Happy COVID Holidays!

David Olsen, Ph.D, LCSW

It’s that “most wonderful time of the year” again… well, sort of. It’s going to be a very different holiday season this year. Our house is beautifully decorated, the trees have bright outdoor lights, presents have been purchased, grandchildren are bouncing off the walls, but something feels very off. There will be no holiday parties, no crowded candlelight Christmas eve services, no gatherings with friends, no hugs and well wishes, no extended family gatherings, or even out of state ski trips. I found myself saying to my wife, “why is the house decorated, but we can’t have everyone over?” This will be a very different holiday season!!

2020 has been a very long, and very complicated year, and this holiday season will be a fitting conclusion. So, how are we to make our way through this very different holiday season without many of the rituals and traditions that we are used to that provide meaning? Consider the four  Gs: Grief, Gratitude, Grace, and Giving.

Acknowledge Grief

Grief is always in the backdrop of the holidays, not just this year. In the midst of holiday joy, grief always lurks in the backdrop (the ghost of Christmas past). Grief may be for family members or friends who are no longer there, sadness for holidays past and unfulfilled expectations, and grief that can’t even be put into words. This year, though, in the midst of covid, the grief is even more complicated:

There is no solution for grief, other than to acknowledge and honor it. To block it is to become flat and devoid of other emotions. To love is to live with the reality of loss and the pain that comes with it. So, during this holiday season, acknowledge the grief and honor those who have gone before, and find a way to celebrate their legacy. Use part of the holidays to process grief, memories, and create rituals to celebrate the past. (We have a wreath on our table to honor the passing of my wife’s mother this past year.)

Find Gratitude

In the midst of the grief, find gratitude, and give thanks for the positives in your life. Find gratitude for the things that really matter:

Practice Grace

The great theologian Bono, from the rock group U2, put it like this: “She takes the blame, she covers the shame, removes the stain, it could be her name: grace is the name of a girl, Grace is a thought that could change the world.”

What does it mean to practice Grace? Frederick Buechner states it well, “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.”

With all of the business of this complicated holiday season, stay awake to moments of grace.

Focus on Giving

In the midst of the abundance of the holiday season, and at times extravagance, I am moved by pictures of long food lines, by people who have very little, and by higher unemployment numbers.

Perhaps we celebrate our most spiritual traditions when we give generously. So, this holiday season think of City Mission, of SICM, of food banks, and give generously as a way to find meaning and celebrate the best of our spiritual heritage. In the Christian tradition, the wise men brought gifts;  perhaps our gifts to those who are in need best celebrate that tradition.

Without question, this will be a complicated holiday season. In the midst of it, though, be attentive to grief and honor it, find things to be grateful for, be awake to moments of grace and, by all means, give generously.