It’s been a complicated year. It’s a year in which so many people are in so much pain. And now we’re in the midst of the holly, jolly holiday season when we joyfully celebrate centuries-old traditions of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas.
This year, to be honest, I don’t quite know how to feel. There’s a huge gap between sadness and holly jolly-ness.
We just marked the anniversary of December 7 – the day that will live in infamy – by setting new single-day records for American deaths, eclipsing both Pearl Harbor and 9/11. There will be 300,000 and climbing empty chairs around holiday tables this year because of covid. Our holiday traditions will be curtailed even more as our nation finally takes steps to stop the spread of the virus. 2020 is a year that will live in infamy.
The Mitchener family has been very lucky so far. We’ve only suffered the minor inconveniences of uncomfortable masks and fogging glasses, and giving up restaurants, theatres and social gatherings. We’ve not lost family members, friends or income to the killer virus.
But it’s hard to focus on the holidays, knowing that so many families are suffering. That’s the aim of this Old Guy post: focus on the holidays, and ways our family is experiencing changes that have nothing to do with a global pandemic, a tanking economy, or a national political embarrassment.
People who know me know that these holidays are, in my own secular way, sacred to me. It’s important to me to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas rituals the same ways we’ve always celebrated them. But this has been a year of some interesting changes.
The changes began with Thanksgiving. We don’t begin our Thanksgiving planning saying, “Hey, let’s change things up this year. How about burgers on the grill?” That’ll never happen. But this year, we did change some things.
Instead of having a large, chaotic turkey dinner – 13+ loud, hungry people around our table – we had a small, not so loud, still-a-little-chaotic turkey dinner: four people around the table, and Joey the pug at our feet staring up at us. It was the same table, but it was in our son and figlia-in-law’s dining room. They had just moved into their first house a week before.
The menu was the same, the table was the same, four of the participants were the same, the love and happiness were the same. Just the street address had changed. And even the street address was good news, being just 5½ blocks from our condo.
Another change came shortly after Thanksgiving.
In years past, Carole and I would go out the very next weekend and buy our Christmas tree, usually a tall Fraser fir, at the YMCA lot. We’d set the tree up the same day, put the lights on, and over the next week hang the ornaments.
Decorating the tree had evolved from one full day of lights, ornaments, Christmas music and eggnog, into a week-long, tiring process for this old guy and his not-quite as-old-but-not-that-far-behind bride.
When the tree was finally done, we’d have a glass of eggnog, and just stare, entranced for a while. When we were still at the house, I’d go outside, no matter how cold, and take a picture of the tree from the street. And then have another glass of eggnog.
This year, we made a big change, and it had nothing to do with covid or the kids living close. It had to do with age. We’ve bought an artificial tree. (I’m sorry, Erin. I swore I’d never do that, but I didn’t plan on getting old.) An artificial tree compresses four hours of physical labor into 30 minutes. It’s perfectly shaped, lights up the room, and we never have to check the water. We’re still entranced.
And while we’re transitioning to an artificial tree, M&M are enjoying their first house with their first tree. A real one. And what did they do when they finished decorating it?
I don’t know if they had eggnog.
The biggest change of all hasn’t happened yet, but we’re already feeling the excitement of it. Our first grandchild is on her way, due to arrive by the end of April. So there’s a good chance that next Christmas – and the rest of our lives – will see a few more changes. M&M haven’t broken the news to Joey the pug yet.
It’s halfway through the holiday season. Some things are different, and some will always be the same. I hope you and your family have enough holiday joy to balance out the sadness in our world.
Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. And with a collective sigh of relief, let’s raise our glasses to the long-awaited beginning of 2021.