Electricity would be nice. Irina hangs a bauble and tries to ignore the thunder rolling across the hills. The mortars are closer. A drone flew over last night, lazy motor puttering. She willed it to stop, but it kept going. The windows rattled a minute later. It’s too late to run. She places the gifts beneath the tree. Only empty boxes, but they won’t mind. The light’s fading but she remains outside, breath silver in the bitter cold. The angel atop the tree is silent. Three mounds to her right. The shovel, discarded. She sits beside her children. She’ll wait.
Way back in 2009, fellow blogger Loren Eaton started a little Christmas tradition: As we close in towards Christmas Eve, he began inviting fellow writers to post a 100 word story in the tradition of telling spooky stories on Christmas Eve. You can read more about it via his blog.
In the lead up to the stories going live on the 17th, I realise that what I’d like to share will be a little different this year. If you live in a part of the world where the Christmas machine is pushing you to shop ’til you drop or invent yet another highly flammable egg nog recipe, it’s altogether too easy to overlook those stuck in the cracks, victims of loss, abuse, or abandonment. From Afghanistan to the DRC to Eastern Europe, for millions of displaced people December 25 in 2022 will likely be far removed from what they’d hoped for a year earlier.
Christmas falls at the height of summer in Australia, so the tradition of gathering around a warm fire to tell dark and scary stories as per ancient British tradition is a hard sell. All the same, I’ve recently come to see this Christmas Eve tradition as perhaps more connected to the very heart of Christmas than I’d previously given it credit for.
Snug in my twenty-first century creature comforts, I can’t imagine a better time to be reminded of the dark and scary. For even though I may not be experiencing it personally, I think we have to acknowledge that we share this holiday with victims of circumstance for whom uncertainty and anxiety, oppression and fear are a daily occurrence, the dark and scary that colours every day.
The commercial juggernaut is all too happy to string out the festive lights, set up nativity scenes and drag in the carolers and other distractions to empty our wallets and ignore that other part of Christmas Day, the inconvenient one from which it derives its name, the celebration of the birth of light and hope into exactly this darkness.
So if a scary story or three provides a metaphorical shadow or dark background before your otherwise upbeat family day, then like darkness before the dawn, I hope the contrast makes the day all the sweeter, inspires us be a little more generous, and frees our hearts to a little more charity.
So we finally succumbed to The Spicy Cough this week. After nearly three years since this whole pandemalooza began, it seems our time was up.
Funny thing is that since we’re both working from home these days, we’d pretty much forgotten about the whole thing. All we knew is that one of the kids had a weak cold for all of a morning, and then (as always happens, multiple times a year) the cold started to circulate through the family.
After so many negative RAT tests in the past, after hearing so many stories of negative RAT results for people who then tested positive, we’d all but given up. If we didn’t feel unusually sick, we weren’t.
Of course, that’s not how science works.
Someone heard the lingering cough and suggested I do a test. “Pshaw,” say I, “’tis but a frog in my throat, but I shall humour you.” So I do a test. It comes up positive. These things don’t work anyway, right? So I do another one, using a different brand of test. That comes up positive too.
If your experience with COVID was far less pleasant than mine, then you have my sympathies, and I apologise for my cavalier attitude. Yet having been a part of it, it’s easy to see how, years after the outbreak and the gradual mutation of the virus, we now live in a world where it’s become just another part of life.