In a strange season of social distancing, the best place to mark Christmas this year might be outside, where sickness is less able to spread.
Maybe that’s where we should be looking for the holiday, anyway, since the first Christmas was a mostly outdoor affair — the babe shivering in the manger, the shepherds keeping watch in their fields.
It occurred to me the other evening, as I stood on the porch trying to bring a dead strand of Christmas lights back to life, that I’ve often felt closest to the spirit of the season when I’m out in the open under a clear winter sky.
One of my fondest Christmas memories comes from nearly two decades ago, when our son, then a baby, proved too much for midnight Mass. I took him out in the church courtyard, where other banished parents were passing their own exiles from the congregation.
It was largely quiet out there, although we could still hear muted strains of “Silent Night” from the pews. I felt apart from the worshippers, yet still a part of them, too. What I sensed, I guess, is that even when life places you off to the side of things, Christmas often has a way of finding you, anyway.
One of the small blessings of Christmas in Louisiana is that even winter days can be mild enough to enjoy outside. I count among some of my best Yuletide hours the afternoons I’ve spent walking around my brother-in-law’s farm after Christmas lunch. The fields are fallow and brown, and it feels to me as if a busy year has finally been put to bed. The emptiness of the scene empties my mind.
The pandemic has jumbled Christmas travels this year, so I doubt the day will find me, as it so often does, walking off my servings of cake and pie on an in-law’s farm. Luckily, I live in a neighborhood with its own good places to stretch my legs. I know that the sidewalk running from my house to the park will be an especially lively boulevard on Christmas afternoon. It’s where children try out their shiny new bikes and skateboards, the sheer abundance of the holiday spilling out to the curb.
I will notice, too, the empty cardboard boxes already gathering near the street. Every household, or so it seems, has a fastidious soul who starts to clear up the merry rubble of Christmas before the day itself has passed.
I can understand why the declutterers among us would want to tidy up the scatter of Christmas morning as soon as the presents have been opened. Christmas is such an overstuffed affair that it can leave a hankering for open spaces.
Which is why, I guess, I so often find myself outside on Christmas Day, drinking in its last, gray light. I’m always shocked, although I shouldn’t be, by how quickly it goes.