Column by Maureen Pratt
My mother lives in one of the nation’s hot spots for COVID-19 activity and my own health issues prevent me from traveling, so this holiday season will find us celebrating “together, but apart.” It’s not an ideal situation, but in these uncertain, unprecedented times, we are wise to be realistic and keep hope that soon, we will be able to visit “as of old.”
No doubt others are reaching the same conclusion: Their visits with loved ones are also not possible this year, whether by traveling or even by gathering with groups of nearby family and friends. Still, the reality that drives our choices to be more safe than potentially sorry cannot overshadow the “reason for the season.”
Holiday time is synonymous with togetherness, the fellowship that reflects and fosters the love God has for us and the precious gift of his son Jesus Christ that is the focus of our faith. Looking past our disappointment at being apart, there are creative ways that we can foster togetherness despite geographic distance — even ones that do not rely on high tech talent!
Perhaps we cannot physically be in the same room with our relatives, but we can use time and intentional planning to our benefit. With or without a videoconferencing app, we can unite with loved ones far and near by scheduling certain events at the same time for everyone.
Meals, tree trimming, baking and cooking, gift exchanging and package opening — these and other holiday traditions can be “shared” by our doing them at the same time as others living elsewhere.
Rotating activities can foster engagement from everyone. Recipe or photo exchanges, or shipping batches of Christmas cookies and other treats brings in sensory sharing, including taste and smell — nothing like the scent of holiday cookies to trigger smiles and warmth!
Crafts shared or long-held treasures bring visual remembrance to another’s home. (That teddy bear you have cherished can travel when you cannot, and provide joy to a new generation of family members.)
Faith-based opportunities to connect abound. Scattered family members can read the same Scripture verses and share their reflections online or over the phone. Common prayer times can unite individuals in like-purpose. Armchair travel, quite popular today, can be targeted to visiting sacred sites online and sharing experiences from each family member’s perspective.
Worshipping can also bring families together in faith. Earlier this year, I “shared” Mass with friends in Oregon. A priest we know on the East Coast streamed Mass, and my friends and I tuned in for the “live” feed, even texting “Peace be with you” at the appropriate moment in the liturgy.
Then, it felt a little strange to worship in this way, but now, so many of us have “attended” Mass online regularly that the sense of common fellowship seems much more cohesive.
Intentionally synchronizing activities is not the perfect answer to distanced holidays, but there are blessings to be found.
In the absence of physical gatherings, we don’t have to worry about not having enough space, chairs, parking spots or dishes. We can widen our circle and, perhaps, reach out to those who would otherwise be entirely isolated from any festivities.
Intentional planning with all family and friends in mind helps us to reorder our priorities to what really matters to us. So, we might better appreciate each other and foster encouragement and love, rather than the “same old” arguments or patterns of disagreements.
Being apart this holiday season will undoubtedly be difficult. But by planning with care, we can enjoy a new kind of togetherness and continue to nurture our relationships with faith and love.
Maureen Pratt is a popular speaker, the award-winning, bestselling author of seven books, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Catholic News Service.