There are no parties this year. No flights to visit family. There is no caroling. There are no cookie exchanges. We huddle close only to each other, and the house has been decorated for no one but ourselves. Our tree is tilted. Off kilter. Like us. We play Scrabble and Backgammon and Poor Man’s Bridge by the fire. We listen to music and read books that have been beckoning to us for months. We watch holiday movies, and Charlie Brown invites us to find the beauty in the bedraggled. What better metaphor for 2020?
Across the bay my parents’ San Francisco home is quiet. Their children and grandchildren are scattered across the globe, stuck in their homes. In Rwanda. Massachusetts. Vermont. Colorado. There will be no boisterous celebration on Christmas Eve, with all sixteen of us gathered around the oversized oak dining table, crab juice covering our fingers as we toss legs and bodies into discard bowls and ask for yet another napkin. The house won’t smell of Douglas fir and clementines. Nor will it be filled with the sound of children shrieking as they exchange presents with cousins seen just once a year, or of a Goldendoodle barking at each ball of wrapping paper dropped on the floor. No twelve foot tree will graze the living room ceiling. There will be no wreaths on the doors. No boughs twined along stair bannisters. No Poinsettias lining the hallway.
But we, the locals, are the lucky ones. No one else in our family has seen my parents in over a year. So tomorrow our hearts will fill with gratitude as we drive across the Golden Gate to join them for a socially distanced Christmas Eve dinner on their deck. Over the past several months my mother has wound string lights up tree trunks and along planter boxes, positioned spotlights to illuminate a multitude of plants, and placed battery operated candles on cloth-covered tables spaced eight feet apart. Heat lamps have been positioned strategically to keep us all toasty. We will shout across the deck as we enjoy a scrumptious feast. We’ll laugh at my dad’s jokes and talk wistfully about the family members we wish were there with us. It will be special, but it won’t be the same. And when it’s time to say goodbye we’ll don our masks and bump elbows instead of exchanging hugs.
When we arrive home we will enter a house that feels like a snow globe, but one in which the snow swirls outside the glass, while inside it’s quiet and still. We might feel a bit trapped. We might wish to break free. But that is not an option. The glass is thick. And we are safe. Warm. Protected from the storms that rage outside.