When Christmas Isn’t Joyful Part 2: A COVID Christmas

Post Author: Sara Nave Fisher

When I was a kid, I loved going to my grandma’s house on Christmas. Of course I loved the gifts and being with family, but what I really loved was Grandma’s Christmas tree. Have you ever seen “icicle tinsel” that is basically thousands of loose shiny silver strings? That was Grandma’s tree. And by “Grandma’s tree,” I don’t mean a few scattered here and there; I mean the tree in its entirety. Though my grandparents always cut down a live tree, by the time Grandma was done decorating it, nary a pine needle or branch was visible, only silver tinsel illuminated by multicolored Christmas lights she had surely owned since the 1970s.

The author’s 2020 annual ornament.

That tree brought me pure joy. If I close my eyes, I can still see it.

On All Saints Sunday, my spouse and I sat around the breakfast table with our kids and recounted some of our favorite memories of family members who died before they knew them, memories that bring us joy even in the sadness of these loved ones’ deaths. Grandma’s tree was one of those memories for me.

In 2020, we need every ounce of joy in every place we can find it.

Last Advent, I wrote a piece entitled “The Story of the Bird: When Christmas Isn’t Joyful.” I shared about how our family has a particular ornament that commemorates a particularly difficult year, and how we hang it up and tell that story every year. In December 2019 when I wrote that article, I had no idea what 2020 would be.

But here we are, revisiting our ornaments and the stories they tell. You’ve probably seen some of the 2020 ornaments going around this year: dumpster fires, toilet paper, masks, or my personal favorite of the Grinch pictured next to the year 2020 with the words “Stink, Stank, Stunk.”

But did it? Did the whole year “stink stank stunk”? I am not one to silver-line things, as last year’s essay reveals. When we only focus on the “happy things” while overlooking what’s underneath, we aren’t being honest about our true emotions and experiences.

But I do think we can hold space for both the grief and the joy. The sorrow and the celebration. This year, the former has been so easy to access, and the joy and celebration sometimes feel out of reach.

This is why I think it’s important to name the grief as well as the joy. In our family, every so often during this pandemic, we have sat around the table as a family and named the things that make us sad or cause us fear. We don’t stay in that place. But when we don’t at least acknowledge that place, the emotion can start to eat away at us until we can’t ignore it any more. Naming is cathartic, even though it doesn’t fix or solve anything. We share our frustrations, end with a toast to better days ahead, and remember that we are not alone.

We don’t grieve as those who have no hope. And still, we grieve.

Very soon, as we decorate for Christmas, we’ll spend time naming these things once again. What follows is what we will be doing in our family. Adapt it for your household, or FaceTime a friend to talk through this together and decorate over your phones together. If you’ve already decorated, take some time together for the liturgy by your tree. If you have younger kids, you could use words such as “made you sad” and “made you happy.” Even young kids can learn how to talk about how things make them feel and name those emotions, and they’ll learn from you doing it too. You could also journal about these reflections on your own or with others and keep them as an ongoing time capsule to add to each holiday season. We are not the same people we were twelve months ago, for better and for worse. And we were not, are not, and will not be alone.


A 2020 Liturgy for Christmas Decorating

Light a candle, take a deep breath, pause, and reflect…

READ: As we come to the end of 2020, we look back, remembering the grief and the joy. This has been a difficult year, and not everything this year was difficult. As we enter the holidays feeling like we are walking with one foot stuck in mud and one stuck in tinsel, we take time to lament and to celebrate.

DISCUSS: What are some of the things this year that you grieve? What are some of the things that happened this year that brought unexpected joy? What was the “shimmering tinsel” of 2020? What are some of the memories you treasure?

READ: The story of Jesus’ birth reminds us that things in life don’t always go as planned and that the grief and the joy are oftentimes all mixed up together. His birth story started with an unexpected announcement that was met with fear. Mary and Joseph traveled while uncomfortably pregnant. At once, their lives were in danger and strangers sought them out to celebrate!

So we remember that this year has had both grief and joy in our lives, and next year will too. Though we still have trials, still have sickness, still have suffering, and still have pain, we hold on to hope that what will be is better than what is. We know that God is with us on the best days and the worst days, and God is with us now, on this day. We echo together the words of Mary’s prayer, even as a whisper if we just can’t shout:


            “My soul magnifies the Lord,
            and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”





Rev. Sara Nave Fisher is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and currently serves as the Senior Minister at Rolling Oaks Christian Church in San Antonio, Texas. She also writes at saranavefisher.com.

Image by: Sara Nave Fisher
Used with permission
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