A Covid Christmas: Finding the Magic This Year

This is definitely NOT a Santa 2020 photo! 

The holidays have always been my favorite time of year. There is something so magical that happens between Thanksgiving and Christmas, something I looked forward to all year long as a little girl. It wasn’t just the presents, it was how Christmas made me feel. Growing up, my family moved about every 2 years, so there was a lot of uncertainty about when we’d next be packing up and saying our goodbyes. It was hard, but no matter where in the world we were, my mom made sure that the holiday season was filled with our family traditions that made any house feel like home. It was the one time of year that I knew what to expect, even if I never knew when and where we’d be moving to next. The season gave me such comfort despite all the uncertainty. It was like being wrapped in a huge hug filled with gingerbread houses and twinkling lights. Thirty some odd years later and I still look forward to it all, especially recreating that magic for my own children.

My beautiful mom, she always made the holidays so special no matter where in the world we were living. I never experienced the chaos of a worldwide pandemic like my kids are now, but I’m taking a cue from my mom and how she handled holidays during stressful times and hoping my kids feel the same warmth I always did.

I’ve been a mom now for 6 years and to say we do the holidays up in our house is an understatement. My daughter shares my absolute love of Christmas. In fact, since her second Christmas, I’d say she loves it even more than me. That was the Christmas she declared she was an elf from the North Pole who was just temporarily living in my house until Santa needed a new CEO of the toy factory. Forget playing princesses, for the next 3 years we spent hours pretending we were at the North Pole and listening to Christmas songs, even in the middle of July while wearing swim suits. She was so obsessed that she has pretty much convinced me she really is an elf. So when Christmas actually rolled around, she made it so easy to get into the holiday spirit. I loved sharing my family traditions with her and creating new ones of our own. We took advantage of every minute and tried to do something special every day, be it as simple as going to donate toys to the Children’s Hospital or getting all dressed up to see the Nutcracker.

If you’ve ever met Kennedy in person, she more than likely informed you that she was an elf from the North Pole. With all the uncertainty this year has brought us, I know I have to put my worries aside and make sure the holidays are still special for her, even if it looks nothing like it has in the years past.

We shared as many of these moments as we could with family and friends, starting new traditions with them as well. I think I looked forward to it all as much as Kennedy did- it was always fun to meet up with people and get into the Christmas spirit with loved ones. And while it was harder when her little brother came last year, I knew it was almost more important to keep our traditions alive. After all, her world had been rocked by this new tiny human constantly attached to her mama, so I didn’t want the sleep deprivation and chaos of a newborn to take away from her excitement of the season. It all reminded me of how my mom would make sure all the Christmas decorations followed us around the world and that my favorite Christmas cookies were baked no matter where we were (PS- she still does this for me even though I’m now a mom myself!). The certainty of it all always comforted me, and it helped Kennedy feel like her new brother added to the traditions we had instead of taking them away.

Our littlest elf Croix! Last year he was just this itty bitty little guy, so I’m excited to see him really get to experience some of the magic of the holidays this year!

And this year? Well, it’s 2020. A year with more uncertainty than any of us have ever experienced. The world outside our home is chaotic and in crisis. I am grateful we are safe and healthy and overly privileged to be able to stay at home together. But all that gratitude doesn’t erase the fact that this year is just different. I feel different. Part of me is having trouble feeling that holiday magic. I can’t open my phone without feeling sick to my stomach at the news. It almost feels wrong to be celebrating when so many are suffering. Another part of me feels we need to celebrate even more because this year has been hard on the kids, and what better way to bring comfort than with carols and cookies. But then I have those petty moments where I am exhausted from constantly being “on” 24/7 for the last 9 months at home- do I have the energy to clean up after the crafts when my house is already a disaster zone from 4 people being here all the time? But I know that I also need these holidays to shake up the monotony of our safer-at-home life. I’m constantly shifting between an ambivalence towards celebrating in these dark times to needing that same comfort this season provided me as a kid. How do we do a Covid Christmas?

I want to feel safe and comforted like I did as a kid. I know my kids do too. It is just going to have to look different this year. A lot of things will have to be put on hold. The holidays usually mean gathering with friends and family, celebrating with loved ones in the warmth of each others homes. It’s cookie decorating parties and neighborhood potlucks. It’s school plays and sitting on Santa’s lap. But none of that will be happening this year. And for me I understand the importance of sacrificing those things in order to keep everyone safe so they can celebrate with us next year. But my heart still broke into pieces when my little elf crawled up next to me and told me she was worried there will be no Christmas this year.

I remember my mom always reassuring me that Santa would find us no matter what country we moved to. She always made Christmas so special (and still does!) and I always could count on that feeling of pure childhood Christmas joy no matter what life brought. This year is obviously like nothing any of us have experienced, but I still hope I can help my kids feel that joy despite what is going on in the world.

It won’t be the same Christmas as she knows it, a lot of it will look and feel different.  And while I can’t promise my kids that we can be with family or do some of our favorite activities, I can make sure they still feel the true magic of the holidays. I’m learning that is exactly what my mom did for me. While I looked forward to the same decorations and activities year after year, it was actually the feelings we shared as a family while doing all of the things together that mattered. That’s what made it all so magical.

So that is what I’ll do this year. Because my biggest little elf needs it. She’s already lost that “typical” kindergarten experience. She’s lost all those play dates with friends. She’s lost visits with her grandparents and vacations with her cousins. And while she’s lucky she hasn’t lost more, I don’t want her to lose any of that beautiful Christmas spirit. And even if some days I don’t feel it, I also need it. It has not been an easy year to be a parent. With no respite, constant worry, and a lot of together time, I’ve had my less than jolly moments along the way. It will be fun to mix things up and nothing fills me up more than seeing those smiles on my kiddos faces. And if this year has taught me anything, it’s to never take a single second of it all for granted.

Kennedy’s face pretty much sums up 2020! But despite it all, I’ve cherished the extra time with these two little elves. They remind me to have hope and to be so grateful for all we have.

It will be different, but it will be filled with more gratitude and love than any other year. There will be no sitting on Santa’s lap, but we’ll all get to chat with him over zoom, as a family. I’m sure there will be lots of baking and many days designated to wearing our Christmas pjs while cuddling together watching our favorite holiday movies. And while Croix may not declare himself an elf like his big sister, I am so excited to see his reaction to all the lights and songs. I’m even excited about the darn elf I have to move each night. Because I get to watch their faces light up each morning and they run around the house excited for the day, and how magical is that after nine of months of canceled plans and little to look forward to? Most of all, I’m excited for the hope that I so often feel around Christmas. I don’t think any one has escaped the weight of 2020. We all need a little (a lot) of hope that this next year will be a little brighter, a little kinder, and a little calmer.

I’ll put away the guilt of celebrating when so many families are struggling and make sure we include them in our celebrations. We’ll write letters to our essential workers, donate toys and food to families in need, and talk to our kids about how lucky we are not just this year but every year. We will slow down and appreciate the things and people in our lives, no matter how far apart we may be. The magic is in the love we have, not in the things we do and the presents we get. There is no way 2020 can take that from us. So it will be a different Christmas, our first Covid Christmas, but there is still so much to look forward to.

So from my family to yours, I wish you the happiest and healthiest of holidays, however you celebrate. Stay safe. And here’s to 2021 and a new year full of new hope!

Wishing you health, happiness, and love in the NEW year!
Kathryn is a mom of 2- her wise sensitive Kennedy (7), her sweet little joy, Croix (2), and 3 wild and crazy fur balls! After finishing grad school in NYC, Kathryn decided to embrace the cold and move to Madison. Despite plans to only live here for one year, she fell in love with her husband Joe and all the city has to offer. She loves staying at home full time with her kids during the week and spending a few weekends a month as a social worker in the ER. After a childhood of moving around internationally, she has enjoyed putting down roots in Madison but still loves to travel as much as possible. When not adventuring with her family, you can find Kathryn running around her neighborhood and local trails, writing with a strong cup of coffee, or covered in dog hair from all the furry friends in the house!

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