The house is decorated, sweet smells waft through the kitchen, and the fireplace (or Netflix fireplace) is giving off a warm, rosy glow. All the cooking and baking is done, presents are wrapped and ready, and the special family Bible, turned to the Christmas story, is poised for the evening read.
Are we missing anything? Ah, yes. Everyone put your phones on data, so you don’t hog the WI-FI! The correct Zoom link went out to the gang, right? Will someone please make sure your grandparents know how to unmute themselves when they want to talk? And oh, yes, get the cousins to fix their camera—it’s focusing on the ceiling again. And quit it with filming your holiday TikTok right now—you can do that later! OK, now we’re ready. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Christmas 2020. Who could have imagined it?
Almost no one today who was alive during the 1918 pandemic was old enough at the time to offer us any current counsel. Instead, as we have been doing for the past nine months, we are figuring this out as we go. First it was botched spring break plans, which then gave way to greatly modified summer vacations (or none), which floated into back-to-school on Zoom or in person with a great many restrictions. The holiday season, which caps off each year before blending into the next one, is decidedly different now.
But rather than melt into puddles of tears over family traditions and holiday plans gone awry, it’s important to put positivity first. Honestly, we’ve actually gotten pretty good at adapting, and this Christmas will further prove just how resilient we are. So how do we do the Christmas season in a pandemic? Here are some ideas.
Christmas 2020. Who could have imagined it?
First of all, some of you might have spent the past several months in bubbles of family only, family and a few close relatives, or family and one or two close family groups. If you have done that, and the numbers are small, you can still have some semblance of together time, provided everyone is healthy, and that such gatherings are allowable in the state and county where you live. If in doubt, please get tested. And please take into account members of your group, including the people they have come into contact with. As always, err on the side of caution, especially if you have those who are elderly or have suppressed immune systems.
My family spent the summer having very small, socially distanced gatherings outdoors on our deck. If possible, you can still do outdoor gatherings with the addition of patio and space heaters and lots of cozy blankets and warm drinks for all. Keep “pods” of families in their own spaces, set your buffet meal indoors, and dismiss each pod to get their food and drinks one at a time. If it’s just too arctic where you live, it’s your decision, again, staying conscious of health and government regulations in your region, as to how you might host a small gathering indoors. We advise a large room, small group, space between people, and in all scenarios, please wear your masks.
You know what? Not being able to rush to concert after concert just might be a blessing in disguise. While we adore watching small children, dressed as angels and shepherds, yodel out “The First Noel,” these events often compound an already hectic schedule of work, Christmas shopping, community service, and family/friend commitments. This might be the year we don’t go absolutely bonkers trying to do it all. But you don’t have to skip out on the blessings of a Christmas concert entirely. Many beautiful Christmas concert events from previous years can be found on YouTube. Several artists have filmed their own Christmas specials streaming on Prime or Netflix, and there will likely be more of that this year. For programs of this nature, check your local listings for concerts on your PBS and network channels.
If you are a musical family who enjoys playing and singing together (I’m looking at you, Klingbeils*), why not stage your own Christmas concert on Zoom? Select your music and readings, practice, and send your invites out to family and friends. This is a great way to bring a holiday musical blessing to an even larger audience that could really use it.
As with any holiday season, don’t neglect the elderly and homebound members of your church and community. Dropping off a small gift and food is as necessary and cherished as ever.
No girlfriend cookie swaps this year? Bake cookies anyway. Make little boxes featuring your specialty and arrange for a time you might meet up in a parking lot or cul-de-sac for a quick exchange. Come back home and Zoom while you all taste them. Pick a winner if you wish. You could still do holiday baking and drive around doing surprise drop-offs for neighbors, family, and friends. What a great way to spread some cheer.
The beauty of avoiding people this year? No crazed last-minute mall shopping! As online shopping has become more prevalent over the years, this season it’s not just convenient but necessary. So hopefully you’ve done it ahead of time and freed up some precious downtime for the actual holidays.
Since we’ve all gone video viral for church, school, friend and family get-togethers, even dating, why not save postage on Christmas cards and film a Christmas video greeting? You can either e-mail it to your contacts or send via social media.
When it comes to the main event of Christmas Day and gift-giving, you can most likely carry on as normal with your immediate family and a set of grandparents. But as it’s still important to avoid larger gatherings, it’s best to keep the celebrations small. Greet people on Zoom and spend time talking. For family and friends nearby, spread the joy with drive-by deliveries of gifts/food. Sending nonperishable care packages to those far away is always appreciated as well.
On Zoom it’s possible to host family talent shows, games, story times, etc. It just requires a tiny bit of thought and organization. Early in the summer we attended a virtual birthday party for our 6-year-old nephew. His parents had thoughtfully purchased the game Pie Face (Google it, it’s hilarious) for his small group of friends and delivered it the night before. At party time all the children were able to play together with an adult moderating the game. This game is fun for all members of the family.
Yes, it’s not going to be the same this year. But that certainly doesn’t mean that the holiday season is a total bust. While keeping our focus on the true and everlasting “reason for the season,” let’s use the love of our Savior, Jesus, to spur ideas for connecting with and bringing joy to others.
*Gerald Klingbeil is associate eeditor of Adventist Review and Adventist World, and a colleague of the author.
Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.