It will be tempting to say that this will be a Christmas season like no other.
But we should resist that temptation because it really isn’t the case.
Sure, we just celebrated Thanksgiving with what was likely — or certainly should have been — smaller gatherings of loved ones around the turkey and the table. We are, after all, in the midst of the worst pandemic this nation and the world has seen in more than a century.
With cases of COVID-19 surging all across the nation, many of us exercised some common sense, followed the guidance of medical experts and kept our gatherings smaller. Or at least smaller than usual.
It’s likely we’ll have to do something similar at Christmas. But the point is we’ve done it before. We’ve risen to the occasion; we’ve dealt with hard times and painful loss.
The mis-named Spanish flu (it began at a military base in Kansas) forced the nation into quarantines and crowd avoidance from late 1917 all through 1918. More than 650,000 people died in the U.S., and an estimated 50 million people worldwide.
And then there were the world wars, I and II.
Families rich and poor, educated and not-so-educated, city-bred or country-born, suffered separation and far too often, loss.
The Great War was followed by the Great Depression when poverty knew no bounds. Then the Great Depression was followed by the Second World War.
In other words, we are a people, who, like many the world over, have suffered. Consider the lyrics of a couple of songs written while World War II raged in Europe and the Far East.
In 1943, lyricist Kim Gannon and composer Walter Kent combined to create one of the saddest holiday songs of all. It’s called “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and according to its creators, it was meant to reflect a holiday season seen through the eyes of a soldier overseas.
I’ll be home for Christmas;
you can plan on me.
Please have snow and mistletoe
and presents for the tree.
Christmas Eve will find me,
Where the love light gleams.
I’ll be home for Christmas,
if only in my dreams.
Yes, it’s a bit of a downer. But it reflected — and reflects — the kind of holiday season we’ve experienced before and may well be experiencing again. People will be away from home, away from “where the love light gleams” because of the virus. It will be sad, no question about it. A sadness that was also reflected in 1944’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Written by composer Hugh Martin and lyricist Ralph Blane for the movie “Meet Me in St. Louis.” It contained a verse so melancholy that at first star Judy Garland refused to sing it. It says:
Through the years we all
will be together,
If the saints allow,
Until then we’ll have to
muddle through somehow …
Despite the potential for sadness, Pope Francis has noted in the past that there are ways to avoid the holiday blues. Two years ago he reminded us to “not make Christmas worldly. Let us not put aside the one being celebrated,” he said.
“If Christmas ends up as just a beautiful traditional holiday where everything revolves around us and not him, it will be a lost opportunity,” the pope noted.
So perhaps that’s the way we can deal with a holiday season that will be strange for many of us. Perhaps we can use it as a reminder of what lies at the heart of Advent — what we’re all really waiting for. If we can recall, relive and revive the meaning of the holiday, then perhaps we can all “muddle through somehow.”
We’ve done it before; no reason we can’t do it again.
Record Editor Emeritus