The Christmas spirit is ramping up although the supermarkets have been in Christmas mode for weeks. Once Halloween is finished and the unsold spooky merchandise is in the bargain bin, it’s time for the sparkling red, white and green Christmas stuff to take over – there’s a buzz everywhere.
Online shopping is in overdrive. Pantries and freezers are stuffed with goodies. Presents are ordered and wrapped. The tree is bedecked. Christmas lights festoon trees and houses. Greeting cards and letters are on their way. Musicians and carol-singers gather their music and Christmas songs fill the air.
Churches expect to be full with their special services and planning is in full swing. The spirit of love and goodwill and sharing is abroad and families plan their gatherings and reunions with friends and relatives in distant places.
And we easily forget that the Christmas New Year period is a most difficult time for many folk: the lonely, the unwell, the jobless and the homeless and hopeless.
Hang on a minute. That was then. Before COVID.
What about now, Christmas 2020?
COVID has put the kibosh on all kinds of things this year and that little virus is not going to go away anytime soon. Lockdowns and job losses have been stressful, to say the least. Money is tight and for many there is little left for what is called ‘discretionary spending’.
In times past there have been disruptions to traditional Christmas celebrations. Wars and pestilence have occurred with regularity over the centuries. In the 1600s in England, Christmas celebrations were banned. In some countries right now, Christians have to be extremely circumspect about any religious celebrations; churches are closed, people are arrested and executed, sometimes just for being rumoured to be Christian.
I began wondering
As I unpacked our family’s Christmas nativity scene this year, ready to display it on the table near the front door, I began wondering how things might have been if the birth of Jesus was happening in Australia in 2020 in the middle of a pandemic, in lockdown.
Joseph was obeying the decree that said everyone had to return to their birthplace for the census. That would be tricky for him and Mary in 2020: a tedious and unpredictable journey, even if he could get plane tickets and cross state borders.
Then he and an exhausted Mary would have a couple of weeks of quarantine – the innkeeper would be running a quarantine hotel, with tight security and testing. Joseph and Mary would need to be wearing masks and have COVID testing before, during and after their quarantine. Being pregnant would put Mary at greater risk and the baby would be born in isolation, with no family or friends to assist.
Just the minimum of medical staff wearing full PPE gear. Because the hotel was full they might be accommodated in a kind of storeroom. Or maybe the underground car park. All in all, not a comfortable or happy journey for an expectant couple.
And there’s more
As I dusted off the shepherd and their lambs I wondered how these ordinary folk would fare. All very well to hear the announcement of the birth of the Saviour, telling them to make haste and go to see the newborn king. But – no visitors allowed, not even family.
And the heavenly host would not be able to land and visit the shepherds. Those angels would have to remain in hover mode in the skies overhead, I suppose, and believe me, singing with a mask is not exactly comfortable. As for the Magi, those international travellers, well they couldn’t get in, even if they did wear masks.
Borders are pretty much closed to any but essential travel and I doubt that three educated blokes with dutiable goods coming to visit a new baby would be considered essential. And of course there’d be masks and quarantine and testing. Never mind what to do with the camels and the gifts and restrictions on the importation of possibly suspicious precious goods.
So. What about Christmas 2020? The year of COVID-19.
If there’s anything I have observed in this strangest of years it is that lives have, in the main, paused. There has been time to breathe, to take stock, not just to declutter and stay home making sourdough and buying stuff and working online. The enforced isolation has not been without benefits.
Those of us who can will still celebrate Christmas but I hope that this will be a more subdued, reflective celebration without the excesses and shallowness of Christmasses past.
Will we allow the wonder of the Christmas story and the gift of God’s unmasked grace to shine more brightly under the dark cloud of COVID-19?
My prayer is that we will.
Sheelagh Wegman is a freelance writer and editor. She is in the community of St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and lives in the foothills of kunanyi/Mt Wellington.
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html