“I’m just not feeling as festive this year,” said my eleven-year-old son, this morning, Christmas Eve.
“I know. It’s harder for everyone, I think.” What else could I say? It may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but in 2020, that’s not saying a lot.
Normally at Christmas, when we sing lines like “tidings of comfort and joy” we focus primarily on the “joy.” I do, anyway. I like to think of Christmas as a happy time, a time of celebration and rejoicing. In all my Christmases, I can’t remember ever thinking much at all about the other word: “comfort.”
It’s Christmas week, and we’ve already ended up with more chocolate selection boxes than is good for us, which is traditional. I can’t share those with you, but I would like to share a selection box of some of the things I’ve enjoyed online from Ireland this Christmas season…
Growing up in America, Thanksgiving Day was one of the highlights of the whole year. Some years my family travelled to feast with others, other years guests came to feast with us. I remember the leaf piles, laughter, and Atari games with my cousins, and when we were home, I remember the five kernels of corn.
We would sit at tables that had been fully extended, knowing that the biggest feast of the year was waiting in the kitchen. We could smell it. We could nearly taste it. The tables were dressed up with the best tablecloths and plates, and on each one of those plates were five carefully counted kernels of corn. Before we ate them, my mom reminded us why they were there: she told us about the Pilgrims who landed in the new world seeking religious freedom, and how they struggled to survive those early winters in the wilderness. She told us how local Native American tribes helped the struggling Pilgrims, teaching them the right times and ways to fish and grow crops in a new environment. But then, just when they started to get ahead, a ship full of new settlers arrived without food supplies. To keep themselves alive, the entire settlement was reduced to a ration of just five kernels of corn a day. Could you imagine? Somehow, they made it through that winter and lived to bring in a good harvest the next year. As they celebrated that harvest with the local tribes who had helped them, they began their feast together with a reminder: five kernels of corn were placed on each plate, “lest anyone forget”.
Birthday cakes are hard work. First there’s the planning, the choosing of flavours and decorations to match the one being celebrated. Then the time comes and there’s the baking, decorating, lighting, singing, and finally eating. Hopefully someone remembered to snap a photo, because once the knife goes in, the culinary work of art is quickly dispersed to paper plates and plastic forks that were created to be used just once, before going to fill the rubbish bin.
Our family recently returned from a holiday in the country where we had very little internet access and most of the traffic was cows. The time to read and think and enjoy the countryside without distractions was refreshing, reminding me again that sometimes the best way to keep going strong is to stop for a little while…
It’s always a busy holiday, with parades and parties and overflowing pubs. The airports are full, and the tourists have their phones out, taking pictures.
But not this year.
This year, St. Patrick’s Day looks very different in Ireland. The parades and parties are cancelled, and even the pubs are closed. The atmosphere is anything but celebratory. This year, the air is heavy with fear. A slow motion disaster is shaking the foundations of our prosperous security, and death itself is whispering threats in our ears. Can we really celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the midst of all this?
Summertime. The beaches are calling, and the exotic places of Earth are waiting for me to take a selfie with them. This is the season when we carve out time to put ordinary life on hold, put to-do lists in time out, and let responsibilities rest. For a few days, or a couple of weeks if we can get them, we are free.
…until it’s time to go home and return to ordinary days full of ordinary people and ordinary jobs and food and conversations about traffic and plans for the next holiday. Holidays can be so nice that they can tempt us to see the months and weeks of regular work in between as just a preparation for our next chance to get away. But what if all of this ordinary stuff in between is more than just a savings plan for another escape? What if it’s actually our life? And what are we missing by wishing it away?
When the Pilgrims landed in the New World after fleeing religious persecution in the Old, they faced incredible hardships straightaway. Learning to survive in a wilderness with a different climate was difficult, and the addition of more settlers who arrived without provisions brought them to the point one winter when the daily ration was a mere five kernels of corn. Somehow they made it through, and with help from Squanto and the Wampanoags, learned to live in a new context. After a bountiful harvest the next year, they declared a day of Thanksgiving, and celebrated it with a joyful feast and games (apparently not American football, but it’s hard to say for sure) shared with their Wampanoag neighbours.