Dec 22nd, 2020, 11:10 PM

A Parisian Christmas in the Midst of COVID

By Presleigh Lauren Murray
Image Credit: Creative Commons/EuroAsia Vizion.
Finding peace and joy in gratitude.

Lights are adorning every building and hanging from every street light around town. Trees are shining brightly through every window. There are cookies, eggnog and hot cocoa galore. Fireplaces are lit to keep you toasty. Joyful music is playing, and cheerful movies are on. There is snow for many, markets for some, and log cabins for others. December is here and the Christmas spirit is so real that it is almost tangible. At least, these are the memories I hold of my last 19 Christmases in America.

As I sit here in my cold Parisian apartment to write, I realize that there are only three days until Christmas, I am 4,335 miles away from my family, and I have no Christmas plans. I wonder what a girl is to do for Christmas in the middle of a pandemic. Glancing at my calendar, I see "Thailand" marked out in black marker — the original month-long getaway I had planned for myself. I had found a Buddhist retreat in Chiang Mai where I was determined to spend my month. I had saved money, found plane tickets and sent countless emails. As August approached and COVID-19 was still in full swing, I realized to my own despair that Thailand was likely not possible this year. "Ok," I thought, "I will experience my first Christmas in France." It was probably good for me anyway, as I am trying to acclimate myself to the French culture. Strasbourg, of course, was my destination of choice. 

The days ticked by and cases continued to rise. French President Emmanuel Macron gave an announcement to the nation on October 28 stating that France would be going back into confinement, and thus a second lockdown ensued. Considering we were not allowed to go farther than one kilometer from our homes, I began to wonder if my Strasbourg plan would work out after all. The days ticked by and cases did not significantly drop. "Ok," I thought, "I will experience my first Christmas in Paris." What a dream that is, many would say, but I could not help but think of the things I would be missing: my family, my closest friends and that tangible Christmas atmosphere. Masks, social distancing, limits on how many people could gather and a semester that didn't end until December 22 would, I was convinced, make this Christmas not feel like Christmas at all. 

The days are ticking by. There are three days left until Christmas. Indeed, I have not wrapped the first present. I have not decorated a tree. I have no dinner plans, nor baked cookies for Santa to take. I have not been to a light show nor strolled through a holiday market. I have not drunk hot cocoa nor binge-watched Christmas movies. I have yet to listen to a Christmas song. I am not sure I will have a present to unwrap this year, nor am I sure I will have a present to give, as shipping items gets expensive quickly. Sending a letter home might have to do. These things are all true. Yet, I know, this Christmas can be just as wonderful as any other if only I decide to make it so. 

Decorating a Christmas tree. Image Credit: Unsplash/Arun Kuchibhotla

My grandpa used to tell me that the key to a happy, fulfilled life was simply a mindset of gratitude. I stumbled across a wonderful quote by Ralph H. Blum nine days before Christmas — it goes as follows: "There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy." Quite simply, gratitude began to transform my spirit into one of acceptance, peace and happiness. How lucky am I to know what it feels like to hear wrapping paper rip beneath my touch, falling to the ground and exposing a thoughtfully-picked present just for me. How lucky am I to know what it feels like to have my family surrounding a table with so much food that we could never eat it all in one sitting. How lucky am I to know the warmth of a fireplace and the exhilaration accompanying a snowball fight. 

The days are ticking by, and the greatest gift I could receive this Christmas is to know that I helped at least one other person on this planet feel a little bit of the joy I have felt the last 19 Christmases. The only thing I have left to do is figure out how to make that happen, but it will be easy if only I try, for I know that those less fortunate than myself will find gratitude in a warm baguette, in a genuine smile, in a reminder that they are loved. 

It turns out that gratitude is the best gift I could have received this year, and lucky for me, it came early. There are three days left until Christmas, and I have an abundance of everything that I need. With a smile on my face and joy, peace and gratitude in my heart, I realize that this may just be the best Christmas yet.