Retired Consultant Physician & Freelance Journalist
This has not been a normal year, anything but. Christmas too will be different!
COVID-19 has taken over our lives, our liberties and our way of living. Recent projections of the Pandemic were bleak, dramatic and chilling, forcing another lockdown. In this climate of lingering uncertainty, the traditional family, so embattled by the consequences, will need to tighten its belt. The trimmings at Christmas, the fanfare and festivities, will inevitably be subdued. However, with effective vaccines awaiting approval, there is hope on the Horizon. So,’ it’s beginning to look like Christmas’!
Christmas, is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, who is the Son of God. He was born as a human being, in baby Jesus. This period of Advent, leading up to Christmas, provides an opportunity to prepare spiritually, for the coming of Jesus. Today, the religious significance of Christmas is overcome by the commercial hype and purchasing mania. Christmas is perceived by the secularists as a holiday period, shifting the focus to purchasing gifts, stocking of food & drink, partying and generally preparing for the festivities. For others, it is a time to get away and enjoy a skiing holiday perhaps.
In Sri Lanka, it is customary at this time of year, to have the houses colour washed and painted. It is the time to buy the ingredients for the Christmas cake and other sweet meats, and also gifts, fireworks and crackers and a general stock up, of non-perishable foods, for the festivities. Churches are cleaned, decorated and cribs are laid out. Choirs would be rehearsing for the Christmas services. Pre-Christmas concerts are staged and school children will be getting ready, for their Nativity plays. However, this year, these activities are notably absent. The upmarket shopping complexes, with many failed businesses are deserted due to shop closures. There is an eerie silence in the Malls.
In the UK too, the usual ‘hustle and bustle’ in shopping malls, is notably absent, so are the buskers and choirs singing Christmas songs & carols. After months of home working, it would be nice to come together for the Traditional Christmas office party, – it cannot happen. So, neither friend nor foe, can kiss under the mistletoe!
In London, it was quiet on the Christmas illuminations front, at Oxford Street – there was no crowds and celebrity switch on. The iconic Santa’s Grotto at Harrod’s Departmental store and the Traditional Haley’s Toy display, will notably be absent. Curtains are down in all West End theatres denying us, the West End Musicals and carol concerts at the Royal Albert and Royal Festival halls. Christmas period without Pantomimes for the kids, was unheard of, but this year, it is real. This is true for London and the regional theatres. Nativity Plays in schools are all cancelled. Carol singing in the shopping Centres is not allowed. All carol singing events, our own Epsom Male Voice choir had planned, to entertain residents in care homes, will not happen. The echoing wax scented churches too, will be devoid of their carolling congregations, that includes all ‘Christmas services of the nine lessons’. Whether it be the Festive aspect or of religious significance, large numbers do attend Christmas Midnight Mass. These Midnight services are permitted, but choral carol singing would not be an option.
While we cannot control what happens outside our homes over this festive season, we can command operations inside, where home and hearth, have become more important than ever. Christmas decorations are in place and very early too. Christmas trees and decorations traditionally start going on display when Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Early onset decorating is an act of defiance this year, a howl against the restrictive encroachments and worries of 2020.
All above mentioned activities, contribute to the Christmas experience. Absence of this build up does intensify the bleakness of this season. These may seem superficial, but as they impact on the entertainment and other related services, there is a human and economic cost. It also brings to the fore, two important social issues – loneliness and Homelessness. Loneliness at Christmas is of particular significance in the UK/ Western countries.
One of the feelings many of us are experiencing during this Pandemic is loneliness. In our efforts to stay safe, our usual ways of seeing family, friends or just familiar faces, have been put on pause. For many living alone, ‘Loneliness at Christmas’ would be worse this year. Those who lost a loved one to Covid, will feel isolated and lonely at this, their first Christmas, after the loss. The elderly living on their own, will miss their social gatherings/lunches. For those separated from their nearest by considerable distance, visit to their pub, which has been their lifeline, is denied. At this magical time of Christmas when loved ones reconnect and get together for the festivities, for those, forced by the restrictions, to be alone, in front of the ‘box’, is sad. Covid regulations have imposed insurmountable restrictions for these unfortunate individuals and what could be done to alleviate their loneliness this Christmas, is uncertain. The helpline called ‘Silver Line’ is available for help, if needed. A telephone call from friends or neighbours would be very welcome. So would a Christmas wish or a brief visit on Christmas day – observing social distancing rules of course. Family ties and cultural trends in Sri Lanka and Asian countries, tend to protect the elders from isolation. Therefore, loneliness for the elderly, is not a major issue.
As the autumn leaves fall and the shutters come down on shops, pubs & eateries, they join the already collapsed travel and entertainment industries in the vanishing trail of businesses. This Pandemic, has devastated the world economy, The Chancellor in the UK, has saved us from economic Armageddon by creating a huge safety net for affected families & businesses. Even with these measures many jobs will be lost. Job losses, rising unemployment and personal debt, in time, will result in loss of homes, adding to the number of Homeless. Covid related Homelessness at Christmas would add to the problem of homelessness and urgent help from Charities would be needed to supplement Government grants. It is gratifying that the Government has allocated generous funds to remove the rough sleepers from the streets. Loss of a job resulting in loss of the family home, for the unfortunate families means, being cooped up in a single rented room, at Christmas,
Last year, many London choirs including Epsom Male Voice Choir, participated in recording the song entitled, ‘A place called Home’ for the Homeless charity ‘Shelter’. The proceeds from the sale of this CD, led by opera stars (Byrne Terfel, & Lesley Garret) went to Shelter. Other charities supporting the homeless eg Salvation Army, Crisis at Christmas, rely on public support too, to carry out the good work they do.
In a glorious surge of Joy and relief, the mood worldwide has turned, following the announcement by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca of what we hope, are three successful vaccines against Covid 19. This promising breakthrough represents the first real chance, that, this horrible disease, could be conquered.
After months of ‘Doom and Gloom’, there is hope in the Horizon. Even the prospect of a normal family Christmas, seems to be within reach. Surely, the sooner we get our halls decked with spirit–raising holly and Ivy, the better it will be for everyone. The world looks better, when basking in the glow of fairy lights and a little bit of hope.
Christmas 2020 is going to be a nightmare, to be honest. Christmas socialising will come with a substantial risk, this year. Even with limits to family gatherings, we can all have a nice time together, over turkey and stuffing, but no Hugs no kisses and pulling of crackers, will be forbidden. No one knows where it is all going from here. This is another good reason why it is imperative to get those decorations up early. So, let’s put some ‘Ho Ho Ho’ back into our lives!
The ingenious scientists, with the vaccines, have provided Mankind with Hope for a ‘New Normal Life’. The message of Christmas, heralds Hope and Joy of a ‘New Life’ We could therefore, embrace those baubles & trinkets, which are perceived as totems to the human spirit and beacons of starry hope, as we sail into an uncertain future, of life after Covid 19.
This unusual Christmas, we have the opportunity to step back and reflect – to ask ourselves, fundamental questions about our lives, our values, attitudes and even the nature of our realities. Post Covid 19, there will be changes to our lifestyles. They could be just physical changes, changes in our attitudes to life, our outlook and indeed our perceptions and even how we behave towards our fellow equals or the less fortunate. It is time to think of the good we can do and help shape a better world.
In this context, I draw attention to a quote of late Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sachs, in his ‘Thought of the Day’ this year.
“We have been through so much, to simply to go back to where we were. We have to rescue some blessings from the curse, some hope from the pain”
Wishing you all a Safe Christmas