Craving the touchstones of Christmas tradition

The traditions and rituals of the festive season have a part to play in creating a sense of normalcy during this time of pandemic

Louise McEwanI almost lost my Christmas spirit, thanks to COVID-19. The reality of no family dinners, no gathering with friends and no church services to attend threatened to dampen my enthusiasm for the holiday season.

Not wanting to be Scrooge, I took action. One grey, dreary day in early December, I tromped through the yard, cutting cedar, boxwood and holly. Inside, with carols playing in the background, I created fresh arrangements to bring some holiday spirit to my heart and home.

A few days later, I pulled out the seasonal decorations and adorned the rooms. All that remained to be done was the tree.

And that’s when I almost completely lost my indomitable Christmas spirit.

We had waited too long – there were no trees to be had.

Granted, the other decorations in the house are lovely. It’s the tree, though, that’s the pièce de résistance. It’s the tree that brings sparkle to the room. It’s the tree that lights the darkness of the night. It’s the tree that proclaims “Christmas.”

Christmas without a tree is anathema. There had to be a tree available somewhere.

After quizzing my husband about his search for a tree, I had to accept the harsh reality. There would be no tree to bring that fresh, fragrant, festive look into the house. I needed an alternate plan.

I  bought a gorgeous poinsettia. Ironically, the jardiniere in which it sits says “Fresh cut Christmas trees.” It’s a little whimsy in the face of disappointment.

I cut more boughs and got to work. We will make do with other greenery. Enhanced with mini lights for sparkle, boughs and branches will stand in for the fresh cut tree.

It’s an unfortunate year to be without this major symbolic element of the season. COVID-19 has contributed to increased levels of anxiety, stress and despondency. The traditions and rituals of the festive season have a part to play in creating a sense of normalcy and in stabilizing mood during this time of pandemic.

I twigged to this around the middle of November when I noticed Christmas lights and outdoor decorations festooning the neighbourhood. COVID-19 had accelerated the phenomena of Christmas creep, that tendency to start all things Christmas earlier each year.

For someone who typically waits until mid-December to decorate, this year’s Christmas creep seemed excessive at first. But the sparkling lights and outdoor arrangements quickly won me over. There was light in the darkness, joy in the gloom and promise in the air.

I think we’re craving the touchstones of Christmas traditions – those symbols that we associate with “holly, jolly,” family, friends and faith – more than ever because COVID-19 restrictions and protocols have robbed us of much that we hold dear. The virus has interrupted much that gives meaning to our everyday existence.

This Christmas will be different from all other Christmases of my experience. No tree, no family gatherings, no church services. But one thing remains the same: the joy of Christmas flutters in the air. Despite a few hiccups, my Christmas spirit is alive and well.

Louise McEwan has degrees in English and theology. She has a background in education and faith formation.

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