How strange to find myself here, at this time of year, with no imminent plans to be anywhere else.
The winter solstice is a special day in my calendar; the turning of the corner, the bringing of light and hope, the promise of warmer days returning (although in reality there are usually more cold ones ahead than behind). Being an atheist, I do not celebrate or acknowledge ‘Christmas’ in its literal sense. Instead, I celebrate mid-winter, or the ancient, yet little-remembered Yule. The shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere falls on the 21st or 22nd of December, but as the majority of people seem to do their celebrating on the 25th for some infathomable reason, I usually do likewise unless I manage to avoid the whole scene completely.
This is easier said than done, however.
Since losing my parents (and with them the obligation to go through the motions, pretending to enjoy it, just as they were) I have gone to some extreme lengths in an attempt to both ignore ‘Christmas’ and to escape the cold, with limited success. Tinny Christmas carols played in a Sri Lankan dining room over a curried breakfast were surpassed in their surreality only by the huge, fully-decorated festive tree dominating the central Dubai shopping mall, as Arabs in white robes strolled past with their hijab-cloaked wives laden with glitzy shopping bags. I’m not at all sure what it’s ‘all about’ these days, other than blatant, blind commercialism. It’s lovely to be able to gather with family and friends and exchange gifts, but we could just as easily do that at New Year, which has real meaning. It’s a new year, new start, new hope….. but hang on. Let’s backpeddle for a moment. There’s so much wrong with that:
1. We should not need an excuse to get together with our loved ones and show them we care about them. Why is it only so important once a year?
2. We will not be able to do that this year in any case.
3. A new year celebration is NOT on the cards for 2021. And if it were, I don’t see we have much to celebrate. We will start the year with Brexit, as if 2020 hasn’t been bad enough. It’s enough to make anyone hit the gin – provided we can still afford to buy any when the economic collapse overwhelms us.
So here I am, stranded by circumstances, just me, Jeremy the giraffe and my one string of pink fairy lights, remembering winters past and dreaming of ones I may experience in the future, if I’m lucky. Last year I was in Malaysia, with friends, drinking cocktails beside the pool. We made a pact not to use the C word. In the lift, a Chinese girl covered in tinsel shouted it out. She was just being friendly, yet to us it sounded presumptious and just a little rude. Is there nowhere in this world exempt from such madness?
I will have a very enjoyable Solstice, however; safe, warm and cosy in my lovely little flat, and I will use my time off work productively. I will read books. I’ll write a little. An outdoor tryst in the woods sharing mulled wine with likeminded friends will be a highlight if it stays dry, although staggering back over slippery, tangled tree roots with clouds obscuring the moon could be an interesting exercise.
I will attempt to embrace ‘hyyge’.
I will eat roast potatoes and lots of sprouts.
I have also figured out that some of the best gifts are the ones you buy for yourself! They are guaranteed to be what you really want or need and it’s a great excuse for a wee treat, having been so frugal all year. I’m not going to wrap my presents (that would just be silly) but I have put them out of sight, and I will be excited to see them again.
I have treated myself to: A fleecy electric blanket (no more leaking hot water bottles or shivery nights for me while I’m holed up in the Highlands); some cosy new jim-jams; some fabulous new art materials to play with (I might even share the results in the new year); a bottle of dairy-free Baileys – which I’ve yet to try – and some vegan chocolate goodies; a Lonely Planet guide to the Greek Islands for dreaming and planning – assuming they’ll give us a visa, and a ticket to see Jethro Tull in October.
Surely, by then, we’ll be able to do that. Won’t we?
My thoughts are with everyone who can’t see their families for many more agonising months, those who have lost someone or are sick themselves. For those losing their jobs and businesses who can’t buy a single gift for themselves or anyone else. For my friends around the world who rely soley on tourism and are suffering massively while they wait for it to resume.
And for those of us who are European, and will always be European no matter what happens after January 1st, no matter how much we dread it and will never accept it was anything other than a huge, stupid, hateful, blundering, unnecessary mistake.
Stay strong! Stay warm, and see you on the other side.