you can do to make Christmas meaningful and invigorating this year is to turn your focus to God and the true meaning of the season. As Christians this is something we should be doing every year, but it’s all the more important in this challenging and unprecedented time. 

In a time when it’s easy to feel discouraged and alone, when you can see chaos just outside your door, and it’s all too easy to question God’s plan.  Christmas is a wonderful reminder that we are never alone. God loves us and cherishes us so much that he sent us his own Son to live among us and ultimately die for us and then rose triumphantly, so we can have eternal life with Him. The birth of Jesus and his sacrifice was the greatest gift ever bestowed on humanity and is proof that God is always with us, even in the darkest times. Reflect on that in this difficult season and hold that thought as we enter into a new year.

Bring your family into it. If you can’t safely attend any services this year, be sure to hold your own. Have the family read the Christmas story together (make it fun by trading off readers every couple of verses), take the time on Christmas Eve to sing some hymns together. Make sure you all have a chance to reflect on the true meaning of the season.

Even when everything seems hopeless and we don’t know what tomorrow is, we know we can depend on the redemptive power of Christ. While things may be very different this year, that fundamental truth hasn’t changed a bit. Make God the focus of your Christmas and you’ll have a wonderful and enriching holiday no matter how weird this year may be.  

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