How Can We Celebrate Christmas with COVID in 2020?

How Can We Celebrate Christmas with COVID in 2020?

You have thrown out the pumpkins and the moms, and are putting up the lights and shopping for stocking fillings. Despite 18 years in Canada, I find I still struggle to keep up with the rapid shifts in seasons and expectations of new colourful delights that appear and disappear on our doorsteps. I take my cue from my neighbours; mom’s into green bin, lights up.

Christmas is coming, yet this is not like ordinary Christmas’. This year, has not been like any other year. We have all been living in extraordinary times. The COVID 19 pandemic, has unrelentingly forced change. It has made many redundant, made most work remotely, it has kept our kids home, and restricted us from meeting our friends for a beer or a glass of wine at the pub.

I have looked back on the black and white images of men and women wearing cloth masks over their faces during the 1918 flu pandemic, and wondered how will future generations view us, will they judge us, criticize us, or pity us?

Many of us are currently living in the ‘red zone’. I hear hopeful voices hoping that we will reach the ‘green zone’ before Christmas and yet the hope is muted and tangled with doubt.

Christmas will be different. For some, it may be darker, lonelier, more subdued. For others, it may be a relief not to have to visit old-aunt-may.

Like this pandemic itself, the impact of Covid on Christmas, will be varied. While many have lost jobs and income, others have seen more dollars in their bank at the end of the month, and more quality time with their nearest and dearest.

Why Do We Celebrate Christmas?

Mid-Winter celebrations, such as Christmas, have a long history. ‘Since long before recorded history, the winter solstice and the subsequent ‘return’ of the sun have inspired celebrations and rituals in various societies around the world.’

The Roman festival of Saturnalia ‘started out as a one-day celebration earlier in December, this pagan festival later expanded into a riotous weeklong party stretching from December 17 to 24. During this jolliest and most popular of Roman festivals, social norms fell away as everyone indulged in gambling, drinking, feasting and giving gifts. Even slaves got to partake in the festivities; they did not work, and some masters turned the tables and served their slaves’. (

Many religious traditions, including Christianity, have chosen to celebrate significant Christian events, such as the birth of Jesus Christ, at this time. The earliest written record of Christians celebrating the Nativity feast appears in a Philocalian calendar dated around 354 CE. ( Similar winter solstice celebrations can be found in other cultures around the world, including St. Lucia’s Day in Scandinavia, Dong Zhi celebration in Japan.

Our ancient ancestors recognized the rhythms of life, and the need to inject hope and happiness into the long dark nights, and short grey days of winter. They knew, far more than we do today, what it is like to live in the dark – with fire and flame the only sources of light and heat, to have a limited supply of fresh food, and feel the dreaded despair of winter dragging their spirits and souls down.

Our lives, in contrast, are so radically different, we can stay up late binging on Netflix, shop for the freshest food in 24/7 grocery stores, fly to Florida and bask in the sun, climb the highest mountains and ski down the flood lit slopes. We have found a way to combat the limitations of a winter in a way that would turn our ancestors green with envy.

And yet, we still know the gradual dip in mood as the nights lengthen, the shift from summers outdoors to the long winter indoors.

Covid has accentuated the normal challenges of winter. It has dampened our souls, troubled our minds, limited our ability to socialize and now threatens the celebration of our winter solstice and Christmas.

We need these seasonal breaks in our lives to rejuvenate, to celebrate and fill us with hope, but how can we celebrate Christmas with Covid?

How Can We Celebrate Christmas?

Have Fun Re-Inventing, and Creating New Christmas Traditions

Most of us love our traditions. We love pulling out the same tree, with the kid’s homemade tree decorations from kindergarten, and waking with the same routine of fresh fruit and chocolate croissants, or a tiger of a turkey, and long leisurely afternoons with food settling in our bellies.

We thrive on our traditions. They give us a sense of belonging – ‘this is how we do it here, in our family’. They give us a sense of safety, and of community. We don’t much like change.

And yet, this Christmas with Covid, is different. We can’t do what we did last year. We can’t fly in and out of the country to visit family, or vacate in the sun. We can’t invite a large cohort of family and friends into our home for wine and nibbles. We can’t even gather with some of our closest relatives due to the challenges of protecting the elderly and the vulnerable. We have to rethink how we do Christmas and who we do Christmas with.

Give yourself permission to do things differently, give each other the opportunity to do things differently. Play a game in your head, or with your family. See this as an opportunity to experiment and do things differently, rather than a crisis that will decimate Christmas. Start with a clean slate, and brain storm what really matters to you about Christmas. Sit down as a family and throw ideas in the air. Use paper and get everyone to write down 3 new ideas, 3 things they like about previous Christmas’s and 3 things they didn’t like. Use your imagination, day dream. If you could rewrite your own family Christmas story what would you do differently.

Identify What is Most Important to You and Find a New Way to Make that Happen

There are some common factors to most family Christmas’s, such as family gatherings, food, and gifts. And yet, within that broad swath of festivities there are different facets that are particularly important to each one of us – it might be particularly good wine, or a favorite movie, or watching the kids open stoppings. It may be the smell or turkey, or the Christmas eve carols.

Take time to reflect on what makes Christmas special for you. Take time to think through and talk about what really matters to you – when you have stripped away all the trimmings of Christmas. Make a big poster with your partner or your family with a list of what really matters. Get on zoom or facetime, or whatever digital device you use to communicate with your loved ones, and ask them what is most important to them about Christmas. Ask them to name one or two things that mean Christmas to them.

You may well find that you cannot do everything that is on that list. If your list is a vacation in Italy with extended family, or grandparents flying in from NFL, or snuggling the babies and squishing their tummies you may not be able to do that. But you may be able to identify what really matters to you, such as connection with those you love, and find a new way to make that happen.

It might mean making a special recording of songs, or messages for your loved ones and sending it to them, or writing them a handwritten letter telling them what they mean to you. Maybe you make a scrap book, or put together a picture album for them, chronicling your special moments together. You may be able to find a new way of being with and celebrating your closest relationships without physically being present with them.

Invest in the Sentimental Rather than the Material

Christmas means gifts and giving, and yet this year, budgets are stretched, stores are closed, and Canada Post has long since told us the we needed to ship gifts in early November for them to arrive.

Christmas would hardly seem like Christmas without something to shiny to shake and to tear open. And yet, despite the challenges, we can rethink what we wrap in our glitzy paper. Perhaps, if money is tight, you can decide as a family that all gifts will be homemade, or that all gifts can be bought in your local grocery store, or that all gifts need to be bought within a certain radius of your home. You can play with the idea of gifts. If Christmas has always meant lots of expensive items piled under the tree, try turning the tables, and only giving one gift, and limiting its value and origin.

It can be fun doing things differently. It can help us to see Christmas in a different light, and from a different perspective. We have long since lived in a time when many of us can go out and buy most of what we want and need, and can indulge our kids in luxuries that our grandparents never dreamed of and would shake in their graves should they see.

It’s okay to shake it up.

Give to Others that You Don’t Usually Give To

Many many people prefer to give gifts, and see them opened, rather than to receive them. There is a real delight in watching other people open our gifts, and see the joy on their faces. Being altruistic has immediate personal benefits. It makes us feel good. It does something to our insides that is a little like melted chocolate on the tip of our tongues.

Find someone to give to that you don’t usually give to this year. There are so many in need. There are those without work, living on CERB, those without stable accommodation, those bereaved by loss of family, friends and isolated from any that care for them.

Think outside the box. You don’t have to look very far. Make it personal. Look around your town, call the shelters, talk to your family about what you can do to make a difference in someone else’s life and bring a little magic to your own lives this Christmas. If you run out of ideas, here’s a few suggestions:

Be Kind To Yourself

Some of these ideas may have merit, some may suck, it will depend on where you’re at. We are all in different places emotionally, physically and in so many ways with so many variables.

If you are reading this and thinking ‘she’s crazy’, ‘what does she know’, or worse, then it’s okay. I don’t know your story, or what is going on in your life just now. And if this sucks it’s okay.

For you, and everyone else who is reading this, be kind to yourself. Despite our best efforts to flexible, and open, exploratory and altruistic, there will be moments when the sadness creeps up on us, and takes us unawares. There may be moments of remembering and grieving, moments of tension and anger, flared tempers, and slammed doors.

It’s okay. Life can be grueling. It can be fun, but it can also be grueling, and if your life feels grueling just now, it’s okay. We get that. We know it.

If that’s you, be gentle and kind to yourself, recognize that for you Christmas is going to be challenging, and possibly very painful this year. Plan breaks for yourself, don’t push yourself too hard, reach out to the people in your life who know you and understand what you are going through. Make an appointment to speak to a professional.

We have therapists on staff who can see you. Interns who are only $55 a session, evening and weekend appointments. If you in a bad place or feeling vulnerable please call us. We would be honored to walk with you through this time.

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