” Christmas will be at Lana’s in London in 2020,” said my younger brother as we enjoyed the last bit of our holidays in the Netherlands last year. We spent a good ten days with mum and brother and had the time of our lives. We played table football with kids, watched the entire Harry Potter series together, went for long walks, ate lovely home-cooked food, and had the time of our life!

For us as ex-pats, a Christmas like this with our families is a treat. We genuinely treasure it because all year through we live our separate lives without our family near us. Such holidays are a time to catch up with all the lost time during the year. There’s something magical about soaking in the familiarity and peculiarness of our families.

We’ve been doing it religiously every year with either my side of the family or DH’s. We believe that’s the best we can give our kids who are brought up deprived of having grandparents, uncles, and aunties, giving them undivided attention and love. Christmas becomes a marathon catch-up session where we catch up on all our new and old stories.

But when Covid hit in March, we had to cancel two family trips, one in April, and the other in August to visit my inlaws. But we put our chin up and did the right thing! But I hoped that by December things would smoothen over, and we would have our family Christmas as planned.

As the months neared closer, it seemed impossible, so by the end of November, I decided to call it what it was – a pipe dream. We zoom called each other and confirmed that plan was off. It made no sense of traveling with quarantines in countries and bearing the consequences of kids missing school etc. 

Although I was saddened, the optimist in me decided to let it go and look ahead. So I did just that. We decided to wait for the Christmas plans to be rolled out in England and plan our celebration accordingly. The rule announced was three same families could meet between the 23rd to the 27th. Hurrah, it sounded like heaven.

So we went about making our Christmas plan, decorated our houses and bought the presents. My brother and parents also planned a little get together of their own. It slowly started to look a little like Christmas.

 But our hopes were soon dashed nearer to the date, and meeting up with friends too was banned as we heard the news of the virus mutating!

 I began to process the feelings of anger and disappointment about the change of plans. But soon, I became determined that I was not going to allow it to destroy my Christmas spirit. It’s the only thing I have and the only thing I wait for all year long. With or without extended family, or friends, I committed to having the best Christmas I could. I was not going to waste a single moment feeling bad or letting this virus win.

So we went ahead with our preparations and planned virtual zoom catch-ups. I decided to dress up, light the Christmas tree, have mulled wine, and give presents. We plan to go for walks, watch some Christmas movies and have a lovely Christmas dinner. We all are going to celebrate Christmas in our own homes. 

As we came nearer the 25th, I heard on the radio about an event where people were nominating their superhero’s one day as I was driving. A mum on a call nominated her daughter as a superhero because she claimed that her daughter was bravest best this year. During our first lockdown, her daughter had to miss her GSCE exam in March. At the same time, the caller (her mum) was diagnosed with some heart valve issue, and in June her 14 yr brother got diagnosed with leukemia and had to be hospitalized for a month with only parents allowed to visit. During that time, this girl, her daughter stayed strong, played a mum’s role, and took over cooking and cleaning. She also decorated her brother’s room to welcome him back and did well in her exams. 

When I heard about this girl and what she went through, my issues paled in comparison and shifted my perspective. It made me understand the gravity of the situation and made all the things I cribbed about suddenly seem irrelevant.

 I concluded that COVID is not the Christmas grinch but has indeed taught us some important lessons. Some of them are:

  1. Gratitude: It has taught us to be thankful for small wonders like the roof over our head and the good health of our whole family.
  2. Introspect -It taught us to introspect who and what is most important to us and spend the right amount of time with them. 
  3. Acceptance-It taught us to accept plan changes and last-minute glitches with grace. While it is ok to crib and moan about it for a while, it is essential to move on to remain happy.
  4. Awareness-It taught us to be aware of and count all the blessing we receive and not fail to acknowledge them.
  5. Learn from others-It taught us to use other people’s situations as inspiration or upliftment rather than to compare and belittle ourselves or others.
  6.  Look at the bigger picture: It taught us to be thankful for the lessons we’ve learned and the opportunities we got and use them to inspire ourselves and others.
  7. Generosity: It taught us to find ways to give back to society. For years I’ve spent a lot of time moaning that we’ve lost the spirit of Christmas and this year has forced me into a period of reflection to see how I can do that.
  8. Accepting others: It taught us to accept others’ differences rather than being judgemental of them. I understood that everyone has different ways of giving back, and there is no right and wrong way.
  9. It taught us to enjoy our own company and not always yearn for others.
  10. It taught us the true meaning of Christmas, hidden among all the buzz of tree lights and Christmas dinner. It is a story of hope, the birth of new life, and was created for change. 
  11. It taught us to frame our idea of new life and new birth. Hope, new life, and new birth doesn’t mean it is easy and perfect. It comes in place of darkness, messiness, rejection, and imperfection. It comes after moments of struggle, just like it did for Mary and Joseph on a dark winter night. They were fleeing from a kind of war zone to give birth to the Christ child, and after a tiring journey, they found welcome in no place but a stable with animals as company. 

This year we can’t afford to have the same sort of Christmas. We cant make it only about the trees and decorations. It has to have more meaning than that. We have to be a seed of hope or new birth in this COVID Christmas. Let it be a ray of hope and monumental change in mindset so that we can look ahead to the future with hope, faith, and love.

This post was originally posted on Elephant Journal