Photo Credit: The Catholic Company
Celebrating Christ’s birth in the post-Covid yuletide
Brandon Tan, Design Manager
I shift uncomfortably. It is Christmas Eve, and for the first time in two years, midnight Mass is in-person again. All around me, people mill about, pressing too close for comfort. A spark of anxiety worms its way in me; what if they’re sick? What if I’m sick? This feels like a recipe for disaster.
The walls are beige, suffused in warm light that casts off the lacquered wooden pews. There are no cushions, unlike Mass over Zoom, which took place in the comfort of our living room on plush couches. I miss the comfort. In truth, being in the sanctum again feels like an out-of-body experience. When the pandemic happened, I will admit to being glad for the excuse not to attend church. After years as an Evangelical Catholic, and navigating the treacherous waters of being queer in an environment where homosexuality is considered sinful, I was not keen on participating in the Church. I was a theological quandary, a contagious question sitting somewhere between Christ’s clemency and divine wrath.
Small wonder I stopped going the instant I could.
Nonetheless, I am here, watching the lights dim as we enter into a thirty-minute reflection. It’s been a hard year, they say, and I do my best not to scoff. There is an instinctual derision in me, a desire to strike back at an institution that has hurt me. It is base, but it is true. I suffer in silence, though, watching my mother and father go through the fervent motions. There is truth there, too — in the curve of my mom’s hands in supplication, or the creases around my father’s eyes as he shuts them in prayer. In the background, the soft legato of the piano weaves through the air. A promise of hope, that for one night we can imagine a future of light.
It is a beautiful dream, one that stays with me as we segue into the mass itself. Joy sparks in the air, O Come All Ye Faithful a rousing entrance for the celebrant. I catch smiles in the crowd, bright and shining. For many, the Mass is a balm. For many, they are attending with one less parent, or sibling, taken by illness or time in the cruel interim. This is a chance for rebirth, to find new reasons to continue into the new year. Star of wonder indeed. My mother’s eyes are damp, and I fish out a tissue for her to dab her eyes with. She squeezes my arm in thanks, and we stand a little closer.
For her, I think, just this once.
Christmas is about the birth of Christ, and many have lambasted the season as becoming too secular — muddied by rhetorics of capitalism and liberal inclusivity. Our choir plays Protestant music, straying too far from our traditional roots. Our priest claps an arm on the shoulder of a gay couple on their way out, celebrating un-Christian unions. Sometimes though, I wonder. We are able to gather, to celebrate, and to be with our loved ones under the eaves of the cross. That itself is a gift, a peace that we are too fortunate to have.
Afterwards, my mother asks me to say the rosary with her. Just once, she says, while you’re still here. A part of me shudders, remembering the hurt and nights spent crying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Then I see the shine of her eyes.
I say yes.
Her smile makes it all feel worthwhile, somehow.