It’s the holiday season and that means social media is about to explode with informative sharing and fun tips for making sure your holiday is the best, but not too much better than everyone else’s, because some people are less fortunate, but you’re definitely more grateful, but not in a judgy way, you just want everyone to have a great Christmas, or whatever holiday they celebrate, even those who don’t celebrate anything.
Did I cover all of the bases? Of course not. I didn’t even mention the pandemic!
What do you get when you mix holidays and the pandemic? Well, for starters, some people were threatening to decorate for Christmas in the summer, because that would somehow make them feel happy. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t know if I want to dust around Christmas decorations for six months. I’m kidding. We never dust in our house.
Having young kids makes the holidays even more fun. Especially now that they’re old enough to be a little materialistic about what Santa brings them. But the pandemic brings in a new wrinkle with Santa. How do they communicate with Santa during COVID-19? Are we going to have a plexiglass visit with Santa like he’s in prison?
Our oldest is 11 years old and, well, I’m pretty sure he’s just going along with the Santa thing for the gifts. The other day he declared that he’s asking Santa for a PS5 – a new, expensive game console to replace his other pretty new, expensive game console – because he knows we aren’t going to buy him a PS5. He said this with a look that meant, “Surely you’ll buy me a PS5 to keep the Santa thing alive for my little sister just one more year.”
My wife pirouetted around this with ease: “Santa doesn’t bring you a million dollars just because you ask for it.”
Our daughter is 7, and her doubts are a little more innocent. She’ll ask, “Dad, do you think Santa is real?” And I’ll say, “Of course. Does he bring you presents every year?” I learned this from a meme on social media. Santa is as real as you want him to be, and believing in Santa results in… gifts from Santa. Thanks Facebook!
Which brings me back to the original topic. Social media. Modern manufacturing practices make it possible to erect enormous displays at very little cost. And you can hire a company to come out and make your house look like Clark Griswold’s and you don’t even have to keep a bunch of crap in your attic. But I’m a purist. You can have your giant inflatable polar bear, but I’m gonna stick with lights and dusty wicker statues. I’m not stapling an LED light show around the edges of my home. Our house has impenetrable aluminum siding and is two stories tall.
But we do take pride in our holiday decorations, featuring a giant wreath hung high on the second floor. This is a process because I’m too stubborn to ask my neighbor to borrow his ladder. Using a shorter ladder and a long push broom, I extend the wreath to a rusty screw that I planted in the house five years ago. This year, the large red bows that my wife attaches to the wreath kept falling off. After the second bow fell, she admitted, “Yeah, I sort of half-assed putting those on. Sorry.”
Our Christmas display is simple and charming. But I’m debating sharing it on social media because of all the grand displays that the strangers I call friends are sharing. They’ll see my picture and think, “Oooh, the Kiles must be struggling during the pandemic.”
We’re also going to be hit with lots of “virtue signaling” memes about how sharing our happy holiday memories is detrimental to society. And they’re probably right. Psychologists warn us that social media has merely extended the high school social dynamic indefinitely. The pandemic offers an extra special opportunity to shame people who visit family and, alternatively, for people who do visit their family to demand to not be shamed. (We got a dress rehearsal for this over Thanksgiving, and I’m sure both sides will hone their messages.)
Here’s my take: A great way to not spread a disease that is particularly deadly to the older population is to not go visit the older people that you love. It’s tough, but not as tough as living with the knowledge that you might have a role in their death. Technology makes it possible to see the ones you love all over the globe. And if you do want to visit your family and take that risk, be ready to be judged. Certainly don’t judge the judgers – you’re just as judgy.
But seriously, if you’re having a hard time with a low-key holiday, don’t knock it until you try it. A few years back, we experienced the bliss of a quiet Christmas at home. No offense to either side of our families, but trading holiday travel for a cup of hot coffee, watching the kids open gifts and then relaxing the rest of the day is quite pleasant. Is there anything more stressful than traveling around the holidays, lugging a duffel bag full of gifts during a pandemic?
Maybe one of the lessons of 2020 is that any day with family is special – and there’s beauty to be found in a small, quiet holiday without the pressure of making it perfect on Instagram.
Jon Kile is a stay-at-home dad, writer and amateur homeschool teacher in St. Petersburg. He and his wife Monica, a nonprofit consultant and marathoner, have a habit of loading their two kids into their RV and disappearing down the backroads of America. He was diagnosed with a rare condition called Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, in which his fragile arteries are prone to spontaneous rupture. Jon adjusted his lifestyle while finding inner peace and humor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dontmakemeturnthisvanaround.com.