No Christmas is exactly like the previous one. You may keep most of the rituals, the people you celebrate it with, shop in the same stores and cook the same dishes for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but still, it will feel familiar, because it will be “your” Christmas all over again.
Not this year.
This Christmas will be different from all the Christmases we have lived before, and, even with those few we’ll get together with, there will be masks, distance, no hugs, no kisses. I suspect even Santa will stay by the fire in his Lapponian house, taking a break this year for fear of contagion. After all, isn’t the old gentleman included in one of the risk groups of Covid-19? He’s old, so old no one really knows his age. Or maybe he’s still that magical creature of our dreams, one who will not be touched by the ailments that affect us mortals, and in that case, he will come as always, in his sleigh pulled by reindeer, to make the dreams of countless children around the world come true. But this hasn’t been a year for dreams, rather a nightmare of which we’d all like to wake up. If, and when we do – but it won’t be just yet, and definitely not a Christmas miracle.
This Christmas I think of all the families who have lost their dear ones, some to Covid, while many to other illnesses or accidents. Of all the men and women who used to work in thriving sectors, such as tourism, restauration or aviation, and now find themselves without a job; of all those young people who finished their studies and find themselves unemployed, and without any solid perspectives of finding a job for some time; I think of doctors, and nurses, and people who work in the health sector, who will spend Christmas away from their loved ones to avoid infecting them; I think of the sad, the lonely, the homeless, the desperate – Christmas is a time for love for many of us, but it can also be a time of loneliness and regret. This Christmas will certainly be a time to remember “the good old days” and ask Jesus, not for a jewel or a car, or a trip to the tropics or a new love, but for freedom – the freedom to go out and feel the wind on your face, the freedom to be with as many friends as you would like to, to kiss hello and goodbye, to hug when you are happy or sad, the freedom to smile and have everyone see you’re smiling, not just take a guess.
People say 2020 is a “cursed” year, that will be remembered as the darkest in recent history. Even the hard days of the 2008 financial crisis do not compare with this overwhelming disaster. Never had we seen our liberties so curbed or lived in so much fear and uncertainty. Hope for the future is something we need as human beings, so essential for us as the air that we breathe. Without it we wither and fall. And, as much as we try to keep our spirits up and be optimistic, it’s hard, when we are bombarded with growing numbers of infected people, with prophets of doom saying things we don’t want to believe in but deep down know they make sense; and, on top of it all, with unending days of relentless rain, without a ray of sunshine to warm our already depressed hearts.
I look back to 2020 and see a year of great change. I am one of the lucky ones who still have their job, and whose plans were not thwarted by this pandemic. So lucky that you can still publish a book during this phase, and people are still reading books, especially – I hope – those who make them feel good, and forget about the world we live in, travelling in time to happier days. As I sincerely hope my book will. It’s true my son Afonso has successfully launched his biological agriculture project, but then it’s also true my son Pedro, who graduated in hotel management, in unemployed and without any sound perspectives of finding a job in his area for some time. He will have to reinvent himself, but it’s hard, especially for one who was looking forward to beginning a career doing something he is passionate about. No one expected this, but that’s what life is all about, making us face huge challenges that we must overcome, and only then will we have learned the lesson. And take a step forward and move on.
Last, but not least, this year I won’t be able to celebrate my birthday with all my friends on Christmas day. For years it has been tradition for us all to get together at my home, and by the end of the day they would start to arrive; then year after year my sons’ friends began showing up too, and it was always a merry party nobody wanted to lose. This year that I have a larger house – irony of ironies – I cannot have my party, but I console myself thinking that there will be other years, other Christmases and the same friends, always there for me and wanting to celebrate another year of life and friendship.
Yes, this will be a different Christmas. It will certainly make us value more those of the past and look forward to those of the future. For, no matter the depressing statistics and the unending rain, I believe the numbers will eventually go down and the sun will shine again, and other, happier Christmases will happen in our lives.