It’s midwinter dark outside, the room lit only by the Christmas tree. As a girl, the longed-for hush of it hunted me home from school to the sitting room, the white loose covers with their cornflower posies newly laundered, smelling of Daz and suspense; in the corner, the arboreal constellation of Pifco white lanterns, the procession of Cinderella carriages in their spun-sugar green, pink, purple, blue, yellow.
Every year the tree and its light were magicked by my father, his spare bulbs and tester, under the influence of Perry Como’s Christmas album and the single cream sherry gleaming in a wedding-present glass. The Pifco carriage lights with their gold spokes and beading are selling for $300 (€265) on eBay, box-new.
No surprise that environmentalist Saoirse McHugh has her own set used, re-used since the 70s, sharing a blonde, blue-gowned Cinderella, her plumed horses and coachmen on Twitter last year.
At Christmas, there is magic in being alone in a room lit only by the tree. This year my own tree is bocketty, its branches being young and tender, depriving it (and us) of the longed-for seasonal scent.
Yet, in the warm-white lights set at twinkling comfort as opposed to flashing seizure, there is an alchemy in the jewel-green hung with silver, gold, red. It’s an alchemy we need since the microscopic organism of a virus affected the vast organism of humanity, reducing its omnipotence to impotence.
Collectively, we are beginning our third year of obscurity, isolation, anguish, living trauma that is acute. As a species, we must not run from it. Just as a person confronts trauma in their individual life, so too must the collective, making the radical changes demanded, finding new ways to be and live.
Regrettably, global politics, led by finance, is oppressive. Political and other ‘leadership’ looks at the dismembering of society, the dismantling of life, and lives within it, but sees nothing. It refuses to connect with the trauma, the chaos, never mind confront them. Instead, it peddles a return to a ‘normal’ that should no longer exist. A ‘normal’ where tinselled tents shiver in the shadow of empty penthouses; where hungry citizens are fed in the day by Brother Kevin, or at night by the Muslim Sisters of Eire. A ‘normal’ where “up here” we can binge on vaccines and boosters – “Reasons to be cheerful, one, two, three” – throwing crumbs and shade at the global south.
A ‘normal’ where we are consuming tat, ourselves and the Earth, to the point of our extinction on it. A ‘normal’ where the status quo believes itself not just exempt from profound upheaval, vast societal and economic change, but entitled to be so.
Yet, despite the universal trauma, the world still turns.
Yet, at midwinter, the sun still halts in the sky, our solstice coming from the Latin sol for sun and sistere for stop.
We revisit knowledge already ancient for our ancients at Newgrange, the dawn light, according to Heaney translating Dante, “stealing through the cold universe to County Meath”.
Just as the sun stops, stands at the solstice, so we do ourselves at Christmas.
And we do it globally. Since the years bring us not only joys but sorrows, there is comfort or reckoning in the traditions, carols, stories, readings.
Regardless of war or global virus or personal disaster, the shepherds are still abiding in the fields, the Wise Men still see the star
in the east: the angels still bid us: “Fear not, for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace.” The last is a favourite Messiah chorus for many.
Despite pandemic pandemonium, on TV it’s still a wonderful life. ET says phone home. God only knows what I’d be without you. And there’s Love, Actually.
On the radio, Andy Williams announces the most wonderful time of the year, as he skates. For Generous Bing Crosby, may all our Christmases be white. Ol’ Blue Eyes hopes that through years we all will be together, if the fates allow. For those we have and have lost, we hang that shining star on the highest bough. And Last Christmas?
Once bitten and twice shy, on this second pandemic Christmas many are wondering, considering.
For some, already, confronting the Covid experience, the stop, the stand, saw them make changes in how to live and be, beyond the biking and banana bread. Others, who still have responsibilities, are making plans. Even if politicians, governments, ‘leaders’ and their claque are unaware of the portents.
Sit in the midwinter dark, the room lit only by the Christmas tree
Like somebody who sees things when he’s dreaming
And after the dream lives with the aftermath
Of what he felt, no other trace remaining
(Heaney, Paradiso: Canto xxxiii)