MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday the 10th of December, 2020.
We’re so happy you’ve joined us for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up: a COVID Christmas.
It’s no surprise that celebrations and traditions will look different this year. Many family gatherings, church services, and Nutcracker performances just may not happen. Yet some traditions are adapting—even booming!
Here is WORLD’s Anna Johansen Brown with some strategies for Christmas this year.
AUDIO: [VOCAL WARMUPS]
ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: Church of the Resurrection usually fields a choir of about 50 singers. Rez is an Anglican church in Wheaton, Illinois, with a lot of musicians and singers and generally artistic people in its congregation. So this year’s restrictions on singing have been rough.
LYDIA VERMEESCH: This year, we are putting together a COVID choir for lessons and carols and for our Christmas celebrations.
Lydia Vermeesch is the worship manager at Rez. This year, she’s in charge of the Lessons and Carols service. It’s an old English tradition. It started because church leaders wanted to keep people out of the pubs on Christmas Eve, so they would hold a long evening church service.
VERMEESCH: So they would alternate readings from Scripture that would tell the story of salvation through the story of Christmas, alternating those readings with singing Christmas carols and performances from a choir.
That tradition spread through a lot of Anglican and Catholic churches. Rez holds a Lessons and Carols service every year, usually with a full choir and orchestra. This year, they’re cutting back to four singers and a string quartet.
The singers rehearse wearing masks, spaced about 10 feet apart.
AUDIO: [SINGING DING DONG MERRILY ON HIGH]
VERMEESCH: We’re really adjusting our musical expectations this year. So I tried for the most part to select music that is appropriate for smaller groups.
AUDIO: [SINGING DING DONG MERRILY ON HIGH]
This piece, “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” was probably performed, originally, by a small group of Madrigal singers. But other songs were really intended for larger choirs.
AUDIO: [SINGING O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM]
“O Magnum Mysterium” was written for 24 singers. It has eight individual vocal parts. Vermeesch got permission to have eight singers pre-record the piece together, then play it at the service. But even with eight singers, it’s a bit of a struggle.
VERMEESCH: O Magnum is written for a large, slow choir and I’m actually starting to wonder if I should have picked something different. But it is such a beautiful, emotional Christmas classic for a lot of choral singers.
Singers aren’t the only ones having to adapt.
AUDIO: [JINGLING BELLS, SQUEAKY TOY]
For a lot of families, taking pictures with Santa is a tradition graven in stone—a must-do every year. But this is not the year to have hundreds of kids sit in Santa’s lap every day. So instead, they can sit 6 feet in front of Santa while Santa wears a plastic face shield and sits behind a plexiglass wall.
Or, parents can book an online video call with the Jolly Old Elf.
ZOOM CALL WITH SANTA: Oh, you guys have been growing for one year. I’m 5 now. Yeah, that’s great!
A crowd of online Santas has cropped up over the past few months. Most charge about $50 for a five minute personalized video call.
WILLIAM EVELSIZER: I think it really has to do with being a kid. And this idea of endless imagination, and wonder and excitement.
William Evelsizer is the founder of Santa’s Club, a company that sets up video calls with Santa for kids all over the world.
EVELSIZER: We’re finding that they’re kind of turning Santas into psychologists and leaving notes like, my child’s mom got cancer. Last year, our child had a transplant. We just moved into a new home and our child is scared. Can Santa please tell our child there’s absolutely nothing to be scared of.
While some Christmas traditions are canceled and some are taking on new forms, others are flourishing in a COVID world. Top of the list? Live Christmas trees.
HANN: It’s been huge, we’ve had a huge demand.
Greg Hann runs Hann’s Christmas Farm in southern Wisconsin.
HANN: It’ll be a strong 20 to 25 percent increase this year in sales.
Some Wisconsin tree farms have already sold out and are closed for the year, even though, usually, they’d be open until Christmas Eve.
Hann says he’s had a record number of first-time customers, people who have always had an artificial tree—until this year.
HANN: I’ve had customers just come here and say, I need a live tree this year, I just need to have a live tree. And I don’t think it’s specifically the live tree. It’s everything that comes with it. You know, you can gather the family up you can go and and look for a tree together maybe even argue or disagree a little bit…And then bringing it home and you know, setting it up…
You also have to keep the tree watered, which Hann says is a nice hobby when you’re stuck at home.
A lot of people are looking for things to fill in the gaps—activities or traditions to replace the things they’ve lost, like traveling or visiting family in person.
AUDIO: [SINGING – GLORY TO GOD]
Lydia Vermeesch at Church of the Resurrection says she’s had to focus on the essentials: What makes a choir a choir? What makes a Lessons and Carols service a Lessons and Carols service?
VERMEESCH: It’s a celebration of Christmas, there’s joy, there’s congregational singing, and there’s a celebration of the Incarnation in word and in music.
She doesn’t want people to be discouraged by what we can’t do this Christmas season. Instead, focus on what we have.
VERMEESCH: When we do enter in fully and just soak in the experience that we do have, the Lord does work.
And even though she can’t do Lessons and Carols the way it’s always been done, she’s praying that this small group of singers and musicians will be a blessing anyway.
VERMEESCH: We’re trusting that with this meager offering this year that God will do something great.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen in Wheaton, Illinois.