Merry COVID Christmas: On the Value of Traditions in the Worst of Times

December 20, 2021

nativity scene

The ancient glue that held the stable together finally gave up – but don’t worry. Tech Support can fix pretty much anything.

Last week was tough, you guys. Last week I told a friend I haven’t seen in over two years not to fly out for the holidays, because omicron is blowing up in Ontario and it wasn’t safe for her to come. There was grief, and there was rage. Now, there is mostly the exhaustion that comes with knowing that all of this *waves vaguely at the world in general* could have been avoided.

And yet.

Last week I also opened a box. It was a battered, duct-taped box filled with dust and memories: my mother’s nativity set. She passed away in 2009, and this year, my Dad is passing this tradition on to me. 

Ours is a secular household, but this nativity set means so much to me. I remember when Mom bought it – at a Christmas shop in Disneyland when I was about 5 years old. It was big and awkward but she fell in love with it and refused to go home without it. She used to let me arrange the figures when we set it up each December, and I loved that I could change the story by changing their positions. Every piece felt like a friend. And sitting on the floor of my living room, gently unwinding each piece of tattered bubble wrap, I felt the warmth of those memories soothing away the stress of the week, the way Mom’s gentle touch soothed away my childhood fears.

And then Tech Support and I made candy cane cookies. 

candy cane cookies

Two halves of the same heart.

My Mom taught me how to bake, and these cookies are one of the first things I remember making with her. It’s a laborious process. First the dough, half of which gets died red with food colouring before going into the fridge to chill. Then breaking off chunks, rolling them between your palms to form balls. Matching the balls for number and size – somehow it never comes out quite even, but somehow, despite my perfectionist tendencies, that imprecision is part of the delight. 

Then a dough ball of each colour under each hand… rolling out into snakes, pressing them together, tapping the ends to make them even, rolling some more. Twisting the snake, and bending it to create the arch – so gently, or the dough will tear. And the scent from the oven as the almond extract aerosolizes – it’s the smell of Christmas. The smell of care, and attention, and love.

Because we’re not done yet – oh no. We still have to wait for them to cool so they can be drizzled with icing sugar glaze and coated in sprinkles. And somehow, there’s always one cookie that gets “accidentally” broken and simply has to get eaten before the rest are packed away in the freezer for Christmas Eve. The look of total innocence on Tech Support’s face when he informed me of this tragedy last night? It was pure joy. As was our discovery that we twist in opposite directions that magically make a whole heart.

And this is how we’ll come through another COVID Christmas. By slowing down and paying attention. By remembering what really matters and working to protecting it. This is how we’ll heal both ourselves and our broken world.

Wishing you joy, and hope, and love.

2 Comments on ‘Merry COVID Christmas: On the Value of Traditions in the Worst of Times’

  1. What a treasure to have a cookie tradition and this family heirloom nativity that bring you comfort and joy. It’s been several years now, but I remember the first time setting up my mom’s made-in-Italy nativity in my home, the familiar touch of each figure bringing back those memories of being trusted as a child to arrange the scene. Wishing you deep peace.

    Reply | 
    1. There was a LOT of trust involved in having permission to arrange the figures! It was definitely a “big girl” privilege. Peace to you as well, my friend.

      Reply | 

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