Have a Merry – COVID-safe – Christmas

December 14, 2020
  • December 15, 2020
  • Living with Cancer Blog

By Ian Robinson


Dear Wellspring pals: I do not know what your family traditions look like, but I imagine this Christmas is not the kind of Christmas you expected, nor the kind of Christmas you’d have chosen.

Remember office holiday parties? That guy who got drunk and became … impolitic with the boss? The ill-advised stairwell liasons? Bob from accounting hanging around the karaoke machine, singing Fairytale of New York in a creditable Irish brogue and with enough command of the lyrics he’d be getting a wee email from HR on Monday for his use of inappropriate language?

Crowded malls and standing in line to put a kid on Santa’s lap and hugging your friends and skating parties at the lake? Hoping you did enough to celebrate the season and worrying it was too little or too much. Hanging lights on the peak of the house from an ice cold ladder that freezes to your fingers? And just trying to carve out enough breathing space to remember what the season really meant to you?

Well. We’ve got that breathing space … even as we’re terrified to share our breath with one another.

This Covid Christmas is so very different.

I’m a damned fool for Christmas normally. Go all out. Feed every stray I can round up around a table groaning with the bounty of life: Turkey and beef and five or six side dishes including one made from sweet potatoes, maple syrup and marshmallows. (You’re right, that last isn’t really food. It’s basically the dietary equivalent of a sexy streetwalker. Oh, it looks good, but there may be a disease in your future. In this case, Type II Diabetes. But what the hell. Christmas comes but once a year, etc.) 

I adore Christmas lights. I hate my wife a little bit because she says I can’t put up the tree before Remembrance Day. Tinsel makes my soul sing. As do those awful god-damned ties the kids used to buy me when they were little because they thought day-glo paisley was appropriate work wear for Daddy. Not to mention the bespoke cermaic mugs — delivered unfired — with Wurls beste favver carved into the side with a Popsicle stick. (Jake’s spelling tended to the idiosyncratic.) Before Christmas dinner, I’d gather Jake’s friends around me for a dramatic reading of that Christmas classic, A Die Hard Christmas. (Sample verse: “The explosives were wired/to the rooftop with care/in hopes that the hostages/soon would be there.”)

I was last to bed Christmas Eve. (Barbie Dream Mansions or a bike to assemble and all that) and first up Christmas morning.

Still am.

But that’s about all that will be the same. No midnight service with the lights out in the church and the congregants lighting candles and passing the flame from one to the other.

No, this is not the Christmas we used to have.

But then again, for the Cancer Tribe, very little is like what we used to have.

After cancer, I could no longer hang Christmas lights from the peak of the roof. We do the laser projector thing now. I can’t cook a 10-course tasting menu for 12 by myself. So I enlisted one of my son’s friends as a sous chef and he turns up at 9 a.m. and we cook and drink wine and he does all the heavy work and I supervise. Shoulda done that years ago. My income dropped, so maybe we got a little more mindful of what we spent? Doesn’t seem like anybody is walking away miserable after the present exchange, so maybe it is all about love and people and thoughtfulness after all.

As cancer changed Christmas, so too did Covid. But as we have managed to carve out lives of meaning and joy and gravitas in the wake of cancer, outwaiting and outwitting Covid in semi-quarantine over Christmas doesn’t seem that different. Particularly now there’s a vaccine on the way.

We can do this. And not only that, we can do this well.

And while I will be thankful for every part of this Christmas — because I am a Stage IV and you learn early in that journey to be grateful for all you get, when you can get it — I do have an eye on next Christmas.

I’ll be the guy so aggressively social, it’ll make you pine for those days when I had to keep my distance and wear a mask.

So Happy Holidays, folks. See you next year, God willing, in the reals.


You thought I was kidding about A Die Hard Christmas, didn’t you? A picture from the Before Time. And like the book says: “So Merry Christmas to all/be kind to one another/And, most of all/yipee-ki-yay …” Well. You know how the line turns out. 

2 Responses

  1. Hey Ian —- It’s been way too long — Great letter — I loved it! (I’m stuck in the world of “rhyming ditties”….and the occasional essay-ish composition…I’m doing just 1 WS zoom session, and my Book Club does zoom….I miss the actual flesh-type people….My defense against against an even worse mood/temperament has been staying busy — not hard to do this time of year…Longing for the “Good Ole Days”…I am acutely aware of and grateful for the health and wellness in family, friends, and all my ..loved ones….I’m expecting a very interesting “New Year”! best Wishes, and thanks again!!

  2. Well said Ian.love how you say it like it is.i am making Christmas only treats for my husband and I.pre informed him that I am having a jammie day,eating treats,savory and sweet and watching Christmas movies.enjoy your day and yes,next year we cann hoot and holler again.

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