One morning this week while listening to the radio I heard a news report broadcast from Dublin Airport. The people interviewed were describing how different their workplace looked this year. The crowds which usually pass through their portals at Christmas have dwindled, all as a result of the restrictions imposed by Covid-19. One woman explained how they miss the sight of happy faces welcoming loved ones home, especially the children waiting eagerly for Army Dads.
The fact that last year was the busiest one at the Airport for a long time highlights the contrast between then and now. Such a situation could hardly have been envisaged in 2019 when the throngs of people passed through what is now almost like a ghost town. It is an example of the many things which make this Yuletide different from those which we experienced in the past.
As Never Before
Sadly while everyone wants to celebrate as they have always done, Covid is no respecter of tradition. This means that everything we are used to at this festive time will have to be a lot different than before. The advice with regard to household restrictions combined with social distancing laws means everything, from connecting with friends to the gathering on the 25th, will be somewhat strange.
Many people who travel abroad for Christmas have had to make alternative arrangements and of course many living and working away from Ireland have decided to ‘stay-put’ for now, however hard such a decision is. Others just cannot cope with the hassle of quarantining.
After six weeks of severe restrictions, the government felt that it was important for people to have a bit of freedom but we are being asked not to become complacent about behaviour. From this Friday, December 18 until January 6, we can travel outside our county borders and entertain visitors from two other houses. In outdoor settings away from their own homes or gardens a maximum of three households can meet while maintaining a strict physical distance.
As the Christmas festivities get underway we are advised to keep houses well ventilated and limit social contact as much as possible in the days preceding the 25th. This is particularly important for the protection of elderly people who may be around the Christmas table. Guests are advised to wash their hands or use sanitisers when arriving at someone’s home. Cutlery, glasses, and crockery should not be shared and the number of people in the kitchen should be limited; face masks should be worn while cooking and serving food. It is recommended that extra distance should be placed between people at the dinner table and the same households should sit together.
I am struck at present by how empty the streets are in the centre of town. Even the Covid queues outside the GPO and larger retail shops have dwindled lately. Usually, you cannot move for the crowds which throng the pavements and shops in the lead up to Christmas. A lot of us dreaded facing into this every year but it is the stuff of nostalgia now!
Online shopping has taken over to such an extent that huge pressure has been placed on the postal service, resulting in a lot of delays. Ironically, now more than ever when contacts have diminished receiving a card through the post takes on even greater meaning. We need to know that we are ‘connected’ to others.
As we move into this most unusual of times it is encouraging to know that people can connect on Skype or Zoom. Global threats to existence such as the Pandemic don’t just lead to isolation and loneliness, they also remind us of our own vulnerability and create a sense of concern for our shared future. This is an experience which psychologists call “collective angst”. This awakens our need to affirm our cultural, national, and familial identities.
The Real Meaning
For many Christmas is just an excuse to party, and even those with faith can find themselves caught up in a whirl of tasks that can blind them to what it is all about. With no more than fifty allowed in the churches and attendance allocated by ticket, many will not even get a chance to attend Mass or services this year. All are of course accessible online.
For those who recognise the true meaning of Christmas, it is this inability to gather in Church that is the biggest sacrifice of all. The shopping and other activities are just trimmings which are in no way central to the Christmas message. The fact that covid has forced us to slow down may ironically afford us a greater opportunity to reflect on the birth of Jesus, the real significance of Christmas, and what it promises for the hope and salvation of humankind.
Written By Marie – Therese Cryan