I’m sitting beside a lovely Christmas tree (even if it is mine), covered in twinkling lights and ornaments, many of which hold memories from days before I even existed. The advent calendar that hangs behind me only has a few more days to mark off before Christmas Eve arrives. But the day before—Christmas Eve Eve, if you will—is when I will stop pulling the handmade felt ornaments from their numbered pockets and pinning them in their appropriate spots. Normally, on December 24th, I would take Santa and place him on the last branch of the tree, signifying his impending arrival and the excitement of Christmas Day. But not this year. This year, I will stop with December 23rd.
Why, you may ask? Because I love my children and their spouses. I love my grandchildren beyond words. And, although we have worked diligently to be careful and cautious and avoid contact with the newest “C” word, we know that isn’t always enough. My Bartlett bunch is currently under a mask mandate, with my daughter-in-law teaching virtually and my grandchildren attending schools that have worked hard to follow every CDC guideline. My daughter has tried to stay safely at home with her little one while her husband has done a great deal of his work from that refuge. At least as much as he can. And when he can’t, there’s always a mask and hand sanitizer and social distancing. But my husband and I are a different story. Although we’ve tried to exercise all the caution, we can’t closet ourselves away from the world. Because we’re considered essential workers in a world where Death doesn’t wait. And we have seen the devastation carried by COVID.
So as a family we have decided we will not gather on Christmas Day. And we won’t drive by each other’s houses and throw packages on the porch so we can watch everyone open their gifts over a Zoom call. We will wait. We will wait until we can gather safely, enjoying the traditional meal of beef tenderloin with Fordhook lima beans, Golden Potato Casserole, homemade rolls, and Pink Fluff. With all the desserts we can manage to bake. And boiled custard. We will wait. And I’m ok with that.
You see, once we made that decision, I realized I didn’t have to hurry anymore. If the gifts weren’t all wrapped on December 24th, I didn’t have to stay up all night trying to finish. If there was something in short supply before Christmas, there’s a good possibility I may be able to find it afterwards. So the Christmas trees will stay up, even if it’s ‘til June (which, honestly, comes close to happening sometimes anyway . . . ‘cause it’s a whole lot easier to get it all out than it is to pack it all back up). The gifts will stay ungiven (unless they’re perishable or have an expiration date . . .), and the house will stay decorated with explanations offered to anyone who comes in and looks startled but is too polite to ask.
I’m ok with waiting because, deep down inside, once I got passed the disappointment and the frustration, I could acknowledge what I’ve known all along. Christmas isn’t a specific day. It isn’t about what’s on someone’s wish list or what’s under the tree. It’s who you get to share it with. It’s the spirit of love and peace and joy, of goodness and kindness that the season embodies. And the date is really of little consequence when you think about it; without my little ones (both large and small) around me, it really wouldn’t be Christmas at all.
So we’ll wait until we can safely gather. And the grandkids will come running in and be as excited as they ever are on December 25th. And the kids will become children again, anxious to see what treasures await as they survey the tree and dive into their stockings. And we’ll talk and laugh and eat until we’re miserable. And I’ll be able to feel all their arms around me after having waited for this eternity to pass.
I know this path isn’t for everyone, and I’m not judging anyone who choses differently or suggesting they do otherwise. But there are always options beyond the norm, if we just look outside that pesky box that so often confines us.
So to all of you I wish the merriest Christmas that Life will currently allow. May you spend it in the love of those who mean the most to you, whether in person or virtually, safely celebrating the season—and may that spirit be yours throughout the year. And hopefully someday, in the not too distant future, we can once again gather without fear. That’s when Santa will be gently pulled from his December 24th pocket and placed upon the last branch of the advent calendar. And we’ll celebrate far more than a holiday that was briefly delayed.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.