Yearning for Christmas Past in Covid times: a personal reflection

Well, I have seen my first one of the year – my first Christmas tree – and it is not even the start of December ! I have spent a lot of the past week talking and planning for Christmas. Even though it is 5 weeks away there has been an awful lot of debate and discussion about Christmas. The media has been filled with stories of the four administrations of the United Kingdom being in dialogue with one another about what they can do in order for individuals to have a ‘better Christmas.’ People have been expressing the hope of being together with family and friends and of holding something which is more like the Christmases we have known. There has been discussion about what every day of ‘freer engagement’ will mean in terms of societal restrictions both before the Christmas season and in January.  I have found the debate and discussions both fascinating and frustrating.

Now I should state at the outset that I have always been a lover of Christmas. In fact, disproportionately so it is probably my favourite time of the year. I am a sucker for its traditions of carols and music, whether the dulcet tones of Bing Crosby or the modern classics of a Michael Bublé; I adore the food and the celebration, the conviviality and community; the sense of connection with past and the optimism of possibility.  I have grown ridiculously fond of the rituals of movies such as  ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, or the classics of ’Scrooge’ or my latest love ‘The Grinch.’ I mention all this lest I be instantly dismissed as a modern-day Scrooge or a reincarnation of the Grinch himself.

When I have reflected on the fascination and interest in Christmas this year the feeling that comes to mind is one of ‘yearning’. There is a deep longing and desire to have something which is familiar and deeply ritualistic in days which have been scarily different and lacking in the securities of patterned predictability. Feed into that the fact that for many people the essence of Christmas is indeed about longing, nostalgia and a re-enactment of memories in the moment and you have a concoction of desire that means that folks are desperate for a non-Covid Christmas.

My personal concern and I know this is shared by many in the conversations I have been having is that we are at risk of undoing all the hard work and sacrifice that so many have endured and suffered over the last nine months in order to have connection for a few days at Christmas. Now that may sound callous but those who have worked so hard to keep people safe in care home and community, who have had to experience the desolation of absence and lockdown, who have witnessed and lived through the tragic instances of the virus spreading and killing so many, those are voices which are fearful and anxious about what a Christmas period might bring.

However, let me be clear there are some things we need to nail straight away. I have heard from care home providers this week that they have been told not to allow presents or cards, not to put up decorations or Christmas trees. What tosh and folly. There is absolutely no reason in terms of infection prevention and control measures for any of these restrictions. A tree and decorations are perfectly possible if they are placed in locations which prevent them from being touched; cards and presents can be given, as they always have been, providing they are cleaned and isolated for some time and so on. We cannot allow fundamentalist and erroneous interpretations of IPC to become the modern day grinches.

What is equally important is all the work that I know is going on to ensure that rapid testing devices are in place in as many homes as possible to enable more immediate family visiting and contact to take place not just during the Christmas period but beyond. The essence of Christmas is belonging and togetherness and more than anything else this is the prize of this season for the care home sector, residents and families alike.

Having said all that in the rush to re-create a nostalgic sense of the familiar, to be together with family and friends we have to recognise that there are consequences of removing wider community and societal restrictions. The virus will not be taking an amnesty simply because of our desire to be together; it will not, despite ecclesiastical aspiration be any less deadly and fatal in the season of Christmas and the New Year. So, any actions we take have to be against the knowledge that there are very real risks which for some will mean that January could be a month of death and desolation. We have to as a society ask ourselves what is the price of Christmas togetherness that we are prepared to pay? How do we best enable connection and belonging,  meet the emotional and psychological needs of the many and at the same time protect those who are most at risk of an increase in the virus?

The debate and discussion about Christmas is really hard. We know that the essence of Christmas is about kindness and family, about togetherness and belonging, and that for countless thousands these last few months have been aching moments of separation and absence, with a really devastating impact on mental health and wellbeing. I know that for many being together around a table this Christmas might just be a lifesaver. But I also recognise and share the fears of those who are anxious that what we do in the Christmas season needs to include prioritisation of the vulnerable and those most at risk. No one wants to reap a harvest of tears and regret in January with escalating deaths and broken-hearted families. The decisions taken by our politicians and the actions we undertake ourselves in the coming weeks will be critical.

To yearn, to desire to be together, to be alongside those who are our kith and kin, to be with those we love and are loved by, is natural and healing, but the pain is that that togetherness may this year be at a cost. How do we get the balance right?

Yearning

I am yearning for the day

when my heart does not sink

into emptiness

at the absence of you.

 

I am yearning for the day

when I do not see a stranger

walking along

and hear the echo of your steps.

 

I am yearning for the day

when the eyes of another

shadow in the light

and hint at the sparkle of you.

 

I am yearning for the day

when laughter in a room

awakens the pang

and I feel the ache of you.

 

I am yearning for the day

when I can breathe beside

when I can look inside

when I can touch

when I can feel

you

here

near

warm

tender.