‘Christmas will never be cancelled’, the Bishop of Paisley has vowed, while suggesting a 24-hour lifting on social restrictions to allow friends and families to gather and celebrate together.
Bishop John Keenan’s call came after Scotland’s national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch warned society that the idea of a normal Christmas was a “fiction” and urged people to prepare for a “digital” celebration this year.
However, Bishop Keenan, recalling the difficulties people faced during and after the World Wars, pointed out that throughout history society has always managed to celebrate the birth of Christ and expressed his confidence that ‘society will still want to celebrate Christmas and hold on to as many traditions as it possibly can at such a traditional time of year’.
‘Regardless of what limitations Covid might place on our lives, as Christians we are sure that Christmas will never be cancelled. No matter what difficulties we face, we will celebrate the joy and love, the kindness and good cheer that attend the celebration of the birth of Christ as we always do,’ the bishop wrote in The Sunday Times.
‘It could not have been easy for Mary and Joseph to celebrate under Roman occupation in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, for soldiers in the trenches of the First World War or for nations across Europe in the post-war privations of 1945, but Christmas happened and millions gave thanks that a saviour was born. Christmas won’t be cancelled.’
Bishop Keenan noted that Christians are ‘people of hope’ and while the faithful take the social restrictions seriously, ‘we hope and pray that Christmas 2020 can be as normal as possible’.
He said that Christmas is a time of giving not just presents, but time, company and love to others and spending time with friends and family.
While acknowledging Professor Leitch’s comments were an attempt to remind people of ‘the sobering reality’ of Christmas amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the bishop pointed out that the prospect of ‘acts of joy and love’ being taken from people was ‘dispiriting and depressing’.
In an effort to ‘bring some semblance of normality to a country afflicted by a global pandemic’, Bishop Keenan suggested the idea of a Christmas ‘circuit breaker’ – ‘a 24-hour lifting of restrictions on gatherings and celebrations’.
Describing such a move as ‘a break in the war on Covid’, he likened it to ‘the pause in the First World War on the Western Front in 1914, when the British and German troops laid down their guns and met in no man’s land to celebrate Christmas’.
‘Couldn’t we allow for one day of normality in the midst of our relentless war against the virus? Think of the hope and happiness that would give,’ he wrote. ‘A moment of joy in the midst of so much despair.’
Acknowledging that such a move would have to be taken with great care, especially in relation to the risk of elderly and vulnerable people catching the virus, he pointed out that it would have a positive effect on other worrying concerns, such as loneliness and depression.
‘The effects of a depressed and isolated Christmas could be devastating for many, leaving an emotional and social legacy that no vaccine could cure,’ he warned. ‘Flattening the curve of infection rates has been a laudable goal of government policy this year. Rather than flatten the curve of hope, let’s lift our spirits with the prospect of a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.’
However, Dr Nicola Steedman, Scotland’s deputy chief medical officer, warned that a ‘circuit breaker’ to lift restrictions and allow families to celebrate Christmas would be very dangerous, pointing out that unlike the pause in the First World War, the virus would not agree to such a ceasefire.
“I’ve heard to this referred to as an ‘amnesty’, a little bit like the previous amnesties on Christmas day in the world war,” she told BBC Scotland’s Seven Days programme.
“The difficulty with this particular amnesty is that our opponent, if you like, hasn’t agreed to the amnesty. This is not something Covid has signed up to and said: ‘Well yes I’ll stop infecting people on Christmas day and you can all just go about your business’.”
Picture: A family prays together before eating Christmas dinner. (Casper1774Studio).