Christmas in 1918 and 2020

Like every holiday since St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas this year is another strange one; not least because we are still unable to gather for in-person worship.

But, we will get through this!  I say that because people got through a very similar kind of Christmas during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918.

That Christmas, people did not attend worship at our church either.  And, unlike today, there was no live streaming of anything so people just missed out altogether!  

The Spanish Flu was handled on the local level much more than Covid 19 is today.  Remember, the CDC didn’t come into being until 1946.  Still, the methods used to combat the Spanish Flu were remarkably similar to what we are advised to do today:  Wear a mask.  Limit social gatherings (including worship).  Wash your hands.  Quarantine if you have been exposed.

Back then, people were much more likely to obey directives from local, state and federal authorities than they are today.  After all, the war effort was still an active part of people’s lives.  So compliance was high.  

Unlike today, however, there was no vaccine on the way.  The Spanish Flu ended because it eventually could not find enough hosts to spread any further.  For those who, today, might advocate for “herd immunity”, it is important to remember that while 1.5 million people worldwide have died of Covid 19, the Spanish Flu took 30 million lives.

So Christmas in 1918 was a somber one and it may be for you as well this year.  One thing that they had going for them back in 1918 was that the “pods” that people lived in (the people with whom they lived and essentially quarantined with) were much larger.  Extended families still got together for Christmas because they got together every day.  Generations lived together in the same houses.  That’s not the case for us today and I am aware of how lonely this Christmas will be for many who will literally be on their own.

Yet the truth of Christmas in 1918 and in 2020 remains the same and it’s meaning is more powerful than in other years: God is with us as one of us.  

I hope that truth sinks deep into your heart this Christmas; especially if you are alone or struggling with your health.  God is with us as one of us.  That means that God is born anew in your life this Christmas like never before.  You don’t have to go searching for God because God could not be closer.  

There is no need for physical distancing when it comes to the incarnation.  And in that nearness there is comfort, healing, light and love.  

It may not be a raucous Christmas this year and that’s okay.  In the subdued spirit of this year, remember that it was into the most challenging of times that Christ was born.  

And because of his arrival, a new life and a new world are possible.

Merry Christmas,

–Rev. Dominic