With traditional ways of celebrating on pause, Christmas 2020 was definitely one for the books.
Despite COVID-19 – or maybe even because of it – I, and many people I know, celebrated the Christmas season well. As one of my good friends remarked, COVID-19 didn’t spoil her Christmas. She mused that she made new memories; memories that will stand apart from the typical and standard Christmas ones.
This holiday season, we adapted with grit and grace. We accepted the public health restrictions that COVID-19 forced upon us. We decorated, even when Christmas trees were in short supply. We baked, even though we expected no house guests. We found ways to connect with those not in our household or core bubbles. We found church services online. We shared in the joy of the season.
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We said humbug to COVID. We kept the spirit of Christmas alive in our hearts and our homes. In the process, we found novel ways to extend ourselves to others and we found ourselves the recipients of unexpected blessings.
With a potentially more transmissible variant of COVID in the mix, an already challenging new year is upon us. Recalling and acting upon the goodwill of Christmas 2020 will be important in the coming months. Once the festive season ends, the hard work of Christmas begins.
As American author, philosopher, theologian and educator Howard Thurman, whose thought and spirituality influenced the American civil rights movement, poetically penned, “When the song of the angels is stilled/ When the star in the sky is gone/ When kings and princes are home/ When the shepherds are back with their flocks/ The work of Christmas begins.”
These lines call out any shallowness that would reduce Christmas to a mere pretense of kindness or to a brief period of generosity.
Kindness and generosity animate the Christmas season. The challenge of the season, its work, is to carry forward, uninterrupted, its goodwill. The work of Christmas is to honour the dignity of every person, regardless of circumstance, race, creed or culture. From one Christmas to the next, the work of Christmas is to enact the spirit of Christmas in our daily living.
With the ringing in of a new year, our attention turns to the annual custom of formulating New Year’s resolutions. In some ways, the work of Christmas stands in opposition to this practice.
The most typical New Year’s resolutions – losing weight, improving fitness, quitting smoking or spending more responsibly – focus on self-improvement or improving one’s situation. While admirable, these resolutions have little to do with incarnating the spirit of Christmas. They look inward, to the self, whereas the work of Christmas looks outward, towards others.
The work of Christmas doesn’t require grand, heroic gestures from us. It only asks, as Mother Teresa famously said, that we “do ordinary things with great love.”
Over the next months, there are numerous ordinary ways to care for ourselves and to contribute to the well-being of others. We can adhere to public health restrictions. We can use technology to stay in touch. We can provide companionship (over the phone, or properly masked and physically distanced) to someone who is isolated and lonely. We can do errands for someone who is shut-in. We can remember food banks and shelters with donations beyond the Christmas season. We can buoy each other up. And for people of faith, we can pray.
We’ve turned the page on Christmas 2020. Let’s not close the book on the grit and determination with which we celebrated. During this historic moment, it may be more important than ever to “be kind, be calm, be safe.”
Louise McEwan has degrees in English and theology. She has a background in education and faith formation.
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