“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.”*
It’s December, the month of laying plans for 2020’s micro Yuletide festivities. Christmas is on the horizon and there is no time more special, but this year during the season of love, we are going to need each other to be thoughtful, perceptive and kind.
The cosiness and love in the little house on Joy Drive are central to every one of my childhood Christmas memories. Mum decorated everywhere with fresh pine boughs tied with red velvet bows. Dad’s specialties were his famous Happy Months (mince pies) and flooding our home with Christmas music.
Christmas was excitement. If I’d behaved all week, one Friday night after supper, in the dark and – more often than not with snow flakes gently falling – there’d be a walk down to Lawrence where we’d choose our tree from the Boy Scouts’ lot and carry it home together.
Christmas was school holidays and playing hockey with the boys on the ice in the field beside #7. Our games of shinny would continue for hours and hours every day, usually until our mums came to drag us home, scolding us “Why didn’t you come when you were called?” Of course, in the frenzy and fervour of our games, we never heard anyone calling to us.
So many of my memories are tied to our community church, Zion Wexford United. I loved learning about and celebrating advent – not the chocolate calendar but the four weeks of candle lighting readying us for the celebration of the Nativity. My favourite Sunday was White Gift Sunday, but my favourite service was always the Christmas Eve family service which began with caroling outside on the church steps as everyone gathered, and finished with the candle lighting ritual.
But of course Christmas really was the excited expectation of spending December 25th at Nana’s home with all my aunties, uncles and cousins. Those celebrations were fun, noisy, a little chaotic and always about love, and sharing it with others. During Christmas dinner at Nana’s, we were always
permitted encouraged to sing carols at the dinner table. ‘Though there were gifts under her tree for everyone, I now know that the true gift was the togetherness and happiness of everyone in our extended family, and knowing we were all well-loved. Those Christmases were very special to me then and now.
Christmas is just twenty-four days away but what of the jolly this year? It has already been suggested by both our Premier and our Prime Minister that we ought to forego large family gatherings. Indeed, Dr. Tam’s comment was bluntly specific: No large gatherings. Keep it small. Keep it within your own household.
It does seem as if 2020 is doing its best to take away so many cherished holiday pleasures and traditions.
Schools are not putting on pageants which is always an exquisite opportunity to watch our kiddos at their most angelic as they perform their well-rehearsed lines and carols. Parades have been cancelled and sitting on the mall Santas’ knees is impossible. Lavish merry-making and festive feasts for big gatherings are forbidden in much of the province and very risky everywhere else. There will be no open houses with masses of friends trouping in and out all day. So what of the jolly?
The good news is that the one thing the pandemic restrictions cannot take from us, indeed the most important part of Christmas – is the love.
“There are victories of the soul and spirit.
Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.”**
Three strong, kind women in my life – my Nana, my Mum and Cam’s sister Brenda – taught me so much about love, generosity, hospitality and inclusion. Celebrations in their homes, the warmth of their the-more-the-merrier, set-a-few-extra-places-at-the-table kindness, has enriched my life immeasurably. They have always lived the example of a partnership in sharing their love. A collaboration of love. Here’s the thing, though, Christmas is not so much about the number of people gathered around one’s table but about sharing your love with as many people as possible, near and far. Most especially with those who need it most and that, my friends, can be done in so many ways that the pandemic cannot touch. It simply means that during the 2020 Christmas season we need to look after one another in ways we’ve never needed, perhaps never even thought of before.
For instance, if you’re baking Christmas cookies, is there someone who would love to share your goodies? A hard-working single mum, perhaps, who has no time to squeeze in any baking of her own? A senior living alone (or an elderly couple) who might not be up to baking their own sweets this year? It doesn’t take much effort to double up most recipes, but the impact you’ll have on another family…
If you’re agonizing over the amount of work needed to prepare the traditional Christmas feast for just the few in your household, or dreading all the leftovers there are sure to be with so few gathered around your table, another way to look after folks on your block or in your neighbourhood might be to share the bounty. Too, too many amongst us are feeling the pinch, if not outright constricting squeeze of financial burden since the arrival of the pandemic and, with the recent shut-downs, that feeling of fiscal suffocation is worsening. Just imagine the joy you could bring to the lives of just such a family with a front-porch-delivery of turkey dinner with all the fixin’s.
If cooking isn’t your thing, another way of spreading love in your community is with thank you notes. We’ve recently written some to our postal workers, our grocery and drug store employees and to our medical teams and it does seem that they were pleased with our efforts. There are so many folks risking their own health to provide services during the pandemic – couriers, teachers, volunteers, EMTs, nurses, bus drivers, doctors, dentists, crossing guards, grocery employees, pharmacy workers… Perhaps this holiday season, take a little time as a family to compose, hand-write and deliver thank you notes to the teams that are supporting your life. They’ll love the effort, I promise you!
The silver lining, of course, is teaching our kiddos or grands – by shining example – that Christmas is so much more than Santa and pressies. We can demonstrate that Christmas is the enterprise of sharing love at home and beyond, a lesson they’ll never forget. Who knows, it may even be the beginning of a new tradition in our homes and wouldn’t that be just lovely!
There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.
Celebrating Christmas in one’s bubble doesn’t mean abject surrender, it means alternative intention. It means we’ve intentionally chosen to protect a vulnerable parent/spouse/child. It means we’re intentionally supporting our overtaxed front-line health care workers by not further contributing to the demands on their services and the beds in our ICUs. It is the right thing to do, for our loved ones, our community and our province and each of our lives will be richer for having made that very small sacrifice and shown that compassion.
Talking/zooming/e-mailing with my friends, I see that the happiest are those that are making lemonade. Those who have embraced every challenge the pandemic has thrown at us, and reshaped their lives around the obstacle that is the coronavirus.
Please, I beg of you, don’t mistakenly believe that your individual actions and sacrifices aren’t making a difference. THEY ARE! Every family that keeps their bubble sealed, that sacrifices their Christmas visits, that wears masks, that observes physical distancing is helping enormously. This year, instead of being close, hold those you love close to your heart, no matter where they are.
To our family and all our beloved friends, we’re sorry we cannot be together this year, but just imagine the jubilation next year when we can all make merry en masse again. Meanwhile, please picture us here in our wee home on Frei Street, holding you in our hearts, wishing you the happiest of Christmases, blowing kisses to you on the breeze and sending you all the love your hearts can hold.
But the greatest of these is love.
’Til next time, y’all…
*1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)
** *Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate, writer.
If you have time, please take a minute to read the Nobel Committee’s citation of Mr. Wiesel:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has resolved that the Nobel Peace Prize for 1986 should be awarded to the author, Elie Wiesel. It is the Committee’s opinion that Elie Wiesel has emerged as one of the most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterise the world.
Wiesel is a messenger to mankind; his message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief. His message is based on his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler’s death camps. The message is in the form of a testimony, repeated and deepened through the works of a great author.
Wiesel’s commitment, which originated in the sufferings of the Jewish people, has been widened to embrace all repressed peoples and races.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee believes that Elie Wiesel, with his message and through his practical work in the cause of peace, is a convincing spokesman for the view of mankind and for the unlimited humanitarianism which are at all times necessary for a lasting and just peace.
Oslo, October 14, 1986