As another pandemic year draws to a close, it's time for my annual Christmas message. It has been difficult to write this year as many of us are impacted by Covid in one way or another, or are suffering with the exhaustion of prolonged uncertainty.
In testing times like this, I find that it helps to reflect on the experience of our ancestors. My ancestors came from Northern Europe, where the winter was bitterly long, cold, and dark. With winter came death. For many generations, they had no central heating, no running hot water, and no antibiotics if they came down with a bronchial infection, or tooth abscess. When I read novels from the nineteenth century I am always struck by how in the time before antibiotics, going outside in the rain could come with a death warrant.
This is the harsh reality our ancestors battled through. They had to fight off the reality of death each year, and every winter. They had to plan ahead and stockpile food to make sure they had enough to eat if crops failed. Presumably after the Winter Solstice, they would feast because they knew that spring was around the corner.
The event of Christmas occurs at this time. The event marks the birth of a child during the middle of winter. Out of the abyss emerges an unyielding light, and that light is human life. The baby represents hope and renewal.
I am lucky enough this year to be able to celebrate Christmas with my family. But I know that many of you are not. Christmas without family is always difficult, but Christmas without family during a pandemic year must be especially so.
Christmas represents the hope brought by the birth of a baby, there is also hope that we can find inside ourselves. While crops die during the winter and can be replanted in spring, the depression brought by winter, or a plague, can be fought off with the knowledge that it will soon end.
And although Christmas is a time to celebrate with family, we can also use it as a time to reflect on the deep resilience of the human spirit. As Camus has written, “in the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
Quillette wishes you all a Merry Christmas, and an invincible summer in the coming year.
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