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Lighting the way to the holiday season

Just about every year for decades, my family has strung Christmas lights around the exterior of our home during the weekend after Thanksgiving.

I’m not sure I will manage to get that done again this year, but I have noticed more of those twinkling bits of color popping up around the neighborhood than usual this year.

It seems like neighbors needed a bit more light in the darkness that has stemmed from the pandemic, and they needed it earlier than usual this year.

I will admit that seeing those cheery patterns on homes all around my house has been somewhat comforting.

It’s good to realize that people I have known since I was a child — as well as a few who I haven’t officially met since they moved into the area — are there, doing their best to get into the holiday spirit.

Despite all of the frustrations that have come with the coronavirus — face masks, social distancing, limited crowds at all sorts of celebrations, cleaning, sanitizing, illness and death — it seems that people are finding solace in traditions that they still can observe, and they also seem to be finding hope in the familiar aspects of the holiday season.

I am pleased and encouraged to see that.

For the first time I can recall, there were just three people around our dining room table this Thanksgiving.

My husband, Mike, and invited just one friend who had no other plans.

That doesn’t mean, though, that we were unable to connect with our families.

We made a large feast and shared a couple of dishes with my brother and his wife who live nearby. My brother brought us some of their sweet potatoes and stuffing as well as a delicious dessert and picked up their share of our mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts. We tried to keep each other safe by not eating together, but we still shared a meal.

My husband’s family was a different matter.

His parents joined his sister’s family for dinner. Although we did not attend, Mike arranged for us to connect online.

We were all able to see and hear each other, waving enthusiastic greetings and chatting about the different dishes that were on our two tables, separated by about 10 miles.

That “get-together” gave us an opportunity to catch up with loved ones we hadn’t seen in person in quite a while.

We talked about our limited activities, progress we’ve made on various projects, how different parts of our meals were prepared, other family members who couldn’t be with us and much, much more.

Certainly it was different from the Thanksgiving celebrations we had become accustomed to, but it really wasn’t so bad. Not all that long ago, if a relative lived out of state you might not see them in any form for a year or more.

Perhaps the only contact you had came in the form of letters or cards.

I can recall special holiday phone calls from my brother and his family when he was serving in the military overseas.

When you think back to those days, which were as recent as the late 1980s and early 1990s, meeting up with friends and family via the internet actually seems pretty special.

Unfortunately, it seems likely that our Christmas observances will take a similar forms. Although promising vaccines against COVID-19 seem to be on the horizon, medical experts tell us there is little chance that the virus will be under control by late December.

In fact, they warn that it could still be many months before it is safe for our patterns and behaviors to return to “normal.”

Even though we won’t have a large number of people in our home exchanging gifts and eating ham and macaroni salad, we will decorate our home inside and out. Mike and I have discussed it, and we will have a Christmas tree. We will string lights outside to do our part to brighten up the neighborhood. We will find ways to track down and deliver gifts to loved ones and to each other.

There’s a good chance there will still be a ham on the table, and I probably will make plenty of macaroni salad to share with my brother and his wife. Already i have vowed to make a big bowl of broccoli salad, prompted by a special request.

I doubt we will spend Christmas Eve at Mike’s parents’ house, as is our custom. I don’t believe our nation or our community will have reached a point yet where it will be safe to do so.

But I am now certain that we will connect again — just as we did on Thursday — to watch as we open our gifts to each other. It won’t be the perfect solution, but it will be a positive experience nonetheless.

Do not lose hope during this trying time. Do not let the necessary restrictions and precautions bring you down. Find ways to adapt and overcome the obstacles that are in the way of your more traditional celebrations.

Perhaps hanging a few Christmas lights would be a good way to start.

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