If it weren’t for the fact it was December 25th, the morning would be like most others this year: Home. Distanced. Alone. But, because it is not just another morning in 2020 but Christmas morning, I selected the “fireplace app” to play on the TV instead of the morning news program, and holiday music on the Mp3. I sat quietly with just the lights of my tree illuminating the room, drinking coffee laced with eggnog. When the time came, I packed up gifts and my annual offering of holiday cookies, then dressed in my Christmas sweater, poinsettia earrings, Santa Hat, and headed out to my sister’s.
As I neared her home, a sensation of feeling strangely normal came over me. It was a happy feeling, but just as a smile spread across my face, my throat tightened, and before I could take a deep breath, the tears exploded. Overwhelmed, and astonished by the rush of emotion, I pulled over to calm down.
I am proud how I’ve faced the challenge of the past year. But, as I tried to regain my composure, absently watching the traffic go by, I realized had not taken a single moment to acknowledge the anger and grief at being a hostage of this damned pandemic. Isolation and wariness of the physical proximity of others made doing something precedent, like going to my sister’s for Christmas, seem as though I was finally getting to embrace a long lost sweetheart.
I wiped my eyes and got back on the road. Once arrived at my sister’s, the absurd reality of this year came back into view and the memories of years past retreated into the outer edges of my mind.
Everyone was gathered in the front yard, well distanced from each other and masked. No one was allowed in the house, except its inhabitants. Each of us was given instruction how to access the bathroom, if needed, which was to walk around the side of the house to the back and use the powder room in the den downstairs (and to remember to leave the window in there open for ventilation). We left our gifts for each other on a folding table my brother-in-law centered in the middle of the yard. On another table in the driveway was a crockpot of piping hot chili (a significant downgrade from their usual huge and varied spread). We took turns opening our gifts while the rest of us ate our chili, remarking how glad we were for hot bowl of food against the near freezing temps.
As odd and awkward as the gathering was, it nevertheless had a festive vibe. People made jokes, shared stories and generally got caught up, just as we would typically do. Someone streamed a basketball game on their tablet, figuring out how to prop it up on the roof of their car in order for others to see. Everyone’s dogs romped and barked, giddy to be at their kind of party (outside, room to run without commandments to “sit!” or “lie down!” or the admonishment, “no! bad dog!”) A couple of the guys kicked a soccer ball back and forth in the street. Neighbors out for a walk stopped to say hello.
The cold eventually got to be too much. As a result, we agreed it was time to part, with a promise for a Zoom to be set up the following day to wish a Merry Christmas to the others not able to attend. I looked at my watch. I’d been there just under an hour. Shortest Christmas gathering, ever.
Back home, I did my best to keep the holiday spirit going. A nice nap on the couch while listening to holiday tunes, a little bit of reading, a couple of episodes of a favorite TV show while I ate dinner. Christmas night, in the hour or so just before bed, always felt something of a cross between an anticlimactic conclusion to a big production and a melancholy end to time well spent. This Christmas night was neither. It was just the end of another day, like the end to all the other days this year.