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Reform Magazine | October 30, 2020

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Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘This is no ordinary Christmas…’

Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘This is no ordinary Christmas…’

Paul Kerensa imagines a Covid-era Christmas

Christmas markets will struggle this year. Which local creators, sole traders and small businesses can you support? Encourage family or friends to get behind your local artistes and artisans.

I normally save my inevitable Christmas-themed article for, well, Christmas. But 2020 is a year like no other. Magic FM started their festive spin-off station in August – the same week as John Lewis opened its grotto. So, I’ll embrace Christmas creep too, with good reason. Because, to misquote the M&S festive ad, this is no ordinary Christmas: this is a socially-distanced Covid-compliant Christmas.

This year though, the planning goes beyond church leadership. My plea is for everyone: ‘Save Christmas’ (as they say in countless Disney films, missing the irony that it’s the birth at Christmas that saves us.) We must all play our part.

Talking of which, nativity plays – will they go ahead? Guidelines may mean gold, frankincense and myrrh must be wet-wiped before being left outside of the stable door, as the wise men run off, marking it as ‘delivered’. We know that pantos are sadly behind us (‘Oh yes they are!’) Nativities could follow.

‘Enough!’ you may think. ‘It’s not even Bonfire Night.’ Tell that to the world of commerce. This year, think like they do: plan early.

Part of the challenge is that 2020 has been like one long Christmas: people home off work, no school, TV full of repeats or the Queen delivering messages, and no one knows what day it is. How can Christmas stand out against that?

I think the festive customs worth preserving are the communal, local and familial ones. Ho-ho-hooray to independent shops, mulled wine with friends and a spot of carolling. Bah humbug to Black Friday, Amazon Prime and Elf on the Shelf.

But in 2020, ordering online is the easy go to. Local independent shops have had to open and close like doors on an Advent calendar. If local lockdowns kick in, we may even be legally forced to shun our high streets, and just click.

Carol services may be forced online quicker than you can sing ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Live Stream by Night’. Some outside gatherings might be permitted – but probably with no singing. We can’t go carol-no-singing. ‘Carols’ were originally medieval French dances, but reviving ‘Le Hokey-Cokey’ won’t get us through midwinter.

So, think now about how to creatively preserve a wholesome Christmas – one that doesn’t choose e-commerce and debt as the easy option. How can this season be memorable, life-affirming and far-reaching?

Oh, I don’t have any answers, by the way. That’s where you come in.

Email your ideas to reform@urc.org.uk by the end of October, and I’ll include some suggestions in December’s column. Some thoughts to start…

What can your church/neighbourhood do indoors? (Not much…) What about outdoors? What can you post through letterboxes that’s Christmassy, inventive and welcome?

We’ll be online. I’ve already written a Zoom ‘Pantonline’, to be performed for one company’s Christmas do. Should your church or family be doing an online nativity, carol service or Christmas quiz?

We’ll also want time offline. What can you do in the real world that’s local, communal and brilliant… but at an allowed distance? Candles and windows? Neighbours and gifts? A biblical reading, done like never before?

Hope’s at the heart of it. It’s what we all need right now – and Christmas announces hope.

It’s early yet. But thinking caps on now to plan ahead. Otherwise… Well, this year Amazon’s Jeff Bezos became the first person to be worth $200bn. He’d love to get to $201bn, if we all leave it too late, and make that easy click.

Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and broadcaster. His book, Hark! The Biography of Christmas (Lion Hudson) is available from all independent bookshops – and Amazon

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This article was published in the October 2020 edition of Reform

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