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Covid-19 Has Saved Me from Family

There are good reasons for being grateful for canceled Christmas plans

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

The Christmas holidays are not a joyful occasion for everyone. Rarely is this fact respected. Mainstream culture ignores it with its incessant focus on the anticipation and excitement of the holidays, and the media denies its existence with overwhelming pictures of cheer, family, and abundance.

I belong to the joyless-Christmas club. My ideal Christmas includes ditching holiday traditions, reducing gifts, and avoiding family members. As the holidays approach, I grow anxious about their looming arrival and I cringe at their forced obligations. While others wait for the holidays with bated breath, I pray for miracles to make them go away quickly and quietly.

The word stressful best describes the Christmases of my past. Every year, my mom wanted to spend Christmas with my dad, brother, and me only or celebrate by going away somewhere. Every year, my dad ignored her desires and insisted we do Christmas, in the same way, year after year, with his two sisters, their husbands, and children.

These annual plans meant that my mom, not dad, had to plan and prepare food for all these family members coming over for a Christmas feast. Christmas meals, therefore, were a dangerous mix of stress and resentment, and while I was too young to understand what exactly motivated these negative emotions, I absorbed them and felt their tension deeply.

The real stress began when the meal was ready to be served and everyone took their seats. My mom has this rare condition that makes it intolerable for her to be near people who make noises with their mouths. These large Christmas dinners were a hotbed for her triggers, and an uncle was a target of her murderous venom. He smacked his lips, slurped, sucked air through his teeth, and picked food from his teeth with a toothpick. It drove my mom to insanity. She couldn’t look at this uncle or sit anywhere near him out of concern that she’d lunge and physically hurt him if she were too close.

At these Christmas meals, my anxiety ratcheted up with my attempts to control this situation and make it more bearable for my mom. I would keep a constant eye on my uncle and try to control his mouth movements and shield my mom from their impact. It was a stressful responsibility for a young girl.

I have recent family troubles, too. In the last year, I’ve fallen out of touch with my brother. For years, his wife was verbally and psychologically abusive towards me and my parents and I refuse to be in her unpleasant company for another Christmas.

The bad taste of Christmas lingers in my mouth. Although I’ve learned to let go of the responsibility for easing the stress of other family members and to protect myself from harmful family members, my preference during the holidays is to be as far away as possible from these people.

Many people are cursing Covid-19 and how it’s stolen and complicated Christmas. Let me tell you why Covid-19 feels like a blessing this holiday season.

It has simplified plans

This year, we don’t need to discuss plans — or argue about them — because the government has made them for us. In my province in Canada, we’re in near-lockdown to bend the curve of surging Covid-19 numbers. Restrictions and bans were put into effect for the duration of the holidays: all indoor gatherings are restricted to household members only. Living alone, I’m allowed to maintain physical contact with two people from the same external household. These two people are my parents. Nobody else.

This is simple and my simplest Christmas to date. People will break these rules, but I’ll be sticking to them for their beautiful simplicity.

It has spared us excuses

Covid-19 has spared me the time, guilt, and mental energy of crafting reasons for not spending time with family during the holidays.

Some family members will choose to bend the rules and may extend an invitation to join them at Christmas dinner. I can politely decline without guilt or repercussion: “No, I’m sorry, it’s illegal this year.” Who’s going to argue with this? (Well, some will, but that’s their problem.) This pandemic promises me the kind of Christmas I’ve always desired: quiet and free of guilt.

It has returned Christmas to what it should be

Christmas is finally what it’s meant to be: a simple, reverent holiday with a few loved ones. We’re celebrating Jesus’s birth after all and this occasion happened under a silent, stellar sky in a stable with baby, mom, dad, and a few animals.

Christmas is the only time of the year when it feels like the world around you shuts down and takes a real pause. News circuits slow down, stock markets close, business holiday closures limit human flow, and work actually stops so your time off doesn’t feel like it’s creating a pile-up for your return to the office. It’s a time of year that enables real relaxation and rest.

This year, Christmas is stripped of the excess which means that it gets to be celebrated minimally. This minimalism sheds light on other positive meanings of this holiday.

It makes the holidays more inclusive

Overwhelmingly, Christmas is filled with representations of happy, warm, and loving families. This picture-perfect idea of the holiday excludes people for whom it isn’t this way. Not everyone has family, is near family, wants to spend the holidays with family, or is on good terms with family to be able to celebrate with them. For some people, Christmas is a source of stress and shame and a time of loneliness and bad reminders.

This year, Covid-19 acknowledges this reality by shifting a global holiday season in favor of the vulnerable, marginalized, and estranged. It has spared these people the discomfort of forced gestures to be with loved ones who don’t really love them and it has lifted the burden of undesirable emotions and mental health resulting from shame, guilt, and judgment.

Finally, I can spend Christmas the way I want and nobody can force their traditional ways on me because the government has made them illegal. Even though it still feels taboo to express my excitement that Covid-19 has “canceled” Christmas, I finally experience some relief that a bit of space has opened for me to voice my true sentiments. It feels like Christmas is on my side this year.

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Fabiola Gallerani, Ph.D.

Fabiola Gallerani, Ph.D.

I write with heart, humanity, and integrity. Fave topics: emotional journeys & landscapes, life & its sticky lessons, relationships, & travel.

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