I think that a few will understand how different Christmas is this year, as do people living in countries strongly affected by the pandemic, like Italy. Our government has imposed measures that basically will limit a lot the possibilities of movement and gathering, especially on the days of festivities, because of course, it is more dangerous from the point of view of spreading the virus. Moreover, the Christmas Mass in the Vatican will be celebrated by strictly following the rules imposed by social distancing and sanitary protections. It will certainly be something different. We hope that Christmas 2021 will be really something else, but for the moment we need to adjust because we have no choice.
Looking back, around 40 years ago in the 1980s, in the street people would be busy buying the last things to prepare the cenone, a great dinner style where you eat together with family members who maybe you meet only on that occasion, once a year. Children would play together and old people would find the comfort of being together with family, while during the year, maybe, they had to fight their solitude. Streets would be busy with people and full of streetlights that added to the atmosphere of Christmas. There was also a certain aroma in the air, an aroma of certain foods and certain cakes that blended well with the temperature, which is quite cold at this time of the year.
People would wish one another “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!” greeting even strangers. Everyone would rejoice at the sound of bagpipers, who came to the big cities for this occasion, playing traditional Christmas songs, like the immortal Tu scendi dalle stelle by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori. It was really the typical sound of Christmas! Parents would be busy looking for gifts for their children and for those who will be together with them for the big Christmas dinner, a dinner rich with food and every kind of cold cut for appetizers.
Then, as midnight approached, almost everyone would go to the Mass in the nearby parish. Mass was attended by a lot of people, many of whom may be going to Mass only once a year, exactly on that occasion. So the priest had a very important opportunity because he would talk to people whom he only saw that night. The church at midnight Mass would be full of people of every kind, from faithful parishioners to people you have never met before. Everyone, at least for that day was joyful and cheering, because if the Son of God was born, everything was possible, even our difficult lives can be born again and again. It was a feast of hope, a feast of rejoicing, and a feast of rebirth.
There are many more things to say as we go down memory lane, but we all hope that these memories, for the children of today, will become very soon their present. The child Jesus will be still at the center of their thoughts and hearts, at least in the days of this “most wonderful time of the year” – Christmas.