The First Sunday of Advent is the Church’s New Year’s Day and this year it dawns on a very different world – rocked by the impact of Covid19. Here in Northern Ireland, public worship has once more been suspended for two weeks in a so-called “circuit-breaker” lockdown, whilst south of the border, congregations can return to Mass and the Sacraments from Tuesday next. These are testing times, and it can be difficult for some of us to find the resilience to keep going. Still, we make sacrifices for the protection of health and life – especially for our elderly and other vulnerable family members. It is vital that we continue to show solidarity with doctors, health workers, and other carers who are at the front line of tackling the virus – day in, day out.
They tell us these restrictions will help to “save Christmas” or ensure we can have a “meaningful Christmas”. As Advent begins, I think it’s worth asking ourselves: what does this mean – to “save Christmas”? What IS a “meaningful” Christmas?
I expect that for different people, Christmas means different things. Business owners have been speaking during the week about Christmas being their “most important time” – trading at this time of the year is essential for profit margins and to sustain the jobs and livelihoods of their staff. Others speak about the Christmas cheer and celebrations as being important for their mental and emotional health. Families fear that Christmas simply won’t be the same if they cannot spend time at home with their loved ones. And, for some, Christmas might simply be a festive holiday for shopping, parties, and presents – a kind of “binge-fest” to be followed inevitably by January sales, dieting, and de-tox.