Right after Thanksgiving, I finished with the Christmas decorations. I used to make the excuse I was decorating for my kids and grands, but you know what? I’ve come to the conclusion that I do it mostly for me.

My tree is a bit lopsided, okay, it’s shaped like an “S,” but I got it up myself and feel the leaning gives it some character. The “pre-lit” branches are no longer lit. I decided I liked the tree enough to get new lights and install them myself. What was I thinking?

I just realized this is the first Christmas I’ve actually hung my stocking on the mantle since my husband, Jeff, died almost six years ago. For the last five years, I’ve left it folded up on the hearth. It just seemed weird to hang it there alone without his to hang next to it. I guess I’ve gained my independence to some degree. It now hangs on the fireplace all by itself.

For the past few years, I’d cut down on the number of poinsettias I bought for my house since I would leave for Florida right after Christmas. But, this year I am hanging out to wait for a vaccine, so they are all over the place and make me happy. It’s gonna be a different Christmas this year, but sometimes different is good. Today, they announced the FDA approved a vaccine! What great news. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeve for the shot.

We had a scaled down version of our annual McDonough gingerbread house making party. My daughter, Amanda, and granddaughter, Lexi, both parts of my “bubble,” came and they did a stellar job once again. Jeff, aka Grampa, is puffed-up proud, for sure.

Christmas was coming fast. I cooked for a few days while listening to the Carpenters Christmas album (best one ever), making cinnamon buns and creamed chip beef for Christmas breakfast, lasagna for Christmas Eve along with stuffed mushrooms and crab dip. My fridge was stuffed to the brim.

We took Amanda’s foster boys, Juan and Pedro (have I told you about them? If not, you can check out my previous blog, “The Summer of Juan and Pedro,” /the-summer-of-juan-and-pedro/), to a drive through light display. They were adorable identifying the decorations, singing Christmas carols over and over. These boys make my heart sing along with every other grand I have. Amanda and I were over the moon excited to have little ones to share the excitement of Christmas morning with for the first time in a long while.

On December 23rd, the phone rang. I listened to my friend talk about someone that had covid. As I listened, I realized I had subsequently been exposed as well. Covid’s shadow showed up and it was time to hit “pause” on the festivities. I’d loved every minute of the getting ready part and was disappointed I couldn’t be with my family for our traditional Christmas Eve and morning. I kept reminding myself how full of blessings my stocking already was before I received that phone call. I had a little pity party for myself for a short while, but wouldn’t let myself indulge for long. Nothing like a pandemic to slow you down and acknowledge what it is we are truly celebrating. I know I’ve recited that phrase, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” most every year before, but here I was, forced to really focus on the Child in the manger.

I wish I could tell you that I didn’t get down in the mouth. However, I have to admit, If I could talk to covid, I would have a few choice words for him that I can’t print here, but, in all fairness, he’s shown me a few things. He’s taught me never to take today or tomorrow for granted. He’s shown me that at some point, I just have to let my faith bust through the wall of the unknown. I just have to realize when and where that will be.

You see, when you believe, you’re never alone. Take it from someone who’s been by herself for a while now. However, chances are, you’ll need to remind me of that the next time I’m whining about it…

Calls from friends helped me to pass the time and I realized I wasn’t alone at all. Christmas Eve, I jumped on my laptop for my church’s candlelight service. I ended up watching two services, but don’t be impressed by my spirituality. Here’s my confession. I jumped on line and hit the “live” button. I thought it was a rather long service for Christmas Eve and not the traditional carols we usually sang, but oh well. I figured I was just that old lady that wanted everything to be the same.

That was true enough, but not this time. It turned out I’d watched the Sunday morning service I’d missed the previous week. Some would call that, “karma,” because I’d played church hooky. Whatever. So, I hung around for the next Christmas Eve service. Lucky for me, the pastors had more than earned their keep this week, putting on four services in a row in order to accommodate the covid in-person attendance restrictions, so I could catch the next service on line. Thanks, guys. The music and message soothed my feeling-sorry-for-me soul.

Next, I watched “The Bishop’s Wife,” a 1947 film with Loretta Young and Cary Grant, recommended by a friend. I was blown away. I won’t give many spoilers except to say the ending just stunned me, mostly because of what I’d been writing earlier in this blog about my Christmas stocking.

David Niven, the Bishop, delivered his Christmas Eve sermon saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry and a blazing star hung over the stable…We haven’t forgotten that Child on Christmas Eve. We celebrate with gifts for one another. We forget nobody…, but when all the stockings are all filled, all that is, except for one and we’ve even forgotten to hang it up. A stocking for the Child in the manger. Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most, and then we each put in our share of loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”

Those words were delivered in this movie 73 years ago and in 2020, we are still praying for the same things. Loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance.”

I now I know whose name needs to be on the stocking next to mine.