Our worst Christmas vacation started, of course, with a cancelled flight three days before the actual holiday. At the time, we lived in Geneva, Switzerland, and we had mentally and emotionally prepared for an eight-hour direct flight to DC with three children, ages 7, 4, and 2. We had not mentally or emotionally prepared for the cancellation of one flight of the day. Without any possible seats on any other direct flights before Christmas, we somehow ended up on a flight to London, planning to spend the night near the airport and get on our US bound flight the following day.

The only hotel near the airport, the only inn with any room, was a fairly dodgy guest house in Hounslow. Under the gaze of multiple security cameras and surrounded by binders of hotel records, we checked in. We were given a family room with two queen beds, a bunk bed and flocked velvet wallpaper depicting double decker buses and the Union Jack. It was not as fancy as it might sound. So we promptly escaped to the neighborhood pub for curry.

I woke up that night to the ominous sound of my son trying to get down from the top bunk. “Mom, I’m going to be sick.” We made it to the bathroom where he vomited profusely. I woke up again two hours later to my husband heaving. We somehow made it on our flight, though we must have looked very pathetic, our son randomly stopping to lie on the airport floor, trying to gather his strength to walk a few more feet. The post-Covid-me is horrified by these memories.

We landed at Dulles, with no further vomiting until my daughter lost her lunch (of already unappetizing airplane food) into the trash can on the shuttle bus to the rental car kiosk.

Fast forward three days to Christmas and we had given the calamity to numerous members of the family, some of whom felt inspired to text us about the various meals that had been ruined. That Christmas was far from perfect — terrible even — but it was Christmas nonetheless. There were still presents under the tree and a baby in the manger.

I believe we are all given a bad Christmas or two (or more) as a gift. A reminder that no matter our best efforts, the day will never be perfect. We may have remembered to buy the matching pajamas or send out the cards, but we also remember we are all one bad stomach bug away from being grinches, stealing Christmas joy from everyone.

One square on our calendars cannot hold the weight of all our expectations. We are all collectively learning this in 2020. But I do still feel that desire to perfect the Covid Christmas: to mail beautifully wrapped gifts to my family that will get there on time, to play the right music for my children to learn the story, for my heart to be pure and focused on the “real reason for the season.”

But Jesus didn’t come to the world because we had nailed this whole humanity thing. It doesn’t really make sense to attempt to perfectly celebrate a day that marks the incarnation of a Savior who came to meet us in our mess, in our brokenness, in our darkest moments. Jesus came as a baby to be with us when there’s no room in the inn, when our children are sick, when our family is mad at us, when we are disappointed and depressed.

So Merry Christmas, Joy the the World, the Savior reigns, whether you spend your holiday in a Hallmark movie or on a tile floor of a guest house bathroom rubbing your son’s back while you deeply regret the curry. Repeat the sounding joy.