The First COVID Christmas
There was plenty of space under the tree this year. Not anything to do at all with being good or bad. Rather, that the usual bulk of boxes, fruit baskets, bangles, and bows have been replaced by a coterie of cute little string-handle bags containing a variety of personal protective equipment and all of its accoutrement. Ugly Sweaters with mismatched patterns have given way to costly designer masks, and perfumes and colognes to hand sanitizers. There were gift cards for all manner of take-out and home delivery. Half-jokingly, a few rolls of toilet paper and paper towels were spread atop the fallen pine needles to fill up the open spaces. No need to worry about receipts and gift returns.
Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican was held earlier to accommodate Italy’s curfew restrictions on the faithful flock. The television flashed a glimpse of the Holy See’s baffling, sci-fi Nativity scene. Oxen and lamb seem half-caste and roughly hewn out of concrete blocks. The whole creche, Baby Jesus and all, more resembled a group of babushkas painted on Russian nesting dolls.
My participation at church had been spotty at best the last few months, as the Mass had become more of an antiseptic ritual than a celebration of faith. Proxy rights for churchgoing had ceded to livestreaming Sunday morning Mass while in a leather recliner, praying along in denims with feet up on the ottoman and a cup of coffee at arm’s length.
Attendance at Christmas morning Mass was feeble. No jousting over spaces in the parking lot. There was no choir, a single altar server, and no backroom catechism classes obligating the attendance of children. The nave was uncommonly quiet.
The lay elders of the church ushered us to our seats. Only three or four people were allowed to sit in every other pew, but we still sized up those in closest proximity. Late arrivals were sent to the choir loft and adjacent rooms outfitted with tinny speakers. The pew backs and kneeling benches reeked of disinfectant and were scrubbed clean of their glossy varnish.
My parent’s names had been added to the prayer of remembrances. Mother had passed in March, exactly two years after my father, both on Good Friday. She was an early nursing home casualty of the pandemic, put in harm’s way by a hospitalized roommate discharged too soon back to the facility by diktat of the governor.
Introductory rites began with a litany of instructions from the cantor, who peered out at her blurry audience from behind a face shield and plastic partition at the rostrum. Parishioners were reminded of new ways to walk about, enter and exit pews, sing, take communion, and offer the sign of peace. There were more man’s laws than God’s.
Although an hour in masks can be irritating, we still looked nervously in the direction of anyone clearing their throat. During the collection, we were careful to drop our envelopes into the basket without touching the edges. At the sanctuary, there was a sharp whiff of isopropyl as I accepted my communion wafer, and I sidestepped away from the priest to consume it.
Back home, Christmas dinner was quite plentiful, as there were fewer people to share it. A small gathering of family threw caution to the wind and we opened the feast with hugs and handshakes. We thought to lower the curtains halfway, in any case, so as not to create a stir among the passersby and neighborhood snitches.
The dinner conversation, of course, was about the virus and lockdowns. We are no longer comforted by the flattening of the curve, a mortality rate wilting from the summer heat, post-election relief from the restrictions of political lockdowns, or even expecting the media to uplift our holiday spirits by lauding the arrival of the Trump vaccine.
Anthony Fauci, the virologist before whose homilies we are expected to bow our heads, is an Upper East Side high school basketball star from the day when five-foot-seven would make the cut. He has spent more time in government than Joe Biden and less time on the working end of a stethoscope than most doctors. Continually lifting the COVID bar a bit higher than we can reach, he is setting us up for a dark winter and the aeon of a New Normal (capitalized, as in Ice Age) that will knock us off the evolutionary ladder by the emergence of a permanently masked and asocial earthling.
Our holiday celebrants feared that all hope for peaceful coexistence in a vibrant economy may be fading with the anticipated advent of the 45th president. Much has been accomplished in the last four years, particularly as it has revealed a cabal of government, corporate, and media elites that have quietly worked at odds with our common welfare.
There is reason for optimism. The scab has been ripped off the national wound that the Deep State put there. The attitude and scrutiny of Americans toward their government is no longer aloof. Trump has given us a taste of living in the shining city on the hill and we cannot be turned back without feeling trod upon. Next year, COVID should not be made a political bludgeon to keep us all in distressed lives of little meaning or consequence.
Conservative Trump supporters, not to be confused with Republicans, have roused with a strength that has elicited a farcical but fearful bluster from Democrats. With more power than Obama ever wielded, Trump will remain the de facto leader for a voting majority of Americans. Merry Christmas and bring on 2021.