There are many words we could use to describe the year 2020, and “surreal” is probably one of the kindest. The same can be said for how we’ll be celebrating Christmas this year. Like many people, my husband and I will be staying home for the holidays, rather than going home for the holidays to celebrate with family members who live in other parts of the country. It’s not our preference, of course, but we keep reminding ourselves that by staying safe at home this Christmas, we’re increasing the odds that we’ll be alive and well and able to celebrate with our loved ones next year.

In the meantime, I’ve been celebrating the holiday season with people from around the world.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that shortly after we were all grounded by the coronavirus, I started visiting Toastmasters clubs around the country and around the world via Zoom. Last weekend, I was part of a 24-hour “Holidays Around the World” event that consisted of back-to-back two-hour meetings in each of twelve different countries – although the US portion of the event was split into two one-hour meetings, one in Texas and the other in Hawaii.

The celebration started in Japan on Saturday at 7 p.m. my time, and continued on through Australia, Malaysia, China, India, Oman, Kenya, Ireland, Brazil, the Bahamas, Canada, and the U.S. I didn’t stay on for the whole 24 hours, but I stayed up late enough to catch all or part of the first three meetings, then got up early Sunday morning to be in Oman and Kenya. Later on I made it to the last few meetings – in Vancouver, Ft. Worth, and Honolulu, which closed out the event by featuring the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” substituting Hawaiian items and elements for pipers piping, geese a-laying, and five golden rings.

Yesterday, I attended another meeting with a “Holidays Around the World” theme. It featured guests from a number of countries – including Finland, Mexico, New Zealand, and Zambia, among others – talking about holiday traditions in their native countries.

Both of these meetings introduced me to new and delightful customs. They also reinforced and reminded me of some things I already knew. One is how much we all have in common with each other, no matter what holiday we celebrate or what time zone we live in. Food, for instance, is a big part of holiday celebrations around the world, although the foods and the holidays may differ from country to country and culture to culture.

Another is that learning about the beliefs and traditions of other people does not threaten or take anything away from my own. Sharing our knowledge, our customs, our stories, and our experiences can bring us all closer together, even when our physical locations and backgrounds are worlds apart.

I think that’s an important and powerful message for everyone, and I hope it’s one that people everywhere will take to heart this holiday season – as we look back at the difficult, disruptive, and surreal year we have just experienced, and as we look forward with courage, compassion, and hope to the one just ahead.

December 20, 2020
©Betty Liedtke, 2020

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