This spring and summer, we had to learn a new vocabulary that included words such as pandemic, Covid, self-isolation, quarantine, and social distancing. Those and related terms remain in our lexicon. We wear masks and gloves, and we stay at least six feet away from people in stores, doctors’ offices, and everywhere groups used to be. We avoid crowds, and we don’t shake hands or hug any one other than those with whom we live. Many families didn't make annual summer trips, many were unable to visit parents and children who live far away; we weren’t able to hold family reunions, attend weddings (and even funerals). We weren’t able to spend time together as we normally would; and the recent “second wave” of soaring infections is cause for solemn concern. With a vaccine suspended in the realm of hope but not yet available to the general public, and with some people refusing to follow simple safety guidelines, things are likely to worsen.
This year holiday celebrations around the world will undoubtedly be different: no large parties at work and among friends and family members, local community gatherings will be limited in numbers or cancelled, gatherings at restaurants will be restricted to just a few people (if they happen at all), masks and social distancing will remain in place, in-home get-togethers will be limited, and travel will be risky at best. Mall Santas won’t have children sitting on their knees, and any Santas we might see collecting for the poor will be wearing masks. Attendance at Midnight Mass and other church services will be limited to just a small percentage of people—no standing room only this year. And New Year’s Eve celebrations will be seriously curtailed in Times Square, as well as in all the places where large public celebrations occur around the world.
Despite restrictions on households mixing, with strict curbs on hospitality already in place, and with all the precautions we have to take, this holiday season doesn’t have to be a “wash.” Perhaps this year, we can all find ways to enter the spirit of the season without the usual trappings of social festivities, big dinner parties, visits, travel, and gift giving. Perhaps this year we can find ways to experience the message and meaning of the holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza) in quieter, more personal ways and be able to bring holiday spirit to loved ones and friends without close in-person contact (Zoom, Skype, telephone, email, texts, etc.).
For some of us, writing about
this time in human history and its effect on the holiday season may offer a bit
of relief from all the related stresses and disappointments and, perhaps, bring us closer to the inner peace and joy we all seek. Writing for its own sake, expressing
our thoughts to define and clarify them, and writing poems to give others clearly isn’t going to make the
pandemic go away, but our moments of writing, reading, and sharing
poetry, may become moments of good that we can gift to loved ones, to friends, and
1. Write about what it’s like to celebrate this Christmas with the threat of Covid so present in our lives.
2. Write about a holiday about your past (dig deeply into family memories).
3. Write about seasonal ghosts that haunt you (per Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” and, in particular, you might write about the specter of Covid this holiday season).
4. Write about what you’ll miss most this holiday season—write about aspects of winter holiday traditions that won’t be part of this year’s annual celebration.
5. Write about one special person with whom you always associate the winter holidays.
6. Write about the faith and/or cultural aspects of your winter holidays.
7. Write about a holiday song that replays in your mind because of its associations (or, write your own words to a Christmas carol or other winter holiday song).
8. Write a poem based on an old Christmas, Chanukah, or other winter holiday photograph.
9. Write a holiday prayer, reflection, or meditation.
10. Write about a winter holiday yet to come—a holiday season without Covid.
1. Keep in mind that holiday literature can be tricky—be sure to sidestep the pitfalls of sentimentality, schmaltziness, nostalgia, and clichés.
2. Work toward fresh and original language, figures of speech, and an integrated whole of language, form, and meaning.
3. Show through examples and imagery—don’t simply tell.
4. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).
5. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).
6. Think about your poem, what it reveals about being human, and how your readers may relate to it.
I wish each of you the blessings and peace of this special season,
along with my best wishes
for your spiritual and temporal well-being.
I’ll be taking my annual hiatus in December
and will resume posting again in mid to late January.
In the meantime stay safe and be well.
With grateful good wishes,