A Most Atypical Christmas
I have always viewed Christmas as an outsider. Since my earliest memories of being one of the only Jewish children in a public school in Stratford, Connecticut, Christmas has been a holiday for others. My mother indoctrinated us about Christmas not being our holiday. As a 5th-grade teacher in Bellmore, New York, she would not let the school put a tree in her classroom. My folks were really big on the First Amendment.
Oh sure, I played Santa Claus as a public service during my high school years when the cheerleaders played the elves and I knew all the words to all the Christmas carols, songs my kids never even heard since the singing of any religious songs was banned from schools. I was in the choir. Heck, I even sang the Hallelujah Chorus one year (the choir sang it every other year so I got to do it as a junior in 1964). But Christmas was and is a holiday that belongs to my Christian brethren.
Even so I enjoyed the glad tidings of the season even as we celebrated Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights which was a minor Jewish holiday until Madison Avenue got a hold of it in the 1950s. Christmas was also the time that school was out, so that was always fun and then there were all the parties and cookies. Christmas was a joyous time, even for we Jews. Then came 2020.
If the bustle of Christmas shopping hadn’t shifted to being on-line before 2020, this year it went there big time. This may be a bad year for big box stores in the malls, but Amazon is doing great. Apparently the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the West Bank (the place of Jesus’ birth) is expecting fewer visitors this year. But what has struck me is that the atypicality of Christmas seems to be coming from people fighting the atypicality of Christmas in 2020 and everything else since the pandemic struck. Americans simply refuse to modify their behavior in such a fashion as to lessen the impact of the virus on our people. Thus the news is reporting hospitals at capacity and full ICUs. If for no other reason than to relieve the pressure on all the hospital-based caregivers, wear your mask and practice social distancing!
Some blame President Trump for not taking the virus seriously enough, not wearing a mask, leading crowded rallies, and generally minimizing the effect of the virus on ordinary Americans. While I wish that the president had taken things a bit more seriously, and I bet he does too, because he probably would have won the election if he had come up with a plan to preserve the economy while keeping as many Americans as safe as possible, I don’t think you can lay the blame of the over 200,000 deaths on President Trump. He could have reduced that number, but it is doubtful that he could have eliminated the death, especially in the elderly and those in nursing homes. Besides, he had more than enough help from Andrew Cuomo sending sick people back to nursing homes in New York and then being sanctimonious about his missteps. Ditto gym going Bill DeBlasio and French Laundry patron Gavin Newsom. (See Daniel Henninger in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-has-killed-the-apology-11608762683?mod=opinion_featst_pos2). Many public officials took the position of do as I say, not as I do and that’s what’s wrong with Christmas this year.
Had the United States assumed the posture that we were on war footing with this infectious agent and that both our lives and our economy had to be preserved requiring drastic action (masks, social distancing, but keeping schools and stores open even if restaurants and bars may have had to close), then I think we would have been willing to admit that Christmas was going to be atypical this year and would require great sacrifices like no air travel and no family gatherings. But that’s not what happened. Since the origins of the crisis almost a year ago, America has handled this like a Third World country believing that the freedoms guaranteed us in the Constitution include the freedom to not wear a mask and infect anyone we choose.
Christmas is atypical this year because so many Americans are fighting its weirdness rather than accepting it, knowing vaccines are at hand and that by next Christmas we should be back to normal. People cannot accept even one year of delayed gratification to keep the economy doing better, people fed, and our health as good as is the case in South Korea and Taiwan.
We just couldn’t seem to do that and it’s a damned shame. Have yourself a Merry little Christmas any way.