Flip back through photos and you’ll see how different Christmas will look this year. No Nativity pageant at church. No Christmas concert at school. No company parties. No visits to Santa. No family reunions.
With five kids at home, I’ve been hearing a lot of wishing for last year or hoping for next. Why can’t we do what we’ve always done? Why is that fun canceled, too?
2020 has asked us to go without. But our sacrifices have not been hollow. Our actions and attitudes are modeling for younger generations what it means to work for the common good, care for the most vulnerable and love our neighbors.
What’s more, God will fill what feels empty. What if we entered into Advent and Christmas with expectancy and openness, asking Mary to show us what it means to welcome God in surprising ways?
We might discover that our God of goodness is waiting to give us new graces.
We can gather with our families in fresh ways this year. Even as we mourn what we are going without, we can still celebrate with each other, enjoying the essentials of Advent and Christmas.
Walk in the woods together and enjoy the beauty of creation. Cook with family over a video call or watch a favorite movie at the same time. Start a group text to reminisce about great holiday memories. Write letters to relatives who live alone. Start dreaming of next year’s Christmas together.
We can also celebrate with the children in our lives in new ways. With tighter budgets and fewer options, let us look to simple joys.
Drive around town to delight in the Christmas lights. Decorate a gingerbread house together (or with grandparents over Zoom). Make a playlist of favorite Advent hymns and Christmas carols. Create a paper chain as an Advent calendar, writing one name for Jesus with a Scripture verse for each day.
This year we can celebrate with neighbors in new ways, too, remembering that the spirit of Christian charity and solidarity means we serve and sacrifice for each other.
Drop a card or cookies on your neighbor’s doorstep. Be kinder to strangers in comment boxes. Pray for those with whom you disagree. Donate extra to local food shelves if you can. Light a candle in your window each night to bring the light of Christ to your neighborhood.
We can also celebrate with the universal church, drawing together as the body of Christ.
Try a new prayer practice like the St. Andrew Christmas Novena or the O Antiphons. Pray with an online Mass celebrated in a language other than your own. Pay a virtual visit to a great cathedral on another continent. Show your children the beauty and diversity of art for the Nativity (free thanks to Google Images).
Plan special ways to celebrate the coming Christmas feasts: not only the Nativity, but also the feast of the Holy Family (Dec. 27), the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1), and Epiphany (Jan. 3). Doughnuts after Mass? Dessert after dinner? Listening to favorite music? We need every reason to rejoice right now.
Above all, we can celebrate these holy seasons with our God who is always Emmanuel, dwelling with us. May we keep our hearts open to encountering the God of Incarnation right where we find ourselves here and now.
Next year will be different. We’ll hug and kiss friends and family. We’ll sing together at Mass in crowded churches. We’ll enjoy traditions that we put on hold, savoring their sweetness even more after their absence.
But may we never limit God’s love or fear that we’ll be left without. God-with-us will bring new mercies each morning.
Fanucci is a writer, speaker, and author of several books including “Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting.” Her work can be found at laurakellyfanucci.com.
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