Christmas in the Coronavirus Pandemic (Based on a True Event)
Months before the feastday, it was apparent
that Christmas 2020
would be different
from every Christmas previously. Masks, social distancing, and hygiene regulations characterized everyday life.
Despite the lockdown, attending Holy Mass would be possible with some modifications, albeit under more difficult conditions. Virtual attendance was an alternative for me only as a last resort.
In Advent, through the parish bulletin I learned that Christmas Mass would be celebrated outside early in the evening at St. Mary, our residence for senior citizens. After months of restrictions, the elderly and the people in need of care should be given the opportunity to participate from behind the high windows of the entrance area and hallway. The villagers would be able to sit in the courtyard at an appropriate distance from the altar set up there.
I shuddered at the idea of having to be outside in the cold, in semi-darkness with a winter jacket, a scarf, a cap, and sitting on a pastic chair during the liturgical event. But there really was no other alternative for me. I preferred this to the living room with a TV screen. Thus I was allotted a bit of adventure, especially since I felt fit and healthy.
At 5:15 pm on Holy Eve I set out on my way. I didn’t want to be there too soon. Light sleet had been falling for an hour. Arriving in the courtyard, a cozy atmosphere surrounded me despite the damp coldness. Both large trees in the inner courtyard were decorated with Christmas lights. Infront of the glass entrance of St. Mary’s stood the covered altar decorated for Christmas. Inside the nursing home one could see a brightly lit Christmas tree and a simple, carved crèche with large wooden figures. Behind the tall windows, one could see the residents in need of care, some of them in wheelchairs and in mobile beds.
A few families, young people, neighbors, and aquaintances from the village had taken their place outside. Not all of the chairs were occupied. The priest processed to the altar through the entrance gate. From inside, via the loudspeaker, the organist intoned “In Bethlehem is born…” His singing of the songs solo throughout the holy Mass was to underscore the message that “Today a Savior is born to you, the Savior of the world.”
Until the end of the liturgy I waited in vain for any feeling that it was Christmas. Even the words of the short but interesting homily of the pastsor didn’t reach my heart. No one needed to tell me on this evening that the coronavirus had changed our life and likewise the celebration of Christmas. Frozen through and drenched, I awaited the final hymn. With crackling voices, everyone joined in the singing of the organist… Never in my life had “Silent Night, Holy Night” resounded in my heart as on this evening. Suddenly it became clear to me: This defenseless Child, God’s Son, was born into a night. He was not received with splendor and glory when he entered this world. Need and poverty were his freely chosen lot. Never in my life have I felt so understood by him as on this evening.
The others must have felt the same way. Shortly after this, when, with social distancing and a mask, I wished them a blessed and joyful Christmas, I saw the glow in their eyes.