I think God had a plan. He was in cahoots with the Chinese to throw the proverbial wrench in our lives and slow us down to a crawl. It was a conspiracy between the Almighty and the People’s Republic of China. Together they managed to take us apart and forced us to calm down; take stock of our lives and make the best of it. Take stock of priorities and determination. Amid the bitching, the protests, and the groaning is Karma waiting patiently for us to determine our destiny.
If we had to dig deep down into our psyche and embark on a journey of self-truth and revelation, we would admit that most of the crap we go through in December has been dumped on us by a consumer society compelling us to spend and be merry. There is a “hum bug” waiting to get out in most of us, we just don’t want to admit it. By November we are urged and shamed into a rapid count down of frenzy and uncontrollable stress toward December 25th. We are dragged through a mire of guilt if not wanting to engage. “It’s the Season to be Jolly”. Enticed, cajoled, and convinced into an insidious perfect Hallmark Christmas. Hallmark is to blame for throwing a wide net of deceit across the western hemisphere. Armed with 15 actors, one plot, and several hundred movies; a red and green annual ritual of perfection brings bile to our throat but like a bad train wreck, we are compelled to watch. Why? Because like rats in a lab, we are conditioned to “love” Christmas or bust.
The weeklong preparation of food and stress leaves most of us looking like we’ve been kicked by the mule in the manger and run over by the Magi’s camels for good measure. Parents put a guilt trip on kids to visit relatives, and kids take it out on anyone they encounter on the way. Those who normally display goodness and politeness 11 months of the year, turn into heathens at airports, stores, and on the roads in December. They become Mr. Hyde, the worst version of themselves. Add bad weather, flight cancellations, and crowded stores; the season of goodwill turns into a horror movie without a happy ending.
A recent article in the Stars and Stripes revealed the joy some families are secretly harboring not having to run around visiting relatives or making long trips thanks to COVID. They are looking forward to quiet dinners at home. Most expressed their annual horror they are subjected to trying to please everyone. Large extended gatherings that have become not only cumbersome but subject to partisan unpleasantness, are being dreaded and avoided. One couple admitted to always dreading landing at their annual Christmas destination because of family drama; leaving them stressed and inadvertently worse off than had they stayed home. They have tried to make excuses in the past not to travel, and this year they are thrilled because they finally got their wish. They are looking forward to staying home and enjoying movies and simple meals.
Many are happy that they don’t have to spend money in travel plans that brings them little joy but ultimate aggravation. Others are taking the opportunity to be a family in their own home, relaxed and able to enjoy quality time with their kids or one another. The fact that we are being forced to stay home may end up being a blessing in disguise. A realization of what could be or should be. A “perfect” Christmas does not exist. Through the years we’ve become Christmas masochists. COVID is a wake-up call that life is anything but perfect, which is okay.
We lost our normal lives ten months back, but we gained closeness. Relatives we had not seen or spoken to for years are now in our lives more often than before. Lockdowns, quarantine, and isolation widened our network of family and friends we would not otherwise seek or speak to. We argue less and we tolerate more. For some strange reason, a common enemy has brought most together.
In Germany, where I think Christmas must have been born, we missed the absolute best of the season. Christmas markets, gluhwein, hot chestnuts, and music; all anticipated and disappeared at the wave of a hand from Berlin. The loss in income to small businesses is staggering. Senseless decisions that make little scientific logic have been implemented; not because it’s good for us but because they’re a political check mark on an election list. Trinkhalle are still open selling beer and hard alcohol but florists had to close. Head scrathing baffling. Hairdressers and nail salons are shuttered up but a discount store remains open because it sells a few shelves of packaged food. The absurdity is lost on most. Frightened and manipulated, they go with the flow. There has not been one COVID case at any hairdresser, nail salon, car dealership, clothing store, or florist. But all were forced to close creating a last-minute panic that sent thousands in stores and streets to finish their Christmas shopping before being locked up. No concern there. Stupid has replaced sense and politics has replaced honesty.
Our lives have slowed down. We sleep later mornings because the streets are quiet. Between doing some work from home and daily routine, I managed to bake Christmas cakes, mince pies, and conjure up wonderful gluhwein for friends and neighbors. Never made gluhwein before but staying home permitted it. Slowly simmering white wine and brandy, thin slices of oranges, apples, cinnamon sticks, anise stars, cloves, and fresh ginger. The beautiful aroma fills the house with simplicity in spice and everything nice. A pleasure we would not had enjoyed had we not been compelled to stay in our homes and come up with things to do to keep us from going stark raving mad.
Crazy still lurks all around us. We can attend church but not sing, regardless of the fact that we are all masked like Zorro. We’ve been wearing masks for 10 months which if we must go by what “the science” says, we should all have been over this crud a long time ago. But we’re back to square one without an end in sight. Oh, yes, the much-awaited vaccine; it will suddenly beam us into post COVID Pollyanna, just like that. We will reach the end zone and life will be good again.
The weather is crisp, and snow is in the air. The quiet of the mornings and the stillness of the evenings bring comfort to a world wrapped in angst and self-loathing. Politicians with little juice between their ears have managed to screw up the world without much effort. Families are going to miss out on being together, but they are also going to discover that Christmas is about simplicity and humility and not outrageous gifts and too much food. How we morphed from celebrating a baby in a manger to a multi-million-dollar industry is beyond me. We have been conditioned to expect perfection when Christ’s birth was anything but. Incongruity that should baffle those of us who profess to be Christians. What line or verse in the scripture does it say that we are required to consume enough food to feed a third world country, and max all our credit cards on crap we sell in a garage sale in the spring?
This will be remembered as the COVID Christmas. The lockdown season of the year. The time when we managed to pull ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get on with our lives making the best of it. So shall this end; a memory filed it in the confines of our minds as something to relate to grandkids akin to walking ten miles in the snow to catch a school bus. We will embellish and exaggerate our discomfort for poetic license, and then admit that it might have been the best thing that could have happened to us. As Garfield put it so succinctly: “Christmas, it’s not the giving, it’s not the getting, it’s the loving….” (A Garfield Christmas Special, 1987). Merry Christmas and hope for a better New Year.