The ultimate festival of mingling and consuming is being revamped this year into a celebration we’ll likely never forget.
IN THE DAYS LEADING UP TO CHRISTMAS, I enjoy getting cozy on the couch with stories and reminiscences of Christmases gone by. I know it’s a bit of sentimental self-indulgence, but my “research” clearly reveals that the celebrations people remember with the greatest affection are almost never about extravagance, and almost always about the trials and triumph of getting home for the holidays and being together with loved ones.
“Home” is perhaps the most enduring holiday sentiment of all, embodied in cards, décor, music, food, sumptuous seasonal aromas and every childhood memory and memento. Even snow. Especially snow, for those of us who grew up in a more wintry clime. I felt pretty dismal on our first Christmas day in Victoria, and almost burst into tears when the rain started, shortly after a sprightly runner in shorts had jaunted by.
Home is rootedness. Years ago, my daughter was at one of her Christmas concerts clutching a songbook she’d received from her Oma the previous Christmas. Suddenly I noticed a woman staring at it, her eyes widening and then welling. “My mom gave me that book when I was a child. I so regret losing it and have been looking for another ever since,” she said, before asking if she could borrow it to have a quality copy made. I remember her gratitude and her gladness.
Home is at the core of who we are.
But sadly, home as we know it is off the table this year. Although we’re good at getting home for Christmas—at persevering through the snow, finding the money for travel, pleading for a few extra days off work, and hanging out at airports when scheduling falls apart—the barrier this year is in a class of its own.
This year we have an insidious and deadly virus that can make anyone the vector you’re trying to avoid. Or you the vector that everyone should avoid. It’s wreaked grief and havoc, and has forced us to change nearly everything in life. Vaccines are coming, yes, but not in time for Christmas. And since Christmas is the ultimate festival of mingling, it is exactly the festival that we now need to revamp.
To be frank, we saw this coming, in the doggedly upward trajectory of the pandemic’s second wave, and in the pained and tired faces of our public health team as they weighed the hardship of imposed holiday bleakness against the reality of a merciless virus not under control. In the end, caution won out, and rightly so. No family gathering around a turkey dinner is worth the risk of a stint on a ventilator.
It wasn’t surprising when all the usual holiday events around town began toppling like dominoes. All parades were nixed, including the much-loved Santa Claus parade in its 39th year. Plugs were pulled on the venerable Christmas light show at Butchart Gardens (a favourite annual outing for my most elderly friend and me).
Places of worship were ordered to stay shuttered, to the chagrin of many who had hoped for a Christmas reprieve. Concerts, theatre offerings, the venerable Nutcracker—all have been mothballed or sent to virtual platforms for the rest of the year. All told, dozens of community events, even those just drawing small crowds, have had to throw in the towel or completely redesign their delivery systems.
This could so easily have been the year Victoria went dark for Christmas, with everyone fearfully hunkered down indoors, alone or in their own small bubble with curtains and soul tightly drawn in true Dickensian fashion.
But no, that’s not who we are. If anything, we’ve gone a little wild with this year’s outdoor décor, our way of punching hard against the COVID darkness. Local innovation turned the Santa Claus Parade into the “Light up the City” campaign, which, in partnership with the Times Colonist’s annual Christmas Lights Map, spurred a friendly Griswold-type rivalry that’s resulted in a grand string of holiday bedecked homes to savour from the safety of your car. And also some pretty cool drop-off sites for your food and toy contributions.
Against all the odds, donations are up in all categories this year. And apparently, we’re still baking up a storm, with the intent of leaving care packages on the stoops of those we would otherwise see during this time. The Christmas tradition of not leaving anyone forgotten is a strong one.
Meanwhile, various polls reveal that we’re spending less on the holidays this year. Perhaps we’re realizing that we don’t need stuff as much as we need human connection.
The Zoom learning curve has soared in 2020, and many will be using it and other platforms to stay virtually connected over the holidays. Our tiny bubble will be Zooming with several loved ones, ranging from my mom back east to our first grandchild just up the road. It’s his first Christmas, but everyone’s safety overrides our desire to see him in person during the holidays. That’s for next year.
We can make it work this Christmas—and Hanukkah, Winter Solstice and all the other transcendent celebrations at this time of year. Whether alone or with our small group, we can be buffered by music, candlelight, favourite foods, a good book or puzzle, and online access to family, friends, spiritual comfort and holiday entertainment. Add in a nearby park or beach for walking, and even a crackling fireplace on TV, and we can say that we are safe, blessed and truly at home.
However we choose to celebrate this Christmas, it will be unforgettable. Years from now we might even find ourselves writing about it.
Trudy wishes FOCUS readers a safe and happy holiday.