A Christmas Letter

Bollocks to 2020, said everyone to anyone they met during the Christmas season. Or whoever they spoke to by phone or via internet connection because their town, locality, region, country was in lockdown – again! Or still.

Before we could get around to smelling the roses, seeking the silver lining, gilding some lily, we had to get past the bah humbugging of the year that was.

January brought trickling news of a mystery virus within  China. For some, antennae were raised, radars began to scan, and higher senses engaged in keeping an eye on things.

For others, it was something happening to somebody else. In China, no less. Who cared!

By March, if you lived in New Zealand or Australia (to name only two such countries) you were locked in – and everybody else was locked out.

And that has been a triumph! Yes, we have sick. Yes, we’ve had dead. But on such a small scale, it has barely blotted the landscape compared to the rest of the world.

From the microcosm of Australia, it has been an anxious year for many reasons. We walked into the pandemic from the terrible stress of a traumatic (for many) bushfire season. Even those of us who weren’t in the line of fire, didn’t have homes destroyed, lives threatened, livelihoods erased – we lived with constant smoke, sometimes from fires several hundreds of kilometres away. The fires were close enough that if your house was older and therefore more flammable,embers floating into town were a perceived danger, even in large regional centres.

In the relative safety of a city or large town, you still felt for everybody else. How could you not, and be a thoughtful human being. If you were financially able, you donated. If you were physically and personally able, you volunteered. In our large town, we weren’t in any real danger but we had a go-bag packed, the car fuelled up, ample spare water, devices always charged, and important papers or valuables to hand.

From her Facebook account, Celeste Barber (Australian comedian) managed to raise over $51 billion from approximately 1.3 million donors from around the world. Huge sums came from those celebrities who could afford it.

What a triumph of human spirit and goodwill.

But as Celeste nominated the NSW Rural Fire Service as the recipient and their Trust Deed limits what donated funds can be spent on, the money couldn’t be used to help those who had lost everything – for relief, rebuilding and to help injured wildlife; a particular image that captured hearts around the world.

The NSW RFS can only use the funds for machinery and training (and as decided through court action) to assist injured firefighters, to support families of the injured (or killed) firefighters and trauma counselling.

The funds can’t even be used for other state firefighting services (only NSW). And definitely can’t be used to help the everyday people in the community who had lost so much, as was the intention.

To me, the inability to overcome the legal limits of the Trust Deed even though pursued in court (it requires NSW government legislation to overcome) highlights the craziness of 2020. We had deadly bushfires (Australia and the US) Brexit, Trump, that explosion in Lebanon and the Covid-19 pandemic. And I’m only naming some ones obvious to me. Depending on who you are and where you live, there will have been other priorities.

For a moment, the world came together. Strangers reached out with a helping hand. And the aid was caught up in bloody red tape and bureaucracy. What a tragedy.

And so to a degree, we were already in ’emergency mode’ when the pandemic triggered panic buying and hoarding. We were already plenty stressed and ready to react to this perceived (and ultimately real) threat.

DO NOT HOARD, said the government. DO NOT PANIC, they cried. WHATEVER. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING, decried the people.

People were scared and it makes sense that the poorest and most marginalised people in the population were not going to listen to that patronising advice. They live in fear and stress all the time. They know to react to real danger. They know not to wait. People used to security, even if only modest wealth, might take longer to react and perhaps look down on those poor fools buying up toilet paper, pasta, rice and sugar. Those people who could least afford to be lost reacted to survive, as they knew to. In a very real catastrophe, they at least would have supplies to keep them for a while, as businesses closed, jobs were lost, people began to sicken and die.

Typical Christmas family gatherings include hopping from home to home, sharing food and anecdotes. Cheerful one-upmanship. The sharing of successes and ordinary disappointments. Shared food, shared hugs, shared kisses, hand shaking, leave taking, memory making.

Inevitably (of course) there are the years when people suffer serious losses that lead more to reflection and inflict unnatural darkness upon the event.

A normal Christmas for us is to share our travel adventures, to connect with our family around Australia, to rejoice at the births, weddings, graduations and new opportunities of friends around the world. Covid spread its evil shade over everything and tainted the seasonal celebration of life, love and the joy of giving.

I assume the majority of us were tired and dispirited by Christmas 2020, praying for miracles, wishing for a Happy New Year and a return to ‘normal’. The new ‘Covid-normal’ we’re getting used to saying.

While my husband and I celebrated a quiet and safe Christmas, without our children who live in another state, we remembered those in the world who can’t celebrate anything like a normal Christmas season. People who are still locked down, afraid and threatened by the invisible enemy, and by those who won’t harken the call to unselfishness. To listen to the guidelines, to stay indoors, to mask up and take it all seriously.

We all imagine and pray that 2021 will bring an ease, an erasure of the virus, a return to normal-normal. Unfortunately, at the time of writing 2021 is only days away and although vaccines are now in the wider community, and promised here in Australia by March, I don’t see them  as golden tickets out of the pandemic.

So …. I normally write a happy Christmas letter to my family and friends – but what was there to write about that hasn’t already been said BY EVERYBODY! There was nothing fresh, no particularly joyful anecdotes. For us, our children didn’t marry, have babies or celebrate milestone birthdays. Our nephew’s planned wedding became a covid-closure event.

We continued to work (often from home) and watched too much TV. I read even more books than usual. For the first five months, my husband and I walked heaps but somehow, by July, fell out of the habit. We spent too much time in front of the computer, particularly with the upsurge of Zoom and Team meetings.

On the bright side … I’ve worked on my writing dream. Enrolled in writing courses, attempted to participate in more flash fiction opportunities, and seriously tackled one of my work-in-progress novels.

I woke up post-Christmas and decided that 2021 was the year I would present a finished and polished manuscript to publishers. Publication is not a given, of course, but I’ve been inspired by feedback so far given in the Write Your Novel course I’m involved in. So, bring it on.

Note: Apologies for the dreariness and overall depressing nuance of this article.

Cheeriness in photos!