Sunday December 19, 2021
I had trouble doing my Christmas decorating this year.
Last year, I found the bins of Christmas decorations Joan had put away in our basement the Christmas before. I set them up as I remembered what she had done.
Joan loved Christmas. She had an eye for the colour, the glitter, the celebration. She hung the balls and tinsel on our Christmas tree with an artist’s passion.
Last year I could remember fairly well where she used to put things. How she had arranged them. How she delighted in setting up our manger scene with collections of animals that we had collected all around the world. How she wound up the music boxes in a miniature white chapel and a dark green tree so she could listen to them tinkle their tiny tunes.
This year, though, I couldn’t remember all the details anymore.
I realized that last year I was doing the decorating for Joan. Decorating as she would have done, if she were still alive.
But she’s not. And wherever she is, whatever she is, she won’t be fussing over about how I should display her little dancing mice.
This Christmas, I realize, I’m not decorating for her. I can now only decorate for me.
Upsetting our plans
The Covid-19 threat of Delta and Omicron variants and the closure of crucial highways have forced many families to cancel planned Christmas reunions. People can’t travel, are afraid to travel. Lockdowns eliminate even local get-togethers.
New Year’s Eve parties, for example, seem to belong to the past. It’s hard to pop champagne corks and sing Auld Lang Syne by yourself.
Festive times, family times, are particularly difficult for those who have lost a loved one recently. This is my second Christmas without Joan. I know half a dozen people for whom this will be their first Christmas alone.
One friend is physically incapable now. A friend and hiking companion lost her son earlier this year.
Christmas is difficult too for those who have suffered major changes in life. Children have left home. Families have moved, become strangers in a new neighbourhood. Marriages have broken. Long-time friends can’t remember who you are anymore
The weather doesn’t help. Overcast skies, blowing snow, cold winds, and bare branches combine to depress our mood.
And it’s the winter solstice. The least sunlight of any time of the year; the longest period of darkness.
Movies and TV shows portray Christmas as a happy time. For many, it’s not.
That’s why, more than 20 years ago, the publishing company I helped to found, then called Wood Lake Books, developed a Blue Christmas service for those who find no festive joy this time of year. Now called the Longest Night Service, it’s available at 1-800-663-2775 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
First United Church -- which serves Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community of poor and often homeless people, for whom Christmas is often just another miserable day -- offers a Blue Christmas service every year. It starts at 10:00 a.m., Wednesday December 22 – Zoom ID 826 6240 483, passcode 547384.
Locally, the United Churches in Kelowna will collaborate for an in-person Blue Christmas service (with masks and distancing) at 1305 Gordon Drive, Tuesday December 21 at 7:00 p.m. Because of COVID-19 precautions, they request registration in advance, email@example.com.
My own little congregation, Winfield United, will offer a Quiet Christmas service this coming Monday night: 7:00 p.m. If you’d like to join us: Zoom 812 1846 5502, passcode wuc2021.
I’m sure there are many similar services, but Google let me down. If there aren’t, there should be. Because celebrating a special day without that someone special is painful.
Healing starts in community
So, as someone asked, is it easier to cry alone? Or to cry in company, with others who are also suffering or alone?
I think healing begins in community.
Attending a Blue Christmas or Longest Night service is one option.
Or you could volunteer at a food bank, filling hampers – better yet, delivering hampers directly to needy families. Or you could help serve a hot meal at a local mission.
You can keep busy during the day. You can occupy yourself with a multitude of small tasks – including preparing the Christmas dinner you always shared together.
But when the darkness falls…
None of those solutions will take away the pain you may be feeling. But they might help you feel less alone.
Best of all, if you can, if it’s safe to do so, invite someone in. Make someone’s longest night a little brighter.
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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A variety of responses to last week’s column, in which I argued that the “normal” we yearn for is already here.
Fran Ota agreed: “Some of us have been saying for a while that the old normal is gone. Most don’t want to hear that.
“The thing about viruses is, they can mutate to something which is no longer affected by the shots. The CEO of Moderna has already said he does not think a suitable shot can be produced against the Omicron strain for at least six months, and there is no evidence that the current shots will be effective. Of course there’s no evidence they won’t either.
“What is being called ‘breakthrough’ is in fact viruses doing what viruses do. Hospitals are starting to fill up again, but with the vaccinated this time. And there will be other viruses as well. For me the bottom line is we just don’t know. And every scientist worth his or her salt will always couch everything in terms of ‘may be’ or ‘might’. There are no certainties.”
So did Jean Skillman: “So true that ‘normal’ gets constantly replaced in the world. Someone, I don’t know who, said that change is the only real constant. Another person is alleged to have said: ‘the only thing to fear is fear itself’. We do fear change, and rightly so. What we learn as children is our ‘normal’ and what we learn as adults is that our childhood ‘normal’ has changed to something else.
“What you say about the virus and pandemics is the historical lens, that plagues and pandemics have been the rule for several thousand years, and likely more. Biologists talk about how bacteria constantly wage a clever defence strategy against their viruses, recently discovered by humans, a system called CRISPR, which is the basis now for our new mRNA vaccines. Humans are engineering for our own viral defence a defence that bacteria evolved. There is a beauty in that that is stunning as we learn from ancient organisms about evolution and adaptation.”
Isabel Gibson asked the big question: “If this is the new normal with respect to ongoing viral flare-ups (and I think you're right) then we'd better take a deep breath and consider just how coercive a society we want in exchange for supposed safety.
“‘Showing your papers’ used to be a mark of police states on either end of the political spectrum: Will it now become something we take for granted as normal?”
Sandy Hayes pointed out something I had not considered: “You often seem to think the majority of Canadians can afford to do many things-most of us cannot even dream of, such as your recent column stating people were ‘frantically booking flights to exotic places’ after 18 months of being ‘trapped’ in Canada. I cannot even afford to take a taxi -- when the bus service stops -- to visit friends, never mind an ‘exotic’ place. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements for things we could never afford and places we could never go -- it adds to depression.”
My old friend Janie Wallbrown wrote, “I enjoy reading the comments that others have written in response to your words. I laughed aloud at Ted Spencer's comments about a cop show S.W.A.T. in which his son-in-law had a part; how Ted couldn't get past the first minute because it was so violent.
“Currently our family is watching S.W.A.T. as our evening together TV-watching including Tanisi (5yrs). We have found the show to be very nuanced in dealing with some of society's greatest problems. It has also provided a very good teaching tool for TJ.
“It led me to ask about the demographic of your readers. Have you ever tried to figure out who was reading you on a regular basis; or, better put, who ARE your subscribers?”
JT: Good question. No, I have never explored the demographics of my readers. But from the comments that come in, I would assume that most of my readers are over 70, and lean towards the liberal side theologically.
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