When my future wife invited me to Christmas dinner at her parents’ house, I had no idea I was the first of her significant others to be invited to dinner – not just Christmas dinner -- any dinner. We had only been dating a few months and I didn’t know what I was walking into. Like many a small home in Canandaigua, my future in-laws’ house was overflowing with brothers and sisters; aunts, uncles and cousins; and those like me – no relation but with no place to go for the holidays.
I didn’t expect special treatment. The dining room table with its added leaves was augmented by the kitchen table and down the hallway by any flat surface of the right height. I thought I would be seated at the ironing board at the foot of the stairs. But I wasn’t. I was seated at the main table between two older brothers interested in learning about the interloper dating their baby sister.
There’s something about holiday dinners that I enjoy more than any other. Maybe it’s the breakdown of the formality of matching silver and glassware. We have more matching plates than forks and knives. When we gather, there aren’t enough napkins of the same color to go around. Perfection can’t be found in place settings. It’s found in the imperfections of extended families.
This time of year, it matters not which holiday you celebrate, be it Christmas, Hannukah or Kwanzaa. What matters is that we lower our guard and allow ourselves to embrace it. It’s a time to look behind people’s faces and see into their hearts. It’s a time to remember that love is more powerful than hate and stronger than evil.
The pandemic presents unforeseen challenges to the joy of the holidays. Some will ignore common sense guidelines endangering themselves and delaying our global recovery. Others, including my wife and me, will endeavor to keep our spirits up by Zooming with those we love and indulging in a traditional if smaller holiday dinner. It will be difficult. Digital communication can’t replace hugs. A few toasts into the flat screen of a computer won’t replace the cacophony of laughter and clattering dishes.
But it doesn’t have to be a miserable holiday. As in any crisis, we have to adjust our mindset. If we have a roof over our heads and food on our table, we can be grateful for what we have rather than dwelling on what we’ll miss this season. We can use this season as a time to reflect, to rest, to reenergize ourselves for the coming year.
Even if we can’t embrace our loved ones, we can embrace hope. Tough times end; they always do. It is through hope that we endure. And, next year, the holidays will be a celebration like no other, even if you’re eating off an ironing board.