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Betsy Kneepkens: What will this ‘Covid Christmas’ look like?

What will this Covid Christmas look like? Although it sounds like a vaccine is on our way, I think we all can be sure this celebration of the birth of Jesus will look different from previous Christmases. We have been through many holidays already that have been altered by this pandemic. I find it disappointing that we must prepare ourselves for yet another.

Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I feel strongly we must use this time as a family to identify the good coming out of all the devastation and loss we experienced this year.

I find the most frustrating of all situations for me are the restrictions placed on religious services. Having our family adjust for another Holy Day is maddening. Specifically, few things give me greater joy than a packed church with the faithful singing boisterously and responding in unison to the prayers of the church. I enjoy standing in the back of the church for the Christmas Mass, because I relish seeing every pew filled to the brim, parishioners dressed in their best while seated multi-generationally by families.

What’s not to enjoy when you observe a packed house enthusiastically engaging while loving the Lord? I think going to Mass on special days like Christmas is the apex of the holy presence of God. You have the Eucharist, the word, and “for where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20) all occurring at the same time. Unfortunately, with state regulations this year limiting the number of people, prohibiting us from singing in full strength, and receiving the Eucharist with worries of the disease will have to be acceptable but still disheartening.

As a mom, I think it is okay to whine a little, but I know I need to get over that quickly. I can’t control what is happening in the broader world, but I can affect my family’s experience. I plan to play a role in helping my kids see how this Christmas can be made into one of the more significant lifetime celebrations. This year will be easier for me to help bring forth a meaningful culture at our home, because expectations are already pretty low due to what we lost this year. We will overcome all of the negative that this disease tries to impose on our Christmas season.

For instance, our family hasn’t been in the same room since my son’s wedding in June, and that time was limited because of Covid. If we can figure out a way to gather safely, I am confident my children will appreciate each other more. Focusing on making this time as stress-free as possible will also pay great dividends to make this time special. This goal can be easily accomplished by lowering my desire to make everything perfect, which is usually responsible for the chaos.

I know that part of what I want my children to grasp is how much my husband and I appreciated the level of sacrifice they made to keep their parents safe. Throughout the past nine months, they often avoided coming home because they worried about our health. After our pleading to come for the holidays, they plan or have chosen to spend weeks in quarantine, so they know they will be safe to be with us.

For one son, that meant spending 14 days in a small dorm room alone. I am not sure I would have been so thoughtful. Our boys usually are knuckleheads, but these past few months, they showed the level of character and maturity we only hoped to instill in them. As parents, I can’t help but feel honored by their love and respect. In a certain sense, they were challenged with an ethical dilemma, and they choose the sacrificial route. Their actions grew out of the devastation of Covid, and we can be grateful for that.

Also, during this pandemic, we were not in crisis but experienced some financial difficulties. We had all that we needed. We just had to cut back on all the wants we usually can purchase when desired. Although our children did not know the degree of hardship, each, in their way, offered support. Most of our children are still in school or new to their careers, and without lots of means themselves, they still had an eye on others. Their willingness to help when they didn’t have much to give was a beautiful outcome of this pandemic.

Fortunately, the tightening of our belts and eliminating wants was all that was necessary to get over this challenging time. If it were not for the disease, we might not have seen the unconditional generosity they displayed.

Having everyone isolated in different parts of the country has brought a level of connectedness to our family we had not had before. Daily, each member of the family is talking, texting, or FaceTiming. Everyone dialogues about current events, recipes, and advice about whatever is needed at that time. Our family of eight live in six different locations geographically, but this Covid has brought us closer together than when lived in the same ZIP code. I don’t like this disease, but I appreciate all the good that has come from it.

This Christmas, like every Christmas, is the retelling of an important event in history. We tell Christ’s birth story each year, so we never forget how this incident changed the lives of humanity forever.

I don’t like this disease. I want it to end tomorrow. But I love some of what has come from it. This Christmas, if we are blessed to have everyone in the same room, I hope we can tell the story of how Covid made our family better and stronger. Hopefully, retelling our family Covid story each time we get together will help us remember how we were called to be like the hope that was born in a stable 2,000 years ago.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.