The Christmas of 2020 was different. In our family, one of the favorite Christmas traditions revolves around stockings. Each year, we choose names for the stockings. Each person has one family member’s stocking to fill. We spend a good deal of time thinking about and shopping for our person’s stocking gifts. Then, on Christmas morning, we gather by the fire with a cup of coffee or tea and open our stockings one by one, each person trying to guess who filled his/her stocking! Someone always adds something silly or something to throw off the guessing. The morning is filled with fun and laughter and some of the most personal and thoughtful gifts imaginable.
This year we could not gather inside, so the stocking tradition was seriously threatened. But then we started thinking…….How CAN we make this happen? My sister and her husband live in South Carolina, and they were not going to travel. My stepsisters and families live about an hour away. We started brainstorming. We discussed changing the tradition so that people would just exchange stockings with their immediate family members. We talked about Zoom. We talked about lots of ideas, until we landed on this one: Let’s gather around the fire pit outside (My sister would have to join on FaceTime from South Carolina.)! So it will be cold. We can dress up with warm clothes, hats, boots, and scarves. And we did. I set up coffee and my mom’s traditional Swedish coffee cake. We bought a little Charlie Brown Christmas tree and decorated it with lights, and we nailed hooks to a tree near the fire pit and hung our stockings there. We gathered, we opened, we guessed, and we laughed. The outdoor stocking celebration might have been one of the most wonderful Christmas experiences of all times. We might even do it next year and every year after that!
The Norwegians have a word for this concept of embracing outdoor living (even when the weather is cold and unfriendly). The word is Friluftstliv. According to one Norwegian, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.”
I slowed the car as I tried to read the numbers on the mailboxes. 3, 5, 7…This must be it. I turned in. I pulled the car down the long driveway. There were two houses. Hmmm…Which one is the right one? That’s when I saw the white pom pom on the top of a pink knit hat peeking out of the gate. Could that be her? Was that Sophia? She looked so tiny! Well she is only six. Then I saw a small boy and a mother. That’s definitely Sophia’s mom! “That’s her!” I heard Sophia’s mom say as the three of them came running out of the gate, waving like crazy. Sophia is a leader in our class. She has organized card making events, birthday parties, and even a read aloud during snack time. But here, in person, she was acting quite shy. I imagine it’s strange to see your teacher live for the first time too. Maybe I look huge! We chatted and laughed. We exchanged gifts. We even threw a few snowballs. Sophia began to giggle and talk. She started to return to her true outgoing self. Then she and her brother sang me a Christmas song. It was a beautiful moment. I will forever savor it.
I’ve been teaching a class of first graders remotely since August. I’ve only seen my students in small boxes in a grid on a screen. It’s the strangest thing to never have seen your students in person. So when my first grade team decided we would get some small gifts for our students, I decided I would deliver them in person. I’ve delivered about half of the gifts to half of my families. Each encounter happening in a driveway or on a front step. Finally connecting with my students and families face to face (well, masked face to masked face) has been nothing short of magical.
This week, the forecast is calling for a big snowstorm in the Northeast. According to some weather reports, we could have a foot of snow or more! I’ve been waiting for this first snow of the season. To me, there is nothing quite as beautiful as a fresh snow that covers the ground and makes the tree branches look like someone took a thick piece of chalk and drew a perfect line on the top of each one. I love the first snow even more when the timing is just before the Christmas holidays and all of the Christmas lights peek out under the white stuff. And of course there is the dream of a snow day, a day to get up late, sip my coffee, read a book, bake some cookies, and go out in the snow!
But this year I was a bit worried. After all, we all know how to teach remotely now. All of us have the equipment we need, the platforms to teach from a distance, and all of the children and families are set up with Chromebooks just in case we have to shut down or classes have to quarantine. So I wondered if that meant the end of the snow day. I teach a class of first graders who are home every day, so would we just carry on as though it were a regular school day? Would I just get up, get dressed, and sign on to my Zoom meeting? Would my first graders have to sit on a computer all day instead of sipping hot chocolate, building snow forts and sledding? Maybe we’d be thankful in June not to be adding days to the calendar, but right about now we could really use a snow day.
The good news came in an email from the Superintendent yesterday. We would be having (at least a few) snow days this year! Now, let’s just hope the weather predictions are right! I don’t know about you, but I’m putting a spoon under my pillow tomorrow night!
This year will be so different. Because we are still dealing with a global pandemic, we won’t be going to stores to shop. We can’t gather for Christmas parties or cookie baking events. We will have to skip our annual pilgrimage to New York City to meet up with our daughters, admire the beautifully decorated windows, and go out for a drink or dinner. Our village Tree Lighting now requires tickets and social distancing, and the annual Holiday Bonfire (a crazy display of flames leaping from gasoline soaked palettes piled high with a Christmas tree on top) has been postponed. My sister and her husband can’t travel from South Carolina to be with us for Christmas, and our Christmas Eve and Christmas day dinner will just be for our immediate family of four.
So much is different this year, but some things are exactly the same. We are listening to holiday music on the car radio. The village Christmas tree is lit. We have the Christmas lights up on the house, and we have purchased our Christmas tree at the same place we have been buying it for years. The girls will come home and we will decorate the tree together. We will bring all of the holiday decorations down from the attic and decorate the house. We will buy gifts for the people we love and we will find a way to exchange them. We will serve our traditional Swedish foods on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We will talk to my dad on the phone and probably have a Zoom meeting or two with our extended families.
So much is different, but we will hold fast to our traditions to give us a sense of security and normalcy when this world feels anything but safe and normal.