It is not for nothing that the Christmas season is referred to as the most wonderful time of the year. Coming as it does towards the end of the year, it is traditionally the time for family get-togethers and fellowship, to share food and frolics.
But Christmas 2020 will not be like past Christmases. Travel restrictions and quarantines in place would mean quiet celebrations without some or most family members. This year was not a normal year and with the ongoing pandemic it would be foolhardy to expect a normal Christmas. It would be the first time in the six decades of my life that I will not be attending midnight Mass in church on Christmas eve.
The midnight Mass has always been the highpoint of Christmas celebrations beginning with carols and ending with the festive blessings before we walked home every wintry December night. Usually, the run up to Christmas begins in early December with shopping, Christmas bazaars, carol singing.
This time, it appears the pandemic has dampened the mood as people are cognizant of the fact that Christmas will be subdued. Shoppers are few and far between with retailers reporting reduced footfall; carol singers cannot go singing house-to-house. Most Christians will be listening to the Holy Mass online at home, the Christmas lunch will be a family affair and visiting friends or relatives to exchange festive greetings is likely to be limited. Many will be connecting with each other online via Zoom or Skype. Yuletide dances and parties are not happening. Nor can we take the festive spirit of goodwill and cheer to the lonely and sick at aged homes, orphanages, hospitals and elsewhere.
But let’s count ourselves lucky. At least we can celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ even if it is on a small scale, perhaps a solemn and reflective Christmas within our homes. The fact is we can simply celebrate and we must be grateful for that. There are so many – young and old - who did not live to celebrate, who passed away this year due to the deadly coronavirus.
There are many others who have lost jobs and with reduced incomes who are struggling to pay their bills; there are the ones who have lost loved ones to the virus and are still in mourning; others are battling sickness, stress or depression not to speak of the homeless, the lonely, the separated and the outcast.
So, let’s not forget how fortunate we are to celebrate this universal festival because there was a time when Christmas was banned. Believe it or not, there was a ruler who, like the famous Charles Dickens’ character Uncle Scrooge, was not moved by the Christmas spirit. Oliver Cromwell, the tyrant ruler who established a reign of terror in England in the sixteenth century issued a royal edict that there would be no Christmas during his reign. And the killjoy that he was, he not only turned his back on this great festival of joy, but also deprived an entire nation of its fun and frolic.
Worse, Oliver Cromwell even forced shopkeepers and traders to work on Christmas day. Even worse, the hard-hearted dictator declared Christmas would be, not a day of feasting but a day of fasting.
The jingle of Christmas bells was heard again with redoubled fervour and Christmas trees were illuminated in every town and village. Joy and laughter ran throughout the country as Christmas was back again. Let’s be thankful for small mercies and celebrate Christmas in whatever way each of us can in these challenging times. More importantly, the spirit of Christmas with its message of peace, love and goodwill to all men is what makes it a universal feast celebrated worldwide irrespective of caste, creed or religion.
In this very different Christmas, let’s look at it in a new way and reflect on the true meaning and message of Christmas which is peace, love and goodwill, so vital to all of us. We all want a world without pain, without fear, a world without war and hatred. And indeed a world without that minuscule virus which put paid to all plans and celebrations this year.