Despite retail outlets starting their holiday season earlier and earlier, sometimes now even before Thanksgiving, it has always been The Nutcracker that heralded the start of Christmas for my family. Our dancer daughter was unable to stand still, so busy were her feet as she went through the various stages of the ballet to the sound of Spanish and Arabian dancers, mirlitons and sugar plum fairies in her head, and ours.
After Kate had flown away to start her own adventures I still went to the ballet. It wasn’t Christmas without Herr Stahlbaum, and his friend, the local councilman and magician, Herr Drosselmyer, giving Clara and her friends toys. One a magic nutcracker. And so, last night, a mere three days before December 25th, I wondered why I really wasn’t getting into the spirit of things, and didn’t realize why until my husband slipped Tchaikovsky into the CD player.
And now it’s Christmas. A very different and distanced Christmas, and for many people around the world a horribly sad one as families have empty chairs around their table, and an aching heart from unexpected deaths that have riven their lives.
Lockdowns have sent people into a miserable frenzy of recriminations against their governments, but spare a thought for politicians – not something I am usually wont to do. Those in power – the ones who give a damn – are doomed to be vilified whatever option they choose. Raged at for not locking down, raged at for locking down. I imagine the best place to be, as a politician at the moment, is in opposition. It’s always easier to point fingers.
If we were to carry The Nutcracker theme through, we could call Covid-19 the Mouse King and the reaching viral tentacles, his mice minions. The myriad of healthcare workers battling against them, globally, are of course the toy soldiers.
My thoughts this Christmas are with them. Their exhaustion and despair, not just at the deaths to which they are witness but at the common stupidity of many fellow citizens who appear unable to self-regulate their actions. And to those others on the front lines of this pandemic who are supporting us, whether through keeping shops open, delivering packages and generally making our lives a little easier.
My thoughts this Christmas are with those in shanty towns, slums, favelas. Whatever name a country gives the areas where the impoverished eke out a livelihood, people are living in a crush of humanity, not knowing who is a Covid-carrier, who might be the next in the family to succumb, who might be dead in a few days.
My thoughts this Christmas are with those who are isolated. Quite literally on their own. Whether young or old. Locked in small apartments. Empty streets echoing back their loneliness. Kept inside not only by a virulent pandemic but also the weather. Unable to share a glass of cheer, or a hug with a loved one, or even a stranger in the same position.
My thoughts this Christmas are with those who might be locked in with violent partners, who are terrified a spouse or parent might, in an angry drunken rage, lash out at the children, or them.
And yes, my thoughts this Christmas are also with those disappointed by thwarted plans. But if you are not alone, whether you are with your immediate family or friends, or in a house shared with disparate people, you have someone with whom to share some cheer, even if it is muted.
A photograph, doing the rounds on social media, taken at Christmas 1914 shows the muddy trenches of World War I filled with weary soldiers. Not gingerbread or tin soldiers as in The Nutcracker but flesh and blood. They did not go home at Christmas, many never went home again. It puts disappointment at changed plans into perspective.
Perspective is something we need at the moment. Though it is not always easy to achieve particularly in the face of the flagrant disregard of some for the health of others. It astounds me that people seem unable to grasp the simple fact that masks help. If you don’t want to protect yourself, how about protecting others – grandparents, parents, children, your neighbour, your postman?
Christmas is going to be different for many of us but let’s look to the future – look to the scientists whose achievements this year have been remarkable – then line up in our form-fitting, smile-hiding masks and have a vaccination, keep our distance a little longer and we too shall be able to join in the joyous party that takes place in The Land of Sweets. Where candies from around the world and Mother Ginger and her children, the Polichinelles, dance in jubilation that the Mouse King did not win the war.
There might not be much to cheer about at the moment but I’m going to listen to The Nutcracker again, and again, and again because good will triumph over evil, medicine will triumph over a pandemic, and we will share the magic of Christmas with our families – just not this year.
Cheers to a safe, distanced and subdued Christmas!