Saying Christmas is going to be different this year is the understatement of the decade.
I worry about just how different it is going to be. I’m used to a house full of people with the accompanying decibels only two levels below the fourth quarter at a packed Lambeau Field with the Packers about to score the winning touchdown as time expires.
It will be the sounds of silence this year. It will be “just us.” No extended family coming and going during the day, or us traveling from house to house and ending up at the pre-arranged home that drew the short straw and is hosting Christmas dinner.
Like every other extended family, we are individually — at least nuclear family speaking — barricading ourselves into our own homes and will only be seeing one another if we Zoom, and the last time we tried a full-scale Brennan family Zoom meeting on Easter, it should have been a pay-per-view event watching some of my older siblings try to figure out how the thing worked.
No technical wizard myself, their fumbling did make me feel a little better about my own shortcomings in that discipline.
I know Advent is a season of waiting, but the anticipation is of a glorious event. The best we can hope for in terms of a glorious event as it pertains to COVID-19 is that it stops killing us. And of course, even when that time eventually comes, there will be other manmade and natural disasters to pick up the slack in the years to come.
As the Grinch says, “Cheer up dude … it’s Christmas!” But unlike the Grinch and every other secular Christmas movie (are there any other kind these days?) that want us to feel all warm and fuzzy for no particular reason, we have the best reason of all to be joyful. So, even though I will not be able to revel in Christmas the way I want to, I fully intend to celebrate the birth of my Savior.
There will be some traditions even a pandemic cannot impede, like the smell of Christmas cookies and pumpkin bread baking in our oven. And we will brave the elements of December in Los Angeles, don our masks, gloves, and hazmat suits if we must, and venture into that magical place of over-priced merchandise, otherwise known as a Christmas tree lot.
After much discernment, we’ll bring home a Douglas Fir and enjoy the added bonus of a live tree that will fill the house with the smell that heralds Christmas.
Midnight Mass is not going to happen, and I will certainly miss that. Seeing a church packed with people, even if it’s just for one day a year, and experiencing the music and reverence that goes with it, certainly puts one in the true spirit of the day; but we will go without.
Instead, we’ll bundle up and brave the elements at the 8 a.m. Mass outside. The temperature may even be all the way down to 65 degrees then. But despite the possibility of such a bitterly cold morning, we will have Mass outside, even if it requires half the attendees sitting on picnic tables usually reserved for school kids at lunch time, or jarringly cold metal folding chairs.
We will be told to keep our social distance as we come up for the Eucharist and we will be cautioned not to sing so as not to spread any potential malevolent microbes. That last caution is not all that necessary, as Catholics worth their salt know — we don’t sing all that much in less pandemic times.
So, it appears there are going to be a host of new traditions invented on the fly this Christmas season. Some of them will stay, and many of them, God willing, will pass away along with the threat of the virus that has made all our lives miserable for nearly a year.
But if 2,000 years of Church history teaches us anything, it is the remarkable ability of the Church to absorb new things — slowly — and to jettison other things, sometimes slowly as well.
Not sure if Zoom calls or streaming Masses are ever going to attain the same spiritual heft of novenas or 40 hours of devotion, but the amount of spiritual dividends paid out by any of our new Christmas traditions will be determined by how much spiritual capital we are willing to invest in them.