Saturday, January 22

Christmas in wartime can teach us how to ‘get ahead’ in the time of Covid | Christmas

secondBeing the daughter of a divorce, I watched the entire media discussion of Christmas and what to do about it, with indifferent bewilderment. I have come to see Christmas as a kind of mobile party, which had at times been downright unconventional. I realized that other people cared enormously, of course, but it would be fine, I thought, relieved, even, not to be on a crowded train, the windows fogging up with everyone’s virus breath.

But I was a fool. When the hit came, it was swift and unexpected: Ella Fitzgerald’s version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, chosen out of the desire for something festive, jazzy and joyful. I’ve clearly never heard the lyrics before, which is about having a terrible year (“Next year all our problems will be out of sight”) and not being able to see your loved ones (“Faithful friends who are dear to us / Will be close to us once more ”). However, the line that turned me into a little mound of cranberry jelly on the floor was this: “Someday soon, we’ll all be together / If fate allows / Until then, we’ll have to get ahead somehow.” There is something so awkwardly human about “getting on”: it is coping, but not coping, a state many of us are familiar with this year.

Written in 1943, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is, of course, a wartime song. Composed by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane for Judy Garland for the film version of Meet Me in St Louis, it was originally much more grim. Garland turned him down on those grounds, saying quite rightly that telling a little girl to “Have a Merry Christmas, it might be your last” would label her a monster.

I too would be a monster if I stressed too much about the fact that this may be the last Christmas for many, many more people, as an increase in travel and indoor socializing could see an increase in cases. However, it is what we are all thinking. And it is for this reason that perhaps a warlike Christmas is the closest parallel to which we have to look, because once again we face death in the midst of a national crisis, and the war was the last time that so many families spent the party. . season apart from each other, when being together is really what Christmas is all about.

My grandmother was a girl in Hartlepool during the war and I asked her about her experiences. Of course, there were food shortages, something most people in 2020 will no longer have to face (I wondered briefly if a black market would emerge, due to earlier reports of a shortage from Turkey). Nobody is at the point where they have to fudge without carrotsAlthough apparently the dessert my great-grandmother made with boiled parsnips, banana flavoring, and over-the-counter cream from a relative’s store in Middlesbrough was delicious.

However, there will be many more families living in poverty this year and wondering how they will pay for Christmas lunch, much less gifts (Christmas gifts made of paper It may have passed the test for our grandparents, but today’s parents have a whole consumer machine to deal with.) There will be others who have lost their homes and their livelihoods. In wartime, there were special canteens that it provided shelter and refreshments to those who had been bombed outside their homes; in 2020, we have food banks.

In addition to this, we have a serious moral decision on all our doors: “It is the season to be very careful”, they tell us, so if your loved ones get sick, it is something that depends on you. We are left with a choice: risk infecting our family members or stay away. Compromises can be found. Tales of the New Yorkers who appeared in Central Park with a black tie to host a huge Thanksgiving dinner, could act as inspiration. However, one cannot escape the fact that some people will die as a result of the celebrations.

It is this awareness of death that my grandmother remembers most strongly about the festivities of war. She remembers Christmas before her brother Maurice and his fellow sailors left in the Arctic convoys for Murmansk. “Everyone had been to the pub, of course, and Maurice returns with a half dozen friends… With Dad being a pianist, he started a song. I’ve never seen another year like that. “

Someone pulled her out of bed and gave her a glass of port and lemonade. “I thought this was terribly older,” he says. But his happiness was tinged with sadness: he knew that not all of them would survive. “I was watching, and it stayed in my memory all these years, in that living room, in the front room, and everyone was singing … He was handing out my mother’s bread and then my grandfather said: ‘It doesn’t matter, pet, some of may not come back. ‘

Melancholy and loss have always been a part of Christmas, and this is accentuated in times of crisis. This year has affirmed for many of us the things that really matter, and that was also true for the war generation – I’d love to hear more stories from readers about their memories of that time. I imagine it was pretty much the same as it is now: a return to simple pleasures, less emphasis on consumption, a renewed commitment to volunteering and charitable giving, and, as in my grandmother’s story and the 1943 song , the determination to “have a merry Christmas now” while you can. It may be difficult, but we will get through it.

• Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a columnist and author for The Guardian

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