Tim Whyte | Survivor’s Guilt and Keeping the ‘Happy’ in Xmas

Tim Whyte

Woody (answers phone): Cheers! Yes, ma’am, right away. (Turns to Carla.) There’s some lady screaming her head off.

Carla: What’s she want?

Woody: I don’t know. All I could make out was, “Two-timing…”

Carla: Sam, telephone! … Woody, listen up and learn something.

Sam (takes phone from Woody): Sammy here. Oh, hey, I thought you’d like those flowers. Yeah. No, no, that sounds like my note: “Thanks for a wonderful evening, Barbara, I had a great time.” (Looks shocked.) Oh, of COURSE I know your name’s Karen. (Laughs nervously.) Uh. You know, hey, I see your mistake here. You see, you didn’t realize that, to me, Barbara means Karen. Well, because. Because, uh… because Barbara reminds me of Barbra Streisand, and you know that… that song about people? (Pauses.) Well, I… I am getting to it. You know the line, “First be a person who needs people?” Well, who was the first person? (Pauses.) Yeah, alright, but the first female person was Eve. And who is the most famous Eve of all, but Christmas Eve, right? (Takes a rushed swig of club soda.) Yeah, well, what do you do, uh, on Christmas Eve, but you go carolin’, right? No, I know… I know your name’s not Carolyn. But, but after you go carolin’, what you do is, you Kar-innn the gifts. Karen. (Pauses.) Yeah. Well, apology accepted, sweetheart, I’ll talk to you later.

Christmas. It’s my favorite day of the year, and that scene from “Cheers” is one of my favorite TV Christmas references.

But as Christmas approaches in 2020, I’ve been wrestling with exactly how to feel about it, in the context of the year this has been.

“Don’t be a Debbie Downer,” I keep telling myself, then I get distracted and start wondering, “What’s the male version of Debbie Downer? Donnie Downer? Dickie Downer?”

I really, really want to be looking forward to Christmas. I usually anticipate it so much that I have that distinct post-Christmas letdown on Dec. 26. Thank goodness for football.

I’m not an especially religious person, but of course I understand and appreciate the true meaning of the holiday. But on a personal level, it’s always been that most special day of the year, when time spent with family becomes the sole focus, and everything else goes out the window — work, school, phones, chores. For those of us with busy lives — which, I imagine, is most of us — it’s the closest we ever really get to a true day “off,” from everything.

Christmas in my house has evolved over the years. When I was a kid, it was all about sprinting to the tree at the crack of dawn to see what might be waiting for me there. When my wife and I started our family, it was all about our kids, sprinting to the tree at the crack of dawn, to see what might be waiting for them there. Now, our kids are older. They sleep in on Christmas morning and ask what’s for breakfast before they even amble into the living room to check and see what Santa left in their stockings. 

Last Christmas, as we headed home after a visit with family members in town, I heard this, from the back seat of the car, “Sooooo…. how does everyone feel about mimosas?”

The answer was, “Good.” We felt pretty good about mimosas.

Yep. Christmas has changed as the kids have gotten older. Not better, not worse. Just different.

But this year it’s like no other. If we have a happy Christmas, will we have a weird sense of survivor’s guilt? There’s this pandemic, which has affected everyone’s lives. It’s hit some harder than others — for many, this Christmas will be in the shadow of mourning loved ones lost to COVID-19. For many others, it will be in the shadow of financial and emotional strife, as the government-ordered shutdowns have left many thousands wondering where their rent or their next meal is coming from — never mind planning expensive gift exchanges and feasts.

I imagine there are a lot of people out there who, frankly, don’t feel much like celebrating, especially if that special time with their loved ones is going to be via Zoom. 

Me? I’m pretty damn fortunate. My wife and I have both been able to continue working through the pandemic, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. COVID-19 has of course affected us, in many ways, from adhering to the shutdown orders to our kids having to adjust the way they pursue higher education. It will certainly impact the annual Christmas Eve enchilada dinner at our house, which usually ends up being a pretty large gathering. And, two of our relatives did contract COVID-19, but they recovered, so we are thankful for that.  

All in all, we’ve come through OK so far. 

And there’s one more thing I’m truly grateful for, the one thing that isn’t changing this Christmas: Both kids will be home from college, at the same time — something that’s happening less and less often during the year as they get older and pursue higher education and careers. We laugh a lot when we have both kids home, and those are the Christmas moments I cherish the most. 

Merry Christmas, everyone. Stay safe, find happiness wherever you can — and don’t forget to Kar-innn the gifts.

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.

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