“Christmas… is not an external event at all, but a piece of one’s home that one carries in one’s heart.”~ Freya Stark
Christmas 2020 is going to be different for everyone this year. With the world in the grip of a fast-spreading pandemic, traditional Christmas events, parties, and celebrations are not happening.
Like so many of us, I am feeling blue about the upcoming holiday. Our Health Authority recommends the cancellation of all social gatherings outside our own dwelling. We have decided to forgo our usual family dinner in hopes that our small sacrifice will help to stem the number of cases of COVID-19 from skyrocketing. But it is painful.
This decision made me think back to past Christmases when I was young and later when my own children were small.
The memories of my childhood Christmases are interlaced with sights, sounds, and smells. Even today, the tang of citrus at Christmas evokes the remembrance of my mother and I turning oranges and cloves into beautiful pomander balls that sat in bowls around the house throughout December.
Our holiday season began the same way every year with one of my favourite traditions — a drive around the city to view the Christmas lights. December is usually cold on the Prairies. Our city was always blanketed in snow. Bundled in our warmest winter wear, we drove through town, looking at the brilliant splendour of the neighbourhood displays. I recall the crunch of the tires on the snow-packed streets, as we drove slowly by each house, breathless at the dazzling colours! Sometimes we would clamber out of the car, stand in the frigid air while drinking in the beauty of the lights. I remember the cold, clear night sky illuminated by the glow of the multi-coloured arrays. The heavy snow on the ground softened the night sounds heightened the magical feeling around us.
My mother spent days in the kitchen, in the weeks before Christmas Day, baking our favourite Christmas goodies. Her sweet concoctions filled our kitchen with the delectable bouquet of cocoa, almond, cherries, and sugar. The air was redolent with scents — the spicy-sweet warmth of cinnamon, the aromatic woodsy smell of cloves and the sharp peppery fragrance of ginger permeated our house throughout the season.
While the traditions I treasure the most from that halcyon time took place in the lead up to the big day, there are customs from past Christmas Days that I hold dear. The table laid out with the fancy holiday dishes, the traditional Christmas dinner and with all the trimmings. Turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce made from scratch, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and gravy. And angelic music playing all day long — time-honoured carols like Silent Night, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming, and Oh Holy Night, to name a few.
One tradition that my family had never practised was hanging stockings for Santa to fill on Christmas Eve — something my husband could not believe. On our first Christmas together, he filled a red stocking with little presents, a candy cane, and a mandarin orange for me to discover in the morning. It was the start of a new tradition for us. Hanging the stockings are now my favourite part of gift-giving.
We added other traditions to our holiday season, as our daughters grew. At our house, Christmas starts with setting up the tree and putting up the decorations. When the girls lived at home, it was tradition to build gingerbread houses with their dad the week before the big day. We would each open one present on Christmas Eve, usually a new pair of Christmas pajamas. Of course, we left out a plate of cookies for Santa, beside a glass of milk and some carrot sticks for the reindeer to share. Everyone received a new ornament from Santa, and every year, we discovered at least one book under the tree with our name on it.
Yes, this year, our family Christmas celebration will be different, but we are determined to find joy by envisioning new ways to celebrate together. We are looking forward to our online Gingerbread House night. We will drink hot cocoa, reminisce, and construct our houses, each of us in our own homes connected via Zoom or Google Duo. We plan to celebrate Christmas Day with a video call — eat a feast together as we chat and open our presents. Maybe we will sing some carols, play some games, and even watch a Christmas movie online together (if we can figure out how to do it!). The day will not be the same as past celebrations, and we will be missing some favourite customs, but we will be “together”, and we love that!
I think I will put out a few of Santa’s favourite cookies and some carrot sticks this Christmas Eve — I heard that Santa will be here as usual!
How will your merrymaking be different? Please share your new and old traditions with us in the comments. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.