What to keep and what to let go this Christmas

Off and on since we got our vaccines in the spring, I have wondered about COVID keeps — things I enjoyed about our weird year. I’ve wondered what I want to bring back (which is so many things) and what I want to let go (which is surprisingly also so many things).

The no-guilt permission to say no to anything. KEEP.

The cellular-level happiness at receiving a hug. KEEP.

The virtual cheese classes. KEEP.

This month has me thinking about this more than usual.

Last year, we celebrated Christmas and my MIL’s birthday, which is Christmas Eve, on the warmest and most sunny day of Christmas week, which happened to be Tuesday, Dec. 22. She had just finished months of chemo, surgery, and radiation for breast cancer.

Her hair was growing back a stunning shade of gray. We gathered on her porch to surprise her. She assumed we wouldn’t be able to celebrate at all because of COVID. But I knew warm December days were likely in Texas, so we made a plan based on the seven-day forecast and it all came together.

We wrapped gifts. Brought Sprinkles cupcakes. What usually gets scheduled a month before and takes a day or so of cleaning and cooking and shopping to pull together happened with a few texts and some sunshine.

On Christmas Eve, we gathered in my sister’s driveway. She had a fire pit, and we exchanged gifts in big bins to be opened in the safety of our own germ pool later. I hugged my nephew and his girlfriend for the first time in months because they’d had COVID over Thanksgiving. My oldest son didn’t go as I recall, Clyde was bubbled up with his mom (as he had been for the entire nine months), so Sawyer and I showed up with a trunk full of gifts. On the way home, we ordered Chili’s takeout.

On Christmas Day, we masked up and risked being together in the same room with Clyde and his mom. This is where the line between safety and happiness went gray. It was too cold for my MIL to be outside, so we had breakfast casserole and a fire in our living room. Later, we drove to see my Dad and opened presents with him on his back porch. He was annoyed because COVID was fake but he played along.

That night, I made a fancy dinner for the boys at home. How could it ever happen that it would be just the three of us for Christmas dinner? I loved every minute of it. Mushroom risotto, sautéed spinach, and beef tenderloin. We used the fancy glasses we’d bought in Venice just before COVID started. The boys declared it the best meal I’d ever made. And they watched a Mavs game together on the outside TV we bought them for Christmas, because outside life was the most important thing in 2020.

As I look back at the photos, it was a pretty perfect Christmas. Yes, Clyde had been social distancing from our family for far too long. Yes, although we knew vaccines were coming soon, we didn’t know how long it would be until we could get them. Yes, it was all very weird.

This year, things generally are falling into place as they always have. My niece is hosting Christmas Eve instead of me, so that’s different. My whole family may not be available on Christmas Day, but my dad and I hope some nieces and my nephew are. We have two new babies joining us this year. Things are flexible a year later … but not driveway-Chili’s-check-the-forecast-to-pick-a-date flexible.

Is there a happy space between 2019 and the years before it and 2020?

I love our traditions. I love to cook delicious food, put all my favorite Christmas decorations out, and buy the perfect gifts. But that Chili’s take-out burger with Sawyer was damn good.

I don’t have the answers today. But I’m looking for them. Maybe that’s what we do in 2021, as we get closer to normal. We look for the way forward, informed by what we’ve all been through.

Slimmed down, what made last year so special? Tricked up as usual, what makes a normal Christmas so special?

That’s what I’ll be thinking about this year, with the intention to keep some of what was good about the once-in-a-lifetime (we hope) experience of 2020. Maybe it was just all a limited-time offer. But maybe we can keep just a bit of it forever.


About Dawn McMullan

Dawn McMullan is a freelance writer/editor in Dallas, Texas. Her two sons are now 21 and 24, Sawyer in college and Noah starting his post-college career, and both interrupted empty nesting during the pandemic. Dawn helps run a non-profit in Eastern Congo and is senior editor at the International News Media Association.
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2 Responses to What to keep and what to let go this Christmas

  1. Louise Hutchinson says:

     Truly love all your observations. Although I look at all this from an older perspective I remember a lot of this from many years ago. Each year is a different perspective with family. Continuing growing. Take care. Louise


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