“Christmas will be at Lana’s in London in 2020,” said my younger brother as we enjoyed the last bit of our holidays in the Netherlands last year.
We spent a good 10 days with mum and brother and had the time of our lives. We played table football with kids, watched the entire “Harry Potter” series together, went for long walks, and ate lovely home-cooked food.
For us—as expats—a Christmas like this, with our families, was a treat. We genuinely treasured it, because all year through, we live separate lives without our families near us. Such holidays are a time to catch up with all the time lost during the year. There’s something magical about soaking in the familiarity and peculiarity of our families.
We’ve been doing it religiously every year, with either my side of the family or my partner’s. We believe that’s the best we can give our kids, who are brought up deprived of having grandparents, uncles, and aunties around—giving them undivided attention and love. Christmas becomes a marathon catch-up session where we catch up on all our new and old stories.
But, when COVID-19 hit in March, we had to cancel two family trips, one in April and the other in August to visit my in-laws. We put our chin up and did the right thing. I had hoped that by December things would have smoothed over, and we would have our family Christmas as planned.
As the months neared closer, it seemed impossible, so, by the end of November, I decided to call it what it was—a pipe dream. We called each other on Zoom and confirmed that the plan was off. It made no sense to travel with quarantines in all our countries and bearing the consequences of kids missing school.
Although I was saddened, the optimist in me decided to let it go and look ahead. So, I did just that.
We decided to wait for the Christmas plans to be rolled out in England and planned our celebration accordingly. The rule announced was three groups of the same family could meet between the 23rd to the 27th. Hurrah! It sounded like heaven.
We went about making our Christmas plans, decorated our houses, and bought presents. My brother and parents also planned a little get-together of their own. It slowly started to look a little like Christmas.
But, our hopes were soon dashed, as meeting up with friends too was banned.
I began to process the feelings of anger and disappointment about the change of plans. But soon, I became determined that I was not going to allow it to destroy my Christmas spirit. It’s the only thing I have, and the only thing I wait for all year long.
With or without extended family or friends, I committed to having the best Christmas I could; I was not going to waste a single moment feeling bad or letting this virus win.
We went ahead with our preparations and planned virtual Zoom catch-ups. I decided to dress up, light the Christmas tree, have mulled wine, and give presents. We planned to go for walks, watch some Christmas movies, and have a lovely Christmas dinner.
We all are going to celebrate Christmas in our own homes.
One day, closer to Christmas, as I was driving, I heard about an event on the radio where people were nominating their superheros. A mum called to nominate her daughter, because her daughter was bravest this year. During the first lockdown, her daughter had to miss her GSCE exam in March. At the same time, the caller (her mum) was diagnosed with a heart valve issue, and in June, her 14-year-old brother got diagnosed with leukemia and had to be hospitalized for a month; only parents were allowed to visit. During that time, her daughter stayed strong, played a mum’s role, took over cooking and cleaning. She also decorated her brother’s room to welcome him back and did well in her exams.
When I heard about this girl and what she went through, my issues paled in comparison and shifted my perspective. It made me understand the gravity of the situation and made all the things I cribbed about suddenly seem irrelevant.
I concluded that COVID-19 is not the Christmas grinch, but has indeed taught us some important lessons. Some of which are:
Gratitude: It has taught us to be thankful for small wonders, like the roof over our heads and the good health of our whole family.
Introspection: It taught us to introspect who and what is most important to us and to spend the right amount of time with them.
Acceptance: It taught us to accept that plans change and to embrace last-minute glitches with grace. While it is okay to crib and moan about it for a while, it is essential to move on to remain happy.
Awareness: It taught us to become aware of and count all the blessings we receive and not fail to acknowledge them.
Learn from others: It taught us to use other people’s situations as inspiration or upliftment, rather than to compare and belittle ourselves or others.
Look at the bigger picture: It taught us to be thankful for the lessons we’ve learned and the opportunities we received and use them to inspire ourselves and others.
Generosity: It taught us to find ways to give back to society. For years, I’ve spent a lot of time moaning that we’ve lost the spirit of Christmas, and this year has forced me into a period of reflection to see how I can do that.
Accepting others: It taught us to accept others’ differences, rather than being judgmental. I learned that everyone has different ways of giving back, and there is no right or wrong way.
It taught us to enjoy our own company and not always yearn for others.
It taught us the true meaning of Christmas, hidden among all the buzz of tree lights and Christmas dinner—it is a story of hope, the birth of new life, and was created for change.
It taught us to reframe our ideas of new life and birth, which isn’t easy and perfect. It comes in place of darkness, messiness, rejection, and imperfection. It comes after moments of struggle, just like it did for Mary and Joseph on a dark winter night. They were fleeing from a kind of war zone to give birth to Christ, and after a tiring journey, they found safety in no place other than a stable with animals as company.
This year, we can’t afford to have the same sort of Christmas. We can’t make it about only the trees and decorations—it has to have more meaning than that.
We have to be a seed of hope or new birth in this COVID-19 Christmas. Let it be a ray of hope and monumental change in mindset, so we can look ahead to the future with hope, faith, and love.