Fresh off a COVID-reconfigured Thanksgiving, I now find myself working to reimagine Christmas. I do this even as I continue to revel in some of last month’s most thanks-inducing moments. The prospect of sanity in the White House and a coronavirus vaccine in 2021 served up some hope along with the pumpkin pie at my table. Trust me: my one dinner guest and I celebrated those milestones.
Of course, how my December holidays—and probably yours, too—roll out will depend somewhat on people’s Thanksgiving decisions. By the time this issue is published, the COVID-related impact of those decisions will be apparent: case counts will be climbing (or not); hospitalizations and deaths will track accordingly. I’ll watch those counts closely, hoping they don’t climb high enough that—in the interests of safety—I have to live an even more constrained life than I already do.
But even if counts remain on the low side, my immediate future still will be COVID-centric. No vaccine is going to arrive swiftly enough that I’ll be able to enjoy my usual Christmas pursuits this year; for me, there will be no in-person concerts or plays or performances or get-togethers with multiple friends and family. Hence the reimagining.
And, somewhat to my surprise, I’m finding that restructuring Christmas is proving to be easier than Thanksgiving. Given I’m someone who enjoys her traditions, at first I wondered why that was the case. But upon reflection, I realized my Christmas traditions already had been in flux for the past several years.
Why? All the usual reasons you hear: the “kids” (and even the grandkids) have outgrown Santa; we have less interest in (or perhaps, less capacity for) the ambitious decorating we once undertook. Maybe our priorities changed, leading us to travel more or spend less. Perhaps family members or friends with whom we celebrated are no longer with us.
Long before COVID demanded I come up with new ways to celebrate, I’d already abandoned the fresh-cut tree and the gilded branches suspended from the ceiling. I reduced cookie production by half some years ago, and last year moved the holiday storage boxes to shelves I can access from a six-foot (v. 12-foot) ladder.
But it’s not all about “less.” I’ve also added a few things. I usually (though not this year!) host Christmas brunch for my family-of-choice. I’d already added some online concerts and performances to my usual round of in-person ones; this year, all my holiday entertainment will be virtual. I already have a few performances cued up, selected from among countless options. The challenge lies in the choosing.
And yet there are, even in this year—when a virus prevails and little will be the same—a few holiday constants. One of those, for me, is the arrival of the snow geese. For the two decades I’ve lived near the shore, their arrival has been an unmistakable sign that the holidays are near. Invariably, as I see them sparkle across our skies for the first time each fall, I feel a surge of joy and anticipation. It’s the autumnal equivalent of the delight I take in each spring’s first bobbing crocus or dazzling forsythia.
This year, I’ve discovered my response is not dependent upon a sighting: I first knew they’d arrived when their faint, raucous calls drifted down to me as they streamed by, high above a late-night, deserted parking lot where I stood in stillness, listening intently. And although the night sky afforded me not even a glimpse of their arrival—let alone the spectacle of a sun-spangled multitude—I was nonetheless overwhelmed by a surge of joy.
May you too find joy in this difficult season, even if the cues you rely upon are similarly distant and unseen. And may you find that the faint calls you strain to hear in the darkness are proof enough to trigger that joy till another day’s light delivers more tangible evidence to your eyes.
Hold on: 2021 is coming; is very nearly here.
Marj Shannon is an epidemiologist and wordsmith who has devoted her life to minutiae. She reports that yes, the devils are in the details.