• Cynthia McCarthy

Remembering the Covid Christmas

Updated: Dec 25, 2020

What Christmases do you remember? I have a few.

There was one Christmas as a tot when I got a big play kitchen set with a sink and a little stove. All day I pretended to make drinks and snacks for everyone, presenting them to relatives on little plates with plastic cups. Everything I made was delicious—they told me so! I felt more grown up than ever.

One Christmas I asked Santa for an Apple Dumplin’ doll, but then I overheard my mom talking to my grandmother about which store might have one. The doll showed up as a toy from Santa. Suspicion set in that year.

One year in my teens, I deviously opened a wrapped Christmas present early and wrapped it back up before anyone noticed. I had to polish my acting skills on Christmas morning when I “reopened” the Casio keyboard I had been wanting all year. No one seemed the wiser, but I knew. I still know, but I’ve since forgiven myself.

One Christmas, also in my teens, my dad and I went to midnight mass together—just the two of us. Mom didn’t feel like going. We drove on practically empty roads, listening to Christmas carols the whole way. I still remember the starry sky and the deep sense of stillness. It’s one of my favorite memories. Sometimes God gives us exactly what we need to nudge us in the right direction.

There was the Christmas I hated being home from college so much and spent four hours on the phone with my boyfriend. I didn’t even want to be with my family. I behaved like a first class 19 year old jerk. They didn’t complain. I have since forgiven myself.

There was the Christmas I spent on my honeymoon, when my brand new husband got food poisoning. We had spent all the money we had on that trip. At the time it was devastatingly awful and seemed like the end of the world. It actually wasn’t.

There was the year we celebrated our baby’s first Christmas in our first house on December 20th, before traveling to my parent’s house for the second “real” Christmas. She was only 8 months old, but we still did it all for her. Two trees, two Christmas mornings, two batches of toys, two sets of photos, such important silliness. So important at the time.

I remember a candle light Christmas Eve service when I was so pregnant with our second child that my coat didn’t fit. My family thought I was hormonal, and I cried the whole night about it. They were completely right. Pro tip: Christmas is an emotional time of year. Pregnancy amplifies this.

Then there was the year the youngest, our third, had a severe allergic reaction to bubble bath, and we spent our Christmas Day at urgent care waiting for antihistamines and steroids. The hives had reached her puffy little eyes by the time the medicine kicked in. I remember thinking Christmas was ruined for her, but she didn’t seem that upset. Children are resilient.

I remember the Christmas we were fighting so much I slept on the couch, as if waiting up for Santa, praying for an end to the pain. That was a very sad Christmas. The following year was the first one where the children were shared. He got Christmas Eve; I had Christmas day. We swapped them back and forth like shiny little gift bags. There would be many more to come spent like that.

I remember the Christmas where the single mom in me just didn’t want to do it, and I delayed putting up the tree until December 23rd. Nobody else would do it. It was my designated job, and it was a lot of work. The joy of the season alluded me that year.

There was the Christmas I procrastinated shopping for presents until Christmas Eve. I shopped angrily because I was poor that year, and I was angry that I was poor. I was angry that my parents gave my children the Christmas I should have been able to give them. There were too many gifts. What a thing to be upset about! Fortunately, I found my way to gratitude.

One Christmas the kids were at their dad’s all day long, and damn if I didn’t play with their new video game system for hours on end. I had fun. I made my own fun out of a potentially sad situation. It felt like a moment of growth for me.

There was the Christmas the new boyfriend and I merged our families for a huge 12 person all-day celebration. It took hours to open all the presents. There was so much food. I think it snowed. People got along that year. There have since been many others like it.

There was the year I moved away from my grown up kids, out of state, and Christmas was an emotional mess. They went to their step sister’s house for Christmas and FaceTimed me so I could see them open the gifts I had sent. Everyone was on the brink of tears the whole time. It was very, very wrong. I cried opening the gifts they sent me and vowed never to have another Christmas without them. That vow was not kept. Grown up kids grow up. Some states are very far away. The love that exists in the distance between us is real, though. That I know.

One year, after opening presents, the boyfriend spent all Christmas Day installing a toilet. He was busy and barely talked to me. I read a book in bed. I think I cried myself to sleep. It was Christmas Day! Not enough children came to visit. Sometimes Christmas can be a little sad. Even then, there were plenty of gifts, a warm home, and opportunities to give and receive love. If nothing else, there was gratitude for a fancy new low-flow toilet.

There was the candle light Christmas Eve service I led as an interim minister in a church building that was being sold—the very last Christmas service in that 100 year old building. Twenty eight of us stood in a circle around the advent wreath and lit our candles from the Christ candle, crying our way through Silent Night. The truth is, sometimes we are exactly where we are supposed to be on Christmas because God puts us there.

When I look back, all the Christmases I remember are a little different. If you look back, I bet yours are all different, too. Christmases can be different. We can do things differently and experience holidays in all kinds of ways. Life evolves. We evolve. Year after year, various players enter into and exit our holidays scenes. We may feel happy. We may feel sad. It’s okay. Christmas, like everything we experience in life, ultimately becomes a memory.

One thing to keep in mind…it is always now. This weird pandemic Christmas is upon us now. How will you remember it?

Someday, in the far away future, I’m going to look back and remember my Christmas of 2020. I will not call it the "Covid Christmas." I’ll remember that church services were held online. One was led by me, and it was very special. There were far fewer presents, and I liked it that way. There were long FaceTime calls with grandma and grown up kids who couldn’t visit. We shared our favorite holiday memories. There were phone calls with friends and unexpected joyful moments. We had plenty of food and plenty of laughter. Even in a pandemic. Our family was one of the lucky ones. Gratitude felt. Gratitude expressed. And there was love.

It turns out love was still present that Christmas. Because love is here now.

Merry Christmas, 2020.

Rev Cynthia McCarthy

Join me for a special end of the year service, "Making Magic: Healing 2020" on December 27th at 11am, EST. Live on the Center for Spiritual Living Midtown's Facebook page, or on their Zoom link. For more information and the Zoom link, visit: http://www.cslmidtown.org/weekly-talk

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