Holiday Notes

Sunset from our front steps, Dec. 19, 2021.

The coronavirus pandemic continues during a second holiday season. I had hoped to be done writing about that by now. The omicron variant of the virus informed me, “No, you are not done.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease specialist, said yesterday on CNN, “Unfortunately, I think that (record numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are) going to happen. We are going to see a significant stress in some regions of the country on the hospital system, particularly in those areas where you have a low level of vaccination.”

We had already cancelled a Christmas trip to be with our child and their close friends, because of increased incidence of COVID-19. Today I’m making a list for a trip to the grocery store to provision up with fresh vegetables so I don’t have to leave the property until the new year. I seek to minimize our exposure to the new, highly contagious variant of the coronavirus.

“It is going to be a tough few weeks, months, as we get deeper into the winter,” Fauci said.

Merry f*cking Christmas, y’all.

The Christmas Holidays in my childhood home were mostly a product of my maternal grandmother’s imagination. She was born and grew up on a remote farm in rural Minnesota. At a young age, she moved to Minneapolis where she worked as a servant. She and a man got together (and presumably married) and had two children. Her plain, difficult life was punctuated by the special occasions of weddings, baptisms, first communions, and religious holidays, especially Easter, yet Christmas too.

Part of her Christmas holiday culture was creating a tableau of the nativity, with a manger and ceramic figurines she molded, glazed and fired herself. My inheritance from her includes this sort of creating something from the dross of daily life, something in which we could participate and enjoy. She recognized the fleeting moments of those special days and the work that went into making them. Without her, the Christmas holiday would have been much different.

End of year holidays have been secularized. Instead of making tableaux from home made things as a celebration of religious culture, we insert figurines that came down from grandmother in what has become a hollowed out, personalized family tradition. These are essentially habits repeated for lack of something better to be doing. Am I cynical? No, not really. When we put out decorations, we enjoy the time remembering where special artifacts originated. With the decline in participation in formal religion, people now craft their own end of year holiday occasions which may or may not include such traditions.

Americans’ membership in houses of worship continues to decline, dropping below 50 percent for the first time in 2020, according to the Gallup organization’s eight-decade polling trend. That year, 47 percent of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50 percent in 2018 and 70 percent in 1999.

In our household a number of special occasions mark the end of the calendar year. First is our wedding anniversary on Dec. 18, followed by the winter solstice, this year on Dec. 21. Christmas Eve is a time to make chili and cornbread, and on Christmas Day we make a special meal. If others are in the house, we may exchange gifts. My birthday follows on Dec. 28 which leads into New Year’s Eve. Dec. 31 involves a weak effort to stay up until midnight to ring it in. I usually have a drink. New Year’s Day is another special meal and by then all the leftovers from Christmas have been eaten. This year I plan to start a new tradition of starting onion seeds indoors on New Year’s Day.

As I age, there is a sense of loneliness and sadness as I survive more people I knew with each passing year. Coping with aging is increasingly present during the holidays. There are holiday phone calls, video chats, texts and emails. If we weren’t in the worst of the pandemic, I could engage with a local organization to help others. Such communication helps us cope.

Staying busy also helps. Garden planning is a natural undertaking for the holidays. I placed my first three seed orders and will work on another. In addition, I began a project in the garage to organize everything. Yesterday I discovered a drawer that was crammed full of telephone wire and connectors brought back from my father-in-law’s home in the late 1990s. He owned and operated a rural telephone company and I don’t recognize half of the tools and supplies. Land line telephones are in decline, so a lot of it will be sold at a yard sale or pitched. There is also plenty of reading and writing to be done to cope with loneliness.

The end of year holidays are much different from what I recall from childhood. I no longer believe there is a Santa Claus, even though I remember seeing him and the reindeer flying in the sky when I was in first grade. As we discover the new, electronic globe in which we find ourselves, there will be other changes. I predict end of year celebrations will continue. I expect to note the annual rites for many years to come.