COVID-19: The Grinch Trying To Steal Christmas 2020

A plot is afoot to steal Christmas, but the usual suspect isn’t the culprit. There’s a new grinch in town here in 2020, one that wasn’t created by the beloved Dr. Seuss. But just like the Grinch who targeted Whoville, this grinch also wants to stop Christmas from coming. The strategy is similar, however, with the trappings of Christmas being eliminated. Who is the mastermind of this evil plot? It’s not a who, it’s a what. It’s COVID-19.

The coronavirus has altered life as we know it during this calendar year. Schools went virtual, sports teams played in bubbles, and people worked remotely. Holidays were affected as well with gatherings at Thanksgiving discouraged. Up next in the crosshairs is Christmas. All we should want for Christmas is to actually have one because what we will get won’t be what we are accustomed to or even want.

Deaths from COVID-19 have now exceeded 300,000. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh being wiped out. This context is hardly the backdrop for celebrating “the most wonderful time of the year.” But, regardless of what is going on in the world, December 25 remains on the calendar.

Getting together with family will make it feel like Christmas, right? Well, it might if you could do that. Good luck with achieving that Christmas tradition. The Centers For Disease Control (“CDC”) believes that the safest way to celebrate is to stay home with the people with whom you live. Oh, joy to the world–not. Our immediate family members are likely already on our last nerve from quarantine, lockdowns, and social distancing, right?

In particular, things aren’t looking very golden in the Golden State for the holiday gatherings. Gov. Gavin Newsom issued regional stay at home orders on December 3rd, and most of the state is under those restrictive orders. Stores are limiting the number of people allowed inside at one time; retail stores can have a maximum of 20% capacity. Wineries are among the numerous businesses required to close, nonessential travel is banned, and private gatherings of ANY size are off limits. No dine in eating is allowed; thus, you have to get your Who hash to go. Oh what fun it won’t be for Californians….

How about a lively Christmas party to inspire some cheer? That plan is doomed to crash and burn. Michael Osterholm, newly appointed by President-elect Biden to his coronavirus advisory board, has flat out stated: “There is not a safe Christmas party in this country right now.” Realizing how popular his comment would be, Osterholm went on to remark,”I don’t care if I am accused of being the Grinch that stole Christmas.” Sorry, Mr. Osterholm, COVID-19 has already laid claim to that title.

Well, never mind about the gatherings and parties, there are still gifts to be received to make Christmas merry and bright. But exactly what gifts might you be receiving? You thought that getting socks or underwear for Christmas was bad, huh? How about getting a shot? In response to the pandemic, the U.S. has begun its most ambitious vaccination campaign ever.

This attempt to combat COVID-19 has also succeeded in compounding the stress of Christmas shipping of gifts. With millions of doses of vaccine clogging the supply pipes, distribution of Christmas gifts has been bogged down and delayed; many will likely not timely receive their Christmas gifts. But it’s a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is that there’s a delay in gift receipt; the good news is that the gift will probably be received in 2021–which is only good because it will no longer be 2020.

How can tiny doses of a vaccine be such a strain on the shipping infrastructure? It’s because those Pfizer doses need VERY special handling. They must be kept in ultracold temperatures. Yup, I’d say -94 degrees Fahrenheit is ULTRAcold.

Adding to the typical stress of the holiday season is more bad news on the COVID-19 front. A mutant strain has reared its ugly head in the U.K. This new variant of the virus may be up to 70% more transmissible and is “getting out of control” per their Health Secretary Matt Hancock. As a result, a tier 4 lockdown, the most restrictive lockdown, was imposed there on Sunday. Meetings with ANYONE outside one’s household are off limits. In addition, flights from the U.K. have been banned by over 40 countries, including Spain, Russia, and Canada. Will Santa be forced to avoid jolly old England when he takes flight on Christmas Eve?

All these COVID consequences point to the modern coronavirus being a grinch like the well-known Dr. Seuss character. The fictional character was a grumpy old creature who attempted to put an end to Christmas by stealing the trappings of the holiday from the Whos in Whoville. The Grinch stole presents, decorations, Christmas trees, and even (GASP!) the roast beast.

Because of the immense popularity of the Seuss story, “grinch” is now included in dictionaries as an informal noun meaning a killjoy or spoilsport. COVID-19 has certainly put a damper on Christmas by stealing people’s ability to gather with others, travel to be with family, get presents shipped in a timely manner, and have asense of peace and well-being. Yes, we’d have to call the coronavirus a grinch.

But in the classic story, Christmas came without the items stolen by the Grinch anyway, and the Whos rejoiced on Christmas even in their absence. Dr. Seuss, who drove a car with a license plate that read “GRINCH,” used this story to criticize the commercialization of Christmas. In the end, his Grinch came to the realization Christmas “perhaps, means a little bit more” than just presents and feasting.

Are we as insightful as Seuss’ Grinch and realize that Christmas is about more than the trappings surrounding it? Think we’re are smart as the Whos? Will we be able to experience the joy of the real meaning of Christmas–the love of God expressed through the birth of his son in a humble stable? Let’s not allow the grinchy COVID-19 to rob us of Christmas–the real one.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Are decorations, ornaments, gifts, and trees essential in order to experience Christmas? Do you need material things to bring you joy during Christmas? Can you be grateful about what the Grinch and COVID-19 teach us about the real meaning of Christmas?

Twinkle,Twinkle Christmas Star–The Great Conjunction of 2020

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel here in 2020. That light is not simply the figurative conclusion of a year consisting of an unending series of unfortunate events. A literal light awaits as 2020 draws to a close–the Great Conjunction of 2020.

For writers and literal types like I am, you may be confused. What’s so great about but, since, though, unless, and since? No, it’s not that type of conjunction. A conjunction is also a term used by astronomers; it describes what occurs when planets appear incredibly close to each other in the sky because they are lined up with Earth in their respective orbits. During a conjunction both planets can be seen in the same field of view in a telescope. Later this month Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in our solar system, will align for the viewing pleasure of us Earthlings.

Conjunctions themselves are not that rare. Why, there are numerous conjunctions appearing in this blog post alone; but I digress. Astronomical conjunctions happen every 20 years. In fact, Jupiter and Saturn last had a conjunction in May 2000. So why is their conjunction, which is slated to appear low in the southwestern sky on December 21st, deemed “Great”?

In the first place (always a good place to start), a meeting of Jupiter and Saturn in the night sky is referred to as a “great conjunction” because it happens less often than the conjunction of other planets. Their upcoming conjunction really is a HUGE deal. The last observable conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn appeared in the night sky four centuries ago–just before dawn on March 4, 1226. That was a bit before my time, so I’ll have to take the astronomers’ word for the occurrence of that event. To put the timeframe for the last observable conjunction in perspective, Genghis Khan was alive and attempting to conquer the known world then. While a great conjunction also occurred in 1623, it was not visible on Earth; the alignment was too close to the sun thus obscuring its visibility.

This type of heavenly event will not be repeated any time soon either. NASA indicates the next great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn will not occur until March 15, 2080–likely after my time. Thus, it is now or never for me and many others to see a conjunction between these two planets.

Now that we are all excited about this momentous astronomical event, exactly when can we see it? Mark your calendars for the last solstice of 2020 which will occur on December 21st. In case you’ve forgotten what you learned in science way back in elementary school, this approaching solstice is when winter officially begins. December 21st will be the longest night of 2020 in the northern hemisphere. So, the Great Conjunction of 2020 will brighten the darkest day of the year for us northern hemisphere dwellers.

But it is not just the date would be observers of the Great Conjunction of 2020 need to know. This planetary alignment can only be seen right after sunset. It will appear low on the horizon, so locations with buildings could block a view of the horizon. Plans must be made as to when and where you should be for successful viewing. Dinnertime may have to be pushed back to accommodate this gazing activity.

Assuming you are at a good location at the right time on the evening of December 21st, what will you see? Astronomers indicate the alignment will look like a double planet. While Jupiter and Saturn will appear to be physically close, just 0.1 degree apart viewed through a telescope, in reality they are nowhere near each other. The two gas giants are actually hundreds of millions of miles apart.

During the Great Conjunction of 2020, there will be a bright light in the sky because Jupiter shines brighter than any star above. However, Jupiter is not as bright as the moon. Experts indicate the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn might produce a Christmas star as the lights of these two planets merge and appear like a single point of reflected light to the naked eye.

Speaking of a Christmas star, legendary German astronomer Johannes Kepler proposed that the Star of Bethlehem, a prominent element in the Christmas story, was really a planetary alignment. He pointed to a rare triple convergence of the planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. According to Kepler, then, it wasn’t the stars that aligned at the time of Jesus’ birth but the planets.

While I’m no scientist like Kepler, I do love to gaze up at the twinkling stars and bright planets and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. I’ll be outside on the evening of December 21st taking in some history–the Great Conjunction of 2020. How fitting that at the end of the most difficult year most of us have endured, God is giving those who will be viewing the alignment a reminder that there is a light for this dark world. The Star of Bethlehem led the wise men to find Jesus, and perhaps the Great Conjunction of 2020 will lead some modern men (and women) to do the same.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you enjoy stargazing? Have you ever heard of a conjunction–the astronomical kind, that is? Does it make any difference to the Christmas story whether the Star of Bethlehem was actually a star or planets aligning? Is the timing of the Great Conjunction of 2020, a year of such pain and struggle, coincidental?

War And Peace On Earth At Christmas

In the Christmas story, angels announced the birth of the Messiah to shepherds in a field and spoke of peace on earth. Some two thousand years later peace is elusive at Christmas as well as the rest of the year. Our country’s news is full of shootings and acrid political divisiveness. How could there possibly be peace even for a brief moment under these circumstances? Well, miracles do occur at Christmas, and fleeting peace once occurred in the midst of a world war–the Christmas Truce of 1914.

Unless you’re a history buff, you’ve probably never heard of this historical and heartwarming event. I hadn’t either until I happened upon the movie “Joyeux Noel” one year, a film which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006. I took French in high school and can tell you “Joyeux Noel” means “Merry Christmas.” And why was the movie’s title in French? Well, bien sur, it was a French film. Mercifully, there were subtitles, so I didn’t have to bemoan how much French I’ve forgotten or how much French I never learned.

“Joyeux Noel” is a fictionalized account of an actual event, the Christmas Truce of 1914. The film presents the historical occurrence as seen through the eyes of German, French, and Scottish soldiers. It was a December to remember, but not because there was any type of a luxury car sales event. The holiday was memorable because it established that even a world war couldn’t destroy the Christmas spirit.

It was only a few months into World War I–a war many expected to be over quickly, specifically by Christmas. But bitter fighting raged and Christmas came to the soldiers whether they were ready or not for it. Pope Benedict XV urged a temporary cessation of the hostilities for the celebration of Christmas; however, the warring countries refused to agree to an official ceasefire. Also opposing an official truce was Adolf Hitler, then a young corporal in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry. (Yet another reason to detest Adolf.)

To boost morale at this magical time of the year, Wilhelm, the German Crown Prince, sent the lead singer from the Berlin Imperial Opera Company to the front lines. Tenor Walter Kirchhoff sang to the 120th and 124th Wurttenberg regiments. At the end of his performance, French soldiers in the trenches stood up and applauded. Apparently music is a universal language appreciated by all, no matter what country’s uniform one wears.

In addition to a musical performance, German troops received Christmas trees and boxes of cigars inscribed Weinachten Im Feld 1914. Whew! Boy were the German troops happy. They wouldn’t want to be caught dead (literally or figuratively) without Christmas trees for their trenches.And who cares if their cigars were stinky? Their opponents clearly knew where the Germans were located. Ah, yes–in the beautifully decorated trenches across the way.

But better than opera singers and superfluous gifts for a war zone was what the soldiers gave themselves for Christmas–a truce. The Christmas Truce of 1914 was a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front. This front stretched some 500-miles and involved a million or so troops.  The truce was initiated by the soldiers on their own and not by their commanders.

Historical reports indicate that the first truce began on Christmas Eve in the region of Ypres, Belgium, and that the Germans initiated it. German troops hadn’t decked the halls with boughs of holly, but they had decorated the area around their trenches. Candles had been placed on the trenches and on their Christmas trees so thoughtfully sent to them by the powers that be back home. After their decorating was concluded, the German troops began singing Christmas carols. Their foes may not have understood the German words, but they recognized the music and responded by singing their own carols in English. Christmas greetings were then shouted between the officially warring sides.

But wait! There’s more. The soldiers refrained from shooting, and men from both sides eventually ventured out into no man’s land. There small gifts were exchanged and friendly conversations occurred. Germans gave beer to the British who gave tobacco and tinned meat in return. Souvenirs such as buttons and hats were also traded. Some soldiers even played soccer together. According to some reports, the Germans won the soccer match 3-2. In a more solemn fashion, joint burial ceremonies were held and prisoners were swapped. As German Lt. Kurt Zehmsic commented, “Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for awhile.”

The spirit of this Christmas truce was the subject of a popular holiday song, “Snoopy’s Christmas,” which references the World War I truce. The song tells how Snoopy had to go out on Christmas Eve and fight the Bed Baron. After a long dogfight, the Red Baron forces Snoopy to land and offers him a holiday toast. Afterwards, each took off to the skies “each knowing they’d meet on some other day.”

Sadly, with the end of Christmas it was back to business as usual in World War I, i.e., killing each other. The war continued on for a few more years, but future attempts at holiday ceasefires were squelched by officers threatening disciplinary action. The outbreaks of spontaneous humanity and good will to fellow man were not repeated in future wartime Christmases.

A familiar quote is that history is doomed to repeat itself. If that’s the case, then I am all for the history of the Christmas Truce of 1914 repeating itself. OK, I’m not suggesting that we need to have a world war so that we can take a break from it; nevertheless, I am hoping that, despite the deep divisions here in the U.S., we can lay aside our political differences for a brief time and celebrate the day where peace on earth was announced. I’ll bet Snoopy and the Red Baron would be in as I am. How about you?

Just WONDER-ing:

Despite vastly differing political views, aren’t we all at the end of the day fellow humans? If we truly believe in what Christmas stands for, shouldn’t we be willing to lay aside our differences to embrace the ideal of peace on earth? Can’t we, as my mother would say, disagree without being disagreeable?

 

 

 

 

 

 

All I Don’t Want For Christmas

Sadly, the focus of Christmas is materialistic. What one wants for Christmas or, if you listen to the ads, what you deserve for Christmas, is a top consideration. Why there are even songs about Christmas wishes. Who hasn’t heard Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” a gazillion times? And two front teeth are the objects of desire in another tune about Christmas wishes. Perhaps I march to the beat of a different drummer, but I’ve stopped to consider what I DON’T want for Christmas. Here are a few items on my “Don’t Wish” list.

1.  Tickets To The 2020 Python Bowl.  I love college football and would welcome the opportunity to be in the stands at a bowl game. In particular, I’d be on cloud nine if I had tickets to the Sugar Bowl to watch my alma mater play Baylor. (GO DAWGS!!!)  But I would refuse tickets to the Python Bowl in southern Florida in January. Never heard of the Python Bowl? Well, the event is just what the name implies. There’s no pigskin involved–just snakeskin. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced a python hunting competition in an effort to rid the Sunshine State of this non-native destructive species. Pythons are a big problem in Florida both literally and figuratively.  These snakes can grow up to 20 feet long and 200 pounds. Snakes alive! Better yet, snakes dead as a result of the Python Bowl.

2. Receiving An A. Typically an A is something good to get–if you are a student. However, if you are a Florida resident, getting an A could be horrible news if that A is Hepatitis A. The number of Hepatitis A cases in Florida is growing exponentially; in fact, Florida’s Surgeon General declared a public health emergency in August as a result. The outbreak is hitting Floridians harder than elsewhere in the country. Seventy-eight percent of the Hepatitis A cases in Florida have required hospitalization compared to 60 percent nationally; the mortality rate in Florida is also higher than the national rate. Therefore, I won’t be yelling “Give me an A!” this Christmas.

3. Absurd Art. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. But common sense dictates that a banana duct-taped to a wall is simply not art. A monkey could accomplish that result assuming he didn’t eat said banana first. Nevertheless, a Miami couple coughed up over $100,000 for an Italian artist’s “conceptual artwork” made with a piece of fruit, some sticky tape, and a wall. So any of you well-heeled art lovers who are dying to gift me with expensive art can forgo any rendition of a masterpiece involving a Chiquita product. Sorry, it just doesn’t a-PEEL to me.

4. Ring Security Camera. A security camera is meant to provide, well, a sense of security, right? That’s not the case for a number of owners of Ring cameras recently who experienced a breach of security in their homes. Rather than promoting security, these devices provided the means for a breach of it to occur. One couple was aghast to learn someone had hacked into their Ring security camera and used it to talk to their 8 year old daughter while she was alone in her room. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick to non-technological means of home security, i.e., my dog. Hack that security device; I dare you!

5. A Shore Excursion To White Island. I love to travel and explore new places. But some places just aren’t worth the risk of visiting. A case in point is White Island in New Zealand. The island is the exposed tip of a highly volatile mostly undersea volcano. Despite the volcano regularly venting steam and mud, some curious tourists took a shore excursion to White Island from their cruise ship. Forty-seven people were on the island at the time of an eruption a week ago Monday; sixteen of those 47 have died. Curiosity killed the proverbial cat, and it might kill some adventurous tourists as well. Think I’ll stay home where it’s nice and safe this Christmas.

6. Faux Foods.  Healthy eating and Christmas don’t go hand in hand. Dieting discipline goes out the window when one is offered homemade candies and baked goods during the holidays. Even though these items may be a foe to keeping a trim waistline, at least they undeniably taste good. I won’t be clamoring for someone to offer me the top food of 2019–cauliflower pizza. Yes, according to Grubhub’s annual “Year in Food” report, this type of pizza rose in popularity by 650% from the previous year. The top meat-alternative food was the impossible burger. Yup, that name sums it up for me. It would be impossible for me to get excited about biting into this burger. I’d want to know, “Where’s the beef?”

7.  A Gold Plated Vacuum Cleaner.  In the “What were they thinking?” category is the gold plated vacuum cleaner. I am not enamored with doing house cleaning, and that outlook is not likely to change even if my cleaning equipment looks like a million bucks and has a matching price tag for that amount. Admittedly, I’d be in an elite group of only 100 people who owned this gleaming dust guzzler. But do I care what the packaging is on the outside of a container which has gathered the pet hair and dirt from my carpets and floors? Nope.

Fortunately, chances are slim I’ll receive any of the things listed here that I don’t want. Actually, the things I want most for Christmas are not items which can be put in a box and wrapped up for giving. How about some peace on Earth or at least less divisiveness here in our country? Could I get some down time where I could kick back and relax without being busy, busy, busy? Can we all experience the joy of the true meaning of Christmas which has nothing to do with Santa, wish lists, and packages under the Christmas tree? The best present of all was wrapped up for us in some swaddling clothes; He’s the reason for the season.

Just WONDER-ing: Is there something you don’t want for Christmas? If so, what is it? Have you gotten something you did want for Christmas and then were disappointed by it?

 

 

Simple Celebration

Christmas.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year and also the most wearing. We’ve done it to ourselves.  The celebration of the birth of a baby in a stable has been turned into an extravaganza complete with parades, pageants, presents, parties and plenty to eat.  But bigger is not always better.  In fact, the bigger we make our Christmas, the less likely it is that we are celebrating the real reason for the season.  Ask yourself which mode truly captures the essence of the first Christmas–a simple celebration or holiday hoopla?

The first Christmas looked absolutely nothing like Christmas today.  There was no Santa looking for chimneys in Bethlehem.  There was no Christmas tree in the lobby of the No Room Inn.  There were no blinking lights shining around the fields where the shepherds were tending their flocks.  There were no presents for Mary and Joseph in the stable–just the presence of their newborn baby boy.

The Christmas for which you and I are preparing is a far cry from what happened a couple of thousand years ago in a small town in another part of the world.  Our Christmas is full of trappings–and that’s the trap.  The trappings are not, as the Grinch found out, what Christmas is really all about. Christmas is the simple (but amazing) story of the birth of a baby, God’s son, in a humble stable.  If the story is simple, why don’t we celebrate it simply then?

I have been challenged by a recent sermon to experience the miracle of simplicity at Christmas this year.  Since failing to plan is planning to fail, the best way to meet this challenge is to devise a concrete plan for a simple celebration.  Scaling back Christmas is no simple task; nevertheless, these are the guidelines I set for myself.

No mass mailing of Christmas cards.  While I love communicating with my friends and family, sending numerous Christmas cards is a time-consuming activity which detracts from the point of the celebration.  I get frazzled in choosing just the right card, getting the cards mailed in a timely fashion and determining whom to include (or delete) from last year’s mailing list.  Moreover, I am tempted to enclose the trendy Christmas newsletter which informs the world of the good news of what is happening in my life.  Wait a minute!  Christmas isn’t my story; it is HIS story.  It’s pretty disrespectful to blather on about my accomplishments and activities when the day belongs to someone else.

Minimal decorations.  If the Whos in Whoville could have a joyous Christmas without any decorations, why do I have to have my house decorated to the max?  Answer?  I don’t.  So far, I have an advent wreath on the entryway table, an Advent calendar hanging in the kitchen, and two small real trees as yet undecorated.  Period.  That’s way more than Mary and Joseph had up in the stable.  I could spend time decorating or I could spend time reading the Christmas story in the Bible and thanking God for all the blessings He’s bestowed upon me.

Purge perfection.  Unless you are Jesus, perfection is simply unattainable.  So why do I still aim for it?  I have to pick out the perfect present for each family member, plan the perfect holiday meal, etc.  Laugh if you will, but tonight I actually spent half on hour on Pinterest looking for a recipe for the perfect finger food to make for a Christmas event–an edible that someone will look at for about 5 seconds and then devour.  Why not focus on the One who is perfect and loved me enough to be born in a stable rather than on making my holiday perfect?

I could go on to make a perfect list of all I need to do to make celebrating Christmas simple this year, but then my focus is not on the simplicity of what (actually WHO) has brought joy to our world.  Yes, the Whos in Whoville got this one right.  Christmas is about WHO and not WHAT (trees, decorations, presents, activities, etc.)  We’ve already received a perfect present in the form of Jesus; the perfect way to celebrate His birth is simply to focus on Him and His love for us.  Don’t get caught up in the holiday hoopla.

Just WONDER-ing:  What could you do to make your celebration of Christmas simpler?