By Pauline Kerr
Despite all the gloom and doom out there, many of us have managed to weather the pandemic fairly well, so far.
We have kept our jobs (or have pension income), a decent place to live and a social life, even if it is mostly electronic. Best of all, we, and those close to us, have remained reasonably healthy.
We look forward to Christmas shopping in real stores in a real downtown, perhaps in person, perhaps via computer and telephone. And we look forward to spending time with family and friends, although in reduced numbers, over the holidays.
For the fortunate among us, this will be a normal Christmas – COVID-normal, that is. There will be no large family gatherings, of course, and dropping into a favourite watering hole with the gang from the office for a wee drop or three of Christmas cheer is out. There will be fewer last-minute trips to the mall, opportunities to over-indulge, and events that must be attended, and more turkey leftovers, electronic visits, and time to relax.
There will also be more time to think about the really important stuff – celebrating our good fortune by sharing with those less fortunate.
Many local service clubs are making that easy this year, with campaigns to collect food and gifts. Considering the number of struggling businesses and people laid off from their jobs, we might think about donating more this year – perhaps money we would have spent on the annual cocktail party or the trip south. A few extra dollars go a long way when invested in making sure all our neighbours have as good a Christmas as possible.
Giving goes beyond financial. The best gifts could be our time and talent. We might want to devote a bit more effort than usual to decorating the exterior of our homes. Many traditional holiday events have been postponed until Christmas 2021, making driving around looking at the lights more popular than ever. It is a beautiful way to spend an hour or two of quality time with the kids – pick up some warm drinks and snacks, and enjoy.
Those of us with friends and relatives who are unable to come along for the drive might want to consider giving them a virtual tour of the lights and decorations.
There will be opportunities to play “secret Santa” in the neighbourhood – dropping off a card and some homemade cookies, chocolates or a small gift to a neighbour who rarely gets out.
There will be snowbirds unable to “spread their tiny wings and fly away” to the sunny south, thanks to COVID. Some may not have spent a Christmas at home in snowy Ontario for decades. A takeout cup of steaming hot chocolate left between the doors, followed by a friendly phone call from a couple of neighbours might remind them of the wonderful things they have been missing.
Some people need a lot more help than a card and a gift. There are those who have given up the fight to keep a roof over their heads – this pandemic has made it harder to access social services and emergency housing. COVID distancing requirements mean fewer shelter beds. No one should face an Ontario winter without decent accommodations.
The pressures of the pandemic have hit hard at those with existing difficulties – relationship issues, substance abuse problems, mental health challenges. Isolation and difficulty accessing help have resulted in more incidents of domestic violence, more overdoses, more mental health crises.
Much as we would like to think that every family enjoys a Currier and Ives Christmas, with plenty of food and good cheer enjoyed by happy, rosy-cheeked children and their smiling elders, reality is lonelier, hungrier, sadder. Many people find the holidays difficult even without the isolation that is part of COVID-19.
This is the year to stop resisting the urge to reach out and do something, say something, make a donation, make a phone call, volunteer, lobby, and make a positive change. Helping others feels good, and heaven knows, we all need that.