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‘Tis the Season to be Jolly?

Let’s agree to give the benefit of the doubt to those with whom we disagree
December 11th, 2020

It’s not beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  But we can change that.

Yes, December 2020 is off to a pretty discouraging start. The aftershocks from Thanksgiving continue to ripple into the run-up to the Christmas and Hanukkah festivities. In addition to the lives recently lost or threatened by the pandemic are the myriad stories of family gatherings jettisoned, the awful loneliness of elders and others living in isolation, the unemployed in search of jobs that no longer exist, and haphazard negotiations on assistance from the Federal government that promise too little, too late for many small businesses and individuals.  Scrooge seems to be having a field day.

Does that mean the “season to be jolly” will evade us this holiday season?

I, for one, don’t believe it will. History has ample precedent of December bleakness giving way to glory just when things look the darkest.  Comfort and joy, and our time-honored traditions, need not be Covid-19 casualties.

Christmas 1940

I recently read Erik Larson’s book, “The Splendid and the Vile,” and his account of a dreary, if not desperate, December eighty years ago.  His masterpiece reconstructed the first year of Winston Churchill’s tenure as prime minister of Great Britain.  Germany had ratcheted up its air campaign against the city of London and brought death and destruction, and fear and trembling, to England’s beleaguered inhabitants.  Christmas approached with no end in sight to the aerial bombing.

In the midst of the onslaught, King George VI decided to go ahead with his annual “Royal Christmas Message.”  Fighting his speech impediment (that the movie, “The King’s Speech” and Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth dramatized beautifully), he said, “In the last great war the flower of our youth was destroyed, and the rest of the people saw but little of the battle. This time we are all in the front lines and in danger together.”

Before I get to my point in citing that speech, I want to make clear I do not believe it is appropriate, or correct, to compare what people in years past, like those brave citizens of London, suffered during a time of war, and what Americans are  enduring in this time of Covid-19.  Anyone who has seen war knows that the pandemic is not cut from that cloth of woe.  That observation is not to dismiss the loss of life in our country the last nine months, but to simply keep things in a proper historical perspective.

With that established, then, yes, it is fair to say that we seem to be living on the front lines, facing danger and uncertainty together.  How will this affect Christmas?

A not “flamboyant” Christmas

Mary Churchill, the prime minister’s daughter, wrote in her diary, “This was one of the happiest Christmases I can remember.  Despite all the terrible events going on around us.  It was not happy in a flamboyant way.  But I’ve never before seen the family look so happy – so united – so sweet…I have never felt the Christmas feeling so strongly.”

Americans know the feel of terrible events going on around us, and worse, inside of us.  We are divided along political, social, economic, religious and other fault lines. And now we can add to that, divisions arising from our beliefs on who is to blame for the Covid numbers, and what solutions best suit the challenges we now face.  The national election recently concluded made this reality brilliantly clear.

A good start

What can we do about this?  Change ourselves and our attitudes.  If we want comfort and joy this Christmas, let’s agree to give others with whom we disagree the benefit of the doubt, agree to disagree where convictions are immovable, and cut some slack to others whose approach to or opinions about Covid-19 don’t mirror our own.  Those steps would be a good start.

The Germans and British held fire that Christmas in 1940.  Can we?  If Mary Churchill could find sweetness, happiness and unity in a time of trial, then we can, too.  We likely will not have a “flamboyant Christmas” but we can have one where “heaven and nature sing,” and “all is calm, all is bright.”  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob places this hope within our reach.

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