Christmas Thoughts in Advent -- Mari Howard
Some years ago, along with several other authors, I was invited to read a Christmas story on local radio. Any short story or an excerpt from a longer piece of fiction, as long as it was set at Christmas. I chose a few pages from The Labyrinth Year, book two of my family saga set in the mid-1990s, which describes my protagonists, a young couple, Jenny and Max, taking their five year old daughter Alice to her first Christmas carol service. It’s a super-middle-class story of warm feelings, bright candles, a lovely Tree, and excellent singing from the choir. Alice is spellbound by the Crib, and after staring a while, asks where the baby is? Mum Jenny recalls when she first met Max, in Cambridge at the end of term, and how he insisted on taking her to a carol service at his college. Max is reminded how his rather grim Dad, a Presbyterian Minister, would have disdained the ‘flummery’, as he saw it, of all this glittery nonsense in a church.
So, what exactly is Christmas? I wonder how many of us pause to wonder that? Is it the essence of family time, with a chance to slowly consume the ultimate roast dinner, surrounded by a lovely relatives in ambient warmth? Is it the season to be merry to excess? Or wrapping paper all over the living room floor and over-excited children trying to play with many more toys than one, all at the same time? Is it buying and wearing the coolest glittery party dress? Is it spending far to much on far too ephemeral items to hang on a pine tree, brought indoors and dropping its needles on the carpet?
Is it by contrast spending a day as host and waiter to homeless people at a makeshift restaurant-with-showers, normally the local comprehensive school?
And have we all missed these things during the past few Decembers, when the pandemic made meeting in huge shopping, or worshipping, crowds in the preceding weeks or few days impossible? Remember when that whole thing started, the ‘lockdowns’, and that message ‘be kind’ circulated? For a few weeks, maybe a few months, it seemed worth doing. People who had to ‘shield’ found the kindness of neighbours who would shop, or take parcels to the post, or help in other ways, socially distanced of course. Zoom meetings sprouted up as groups took to going on-line - I remember the teacher of my life drawing class made a video so we could continue to practice, we joined a couple discussion groups, and some ‘old girls’ from my school year (many decades ago!) collected up as many of us alumni as could be contacted, and we all met up for several sessions of news and catch-up. We even joined in an international catch-up with family members in South Africa, Australia, North America, and Israel.
Almost the same ambience of friendship, good will, and sharing (and kindness) emerged as might at Christmas.
Now, (semi)-protected by vaccinations, and bored by being told what to do, most of the world has returned to it normal state. Though somehow not. The emergence of on-line vitriol thrown by some people at others, who simply have different way of looking at life, seems to’ve increased. Poverty has struck, partially as a consequence of the destruction of businesses during that pandemic. Food banks have multiplied. Maybe this is all linked to the returning of competition? (I shan’t mention other things it might be - I really don’t want to stir up ire and dwell on scandals!)
But where and why did being kind become, again, un-necessary? Suppose we all started being kind, looking out for other people, listening to their points of view? Would it hurt?
Suppose it was Christmas - a warm and generous Christmas (Good will to all! Peace on earth!) such as is imagined, anticipated, hoped for, but all too often not achieved - all year?