Christmas, Don’t Be Late

by Tyler Sjostrom

I think that every Christmas, when you look back on it, has a theme. In my personal history, they certainly do.

There was the Christmas of the Sega Genesis in 1991, when my brothers and I hurled controllers at the TV screen for seven blissful days in a row. There were the twin “Home Alone” Christmases of 1990 and 1992, when every living person learned about the Castle Doctrine from a prepubescent psychopath. And who could forget my own family’s “Home Alone” Christmas in 2004, which had nothing to do with the movies mentioned above. Instead, it was the year my parents were gone for the holidays and my brothers and I put holes in all the walls. Simpler times, every single one.

And then – cue the theme from “Jaws” – we had last Christmas. There’s a lot I’ll remember about Covid Christmas 2020, and like most among us who spend 11 months lying in wait for that first fateful whiff of peppermint, very little of it rings as positive. But, like most of you, I tried to take it with a smile.

I tried to smile when my very favorite event, the Downtown Appleton Christmas Parade, was canceled. I remember saying, “You know, they should just send Santa around town on a flatbed every year!” A creative alternative, sure, but patently dishonest on my part.

I forced a look-on-the-bright-side when my 7-months-pregnant wife came down with COVID on Dec. 21, even as her chin quivered at the knowledge that this meant she wouldn’t see her family as they celebrated two miles away. “It’ll be great, honey,” I lied. “Just us in our pajamas!” And then I snuck away to hide a few chin quivers of my own, knowing no one loves Christmas more than she does.

Through all the various drawbacks we all endured last winter – the cancellation of most parties, the erasure of school and church Christmas programs, the passing of Alex Trebek – we kept a stiff upper lip knowing that this year would be better. And then … well, this year certainly happened, which is about the best thing we can say about it.

As a population, we’re every bit as divided as ever, albeit for more creative reasons. The promise of a COVID-free present and future has gone as-yet unfulfilled. And for anyone who hoped that this would be the year that the Brewers finally broke through in the playoffs, I regret to inform you that your bingo card shall live to fight through another autumn.

But even though 2021 hasn’t vanquished the almost farcical badness of 2020, I’m probably more excited for this Christmas than I can ever remember. Shows are back on at the PAC, schools, churches and elsewhere. The parade is returning this year, thank Santa. And if you’re a fan of Christmas music – which I fully, unabashedly am – a quick perusal of Spotify makes clear that many musicians spent quarantine dreaming of sugar plums just like you and me. 

All of these, ultimately, are superficial concerns. Look a little closer, though, and I think we’ll see a populace that is more appreciative of the things we lost or sacrificed in the worst year on record and are all too happy to welcome them back.

I can’t wait to see family for the holidays, and not just through a window. I can’t wait to have my son see Santa, and not just on a lonely street corner for a split second. I can’t wait to see my wife’s chin quiver for what we’ve gained rather than what we’ve missed.

And on this Christmas, even if it’s not perfect, I hope the same for you.