As I write this piece, I am basking in the glow of the lights on my Christmas tree. The familiar colors of the lights, the tattered garland, and the hodgepodge of family ornaments have provided an unexpected comfort as we enter this Christmas season. I have been listening to Christmas music since the middle of November and my kids are almost sick of singing “Jingle Bells,” even though Christmas is still weeks away. However, the sounds of the holiday have created moments of comfort for me. In ways that I did not anticipate, this holiday season has brought a sense of normalcy to the seemingly unending chaos of this year. Although Christmas celebrations will look different than years past, the beauty, sounds, and tastes of the holidays remind me of life before the upheaval of 2020. In addition, I have found comfort in the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the reminder that 2020 is just a drop in the bucket of time.
I cannot think of a year when I have needed Christmas more. I am not referring to the running countdown to 2021 in an attempt to put 2020 behind us. I have no illusions that 2021 will be instantly better. Rather, I am simply in need of Christmas and the joy and comfort this season provides. I received a taste of holiday joy when we celebrated Thanksgiving as a little family. I dressed up in a nicer than normal outfit and my three year old daughter said, “Mom! You look adorable!” And, I smiled. We all sat around the table and played games of Uno and Red Light Green Light, which led to laughter and friendly competition. The stress of the previous months was temporarily relieved and I paused to capture the feeling of happiness.
Focusing on my children this year has helped relieve some of the stress. Their laughter still echoes around the house and they pretend to be superheroes when they wear their pandemic face-masks. Both of them have remained surprisingly resilient in the ups and downs of a tumultuous year. In some ways I aspire to be like them, despite already being decades older than they are. Their resilient spirit has continued into the holidays, and I am realizing that watching the season through their eyes is a reminder of all the good that still is. Putting up our Christmas tree, taking our holiday family photos, digging out the Santa hats, and preparing for Christmas baking has produced exclamations of glee and joy that have been too frequently missing from my 2020 routine. The return of our family elf, Ollie, has brought another burst of excitement as my kids search each morning to discover what new trouble he got into while we slept.
Even more powerful than the lights sparkling on my Christmas tree is the reminder of the reason for the season. As we enter into Advent (the season of waiting), I have found comfort in unexpected similarities between Christmas this year and the day of Jesus’s birth. I imagine the day Jesus was born, Mary was separated from her friends and family, having made the trek to Bethlehm with her husband. The cows and hay that surrounded her as she gave birth probably did not fulfill her expectations of what she wanted Jesus’s birthday to look like. Having been nine months pregnant, I remember clearly the feeling of I just need this to be over. I have to imagine that Mary carried a similar emotion regarding her growing belly. This desire for the end of a season is not unlike the feeling I have now when I think of 2020. Yet, despite unmet expectations, likely some anxiety, and isolation, Mary had a little baby. The star shone bright in the sky for all to see and the world was transformed for eternity. Christmas carries the power of love, joy, and new beginnings. I will always be thankful for the celebration of Christmas and for the gift of Jesus.
Even as I reread what I have written, I feel a hint of regret hovering in the back of my mind. As I settle into the peace I feel next to my Christmas tree, I also feel the disappointment of missing yet another opportunity for connection with family and friends. The hope of Christmas is powerful, but the isolation and loss of this COVID season is powerful too. It is okay to feel both. I feel both. Today, in this moment, with Christmas music in the background, I am going to choose to lean into the comfort and joy brought through the traditions and knowledge of Jesus this holiday season.
Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.
photo credit: personal photo