A critical analysis of the narrative of normality/loss of Christmas.
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”Charles Dickens
I love Christmas. Even as a Muslim, I love celebrating with my form class. Secret Santa is my absolute favourite. Members of my form always seem to get me socks and I always seem to have more than one Secret Santa! The holiday season brings staff together, it allows students to have a well-deserved break and the euphoria and excitement in the Khan household is unparalleled! With East 17 and Wham playing, I love Christmas time. However, whereas Xmas 2019 I was still licking my wounds over the election result, this year Christmas will be unprecedented.
We appear to be engulfed in the anxiety again as any economy-stimulating policies have backfired with an almost inevitable second wave now pending. For many of us, the COVID pandemic and lockdown has enabled us to gain perspective, realign our vision and reflect on the taken-for-granted lives we once lived. However, as ‘normality’ ensues, the deaths from coronavirus have never halted and with rising cases and the R number teetering between 1-1.4. Half-term for schools looks bleak and with the festivities of Christmas beginning soon, the narrative of normality requires a critical analysis.
The Mirror ran with both of these headlines as there is a national scramble to ‘save’ Christmas. Image: The Mirror
The Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer have pledged to do all they can to make sure we have Christmas. No lockdown on Earth should impede the festive period and no one wants to be labelled as the proverbial ‘Scrooge’, do they? Ebenezer aside, new social distancing rules have been put in place. The ‘rule of six’ which, as a teacher, I still do not understand as I have several classes of over 30 students. This ‘rule of six’ could be lifted to allow families to unreservedly celebrate Christmas. At face value, this should be applauded and fair but Britain is a deeply unequal society. Therefore, any policy making must be considered in relation to these inequalities and addressing these inequalities. The fear of losing Christmas is very real and as Britain enters a critical time, policy makers appear to be in some form of unity. A unity with patriotic and economic overtones rather than informed by scientific or medical advice. Calling a spade, a spade, the political consensus isn’t about Rudolph landing on a snowy rooftops. This is about economic gain.
Neither Johnson or Starmer want to be the antagonist from the beloved A Christmas Carol. However, in the grand scheme of things, the loss of Christmas really is a normality for those socially excluded from festive periods through no fault of their own. Image: Evening Standard
The congratulatory veneer where we were made to believe COVID was a historical event, where we were to grab a pint and a vindaloo in pleasing Rishi Sunak’s #eatouttohelpout scheme. This idea that ‘the worst has already come’ and ‘we have control over the pandemic’ falsely empowered the already confused public to return to the, happy-go-lucky compulsive consumerism to stimulate economic growth. After a decade of austerity in the name of national debt, the country has fallen into a recession. Of course, no one could have forecasted a global pandemic but the handling of the pandemic cannot be understated. We now find ourselves in a predicament not too dissimilar to the one in February, whereby lockdown is a certainty and the public are almost like sitting ducks as they go about their daily lives of work, family and leisure. However, stimulating the economy by a government that seems to know the price of everything and the value nothing. Over 40,000 COVID deaths, thousands still shielding and national guidelines changing every few weeks, what is the public really afraid to lose? Xmas together or losing their loved ones by a life-threatening illness? The political narrative to save Christmas should be replaced with saving lives, livelihoods and protecting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. The absence of empathy is the malignant part of British politics.
All I want for Christmas is…
Some sense of social justice. I don’t want this article to be a general critique of political policy or individuals. However, I have found three arenas of reflection from this ‘losing Christmas’ political narrative that I would like to discover. This is not an exclusive list but an opportunity to begin a critical analysis of current socio-political narratives.
Inconsistent energies – Britain does pride itself on being a multicultural society and albeit token gestures, there was some level of acknowledgement for the death of George Floyd earlier in the year. Lifting the rule of six for Christmas but then also vigorously opposing the Muslim households in the north of the country on the eve of Eid al-Adha (July 30th-31st) really does represent the systemic bias in this country. Two hours before Eid, several relatives, who I have not seen since last summer were so excited to come see the rest of the family. Weeks before, we saw the beeches packed with thousands flocking to the seaside to top-up tans and enjoy the sea and sand. Eid was cancelled and Eid ul-Fitr (May 23rd) was also one for the WhatsApp and Zoom archives. If the Black Lives Matter movement has taught us anything, it is this inconsistent energy, which includes both praise and condemnation that is one of the pillars of racial inequality and systemic bias. Did Muslims ‘lose’ Eid? Absolutely. The parallels between Christmas and Eid should not go unnoticed here as both, at the very core, include a union of families to celebrate an event of religious or spiritual importance. Let’s strip away the aesthetics for a second- you know, the eggnog, baubles, mango lassi and Eid hugs. At the very core, families and loved ones just want to reconnect but when it is safe. With nebulous guidelines, one rule for one and another for the rest and continuous pursuit for post-Brexit economic prosperity, these inconsistent energies are dangerous, alienating and divisive. At a time where we do need unity, Johnson and Starmer are so keen to reopen schools and not lose Christmas, this unity should be geared towards reopening schools safely and making sure Christmas 2021 is COVID free. Also that I can celebrate Eid, with my Grandma and preferably not in a pub!
Celebratory distractions – Christmas is a religious holiday but not to the economy. The economy has commercialised entity. We know this and are fully aware of this cult of commercialisation. Research from the Bank of England found that, on average, in Britain, families spend £2,500 a month but this skyrockets by over £800 in the month of December. The Brits are the highest spenders per household across Europe over the festive period. Christmas is a financial gamechanger. With increased demand for products and services, the retail, hospitality and many other sectors begin to recruit seasonal employees. Research from 2015 found that of the annual £114bn made by UK retailers, £24bn was made over the Christmas period. Boxing day and January sales, the holiday season is a time of giving, sharing and of course, crucially for our political elites, spending. Christmas by its commercialised and family-centred nature stimulates economic growth. I am sure Mr Sunak will be able to account for more recent figures from his battered leather coffer! For many, Christmas is a time to return to some form of normality and with pending lockdowns, normality as we once knew it perhaps does not exist. My fear, not as an economist because I am not an economist, but as a concerned citizen. Just like #eatoutohelpout, reopening pubs, allowing places of leisure and hospitality to begin taking in customers, these distraction methods. We are supposed to be celebrating ‘normality’ after six months of anything but normality. Watching Boris Johnson pull pints and Rishi Sunak cuts the furlough scheme, I am yet to be convinced that isn’t a mere PR stunt another ‘act in haste and repent in leisure’ policy. The rise of COVID cases, which was an almost certainty now means another period of uncertainty for the public. Should we buy into these celebratory tactics? If anything, we should be socially distancing, wearing our face masks and preparing for the inevitable. Unless it neatly fits the neo-liberal economic narrative, there is no place for dialogue. Again, the focus on economy is at the heart of the rise in cases and not because a handful of ‘#COVIDIDIOTS’ fancied a pint, a korma or a night out at the pictures. This makes us experts but who listens to the experts, hey? This is the era of anti-expert! I’m not trying to be (Chris) witty!
A lost Christmas or a Christmas of loss? Many have already endured such grave losses this year. They may have lost loved ones to COVID and regardless of compensation, nothing can ever replace someone we have lost. To the over 40,000 who will be spending Christmas without their grandparents, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, uncles, aunties, friends and loved ones, we must be considerate of them. Abolishing the rule of six does not compensate for the tragic loss of life. The failure to protect care homes, the millions squandered on unusable PPE, allowing unelected government officials to unapologetically flout lockdown rules to have their eyesight checked at Barnard Castle, to unsafely reopen schools, public transport and work places and the continued disrespect for scientific advice. None of this brings any solace to the grieving families. The loss of Christmas narrative is a underhanded disregard and unempathetic projection of the often cold culture we have towards loss and grief. I would also like to bring the disadvantaged children into this discussion too. According to the charity, Buttle UK, as of 2019, absolute poverty amongst children has risen by 200,000 to 3.7 million. For the 6th richest country in the world, such levels of deprivation are nothing short of a national emergency. With the pandemic, the sense of despair, fear and anxiety is only heightened for the most disadvantaged. For the disadvantaged children who have grown up with a sense of loss, having Christmas and all its trimmings taken away is all too often a reality. Some families cannot afford Christmas as it is often a struggle between paying and purchasing groceries, if not using foodbanks. This loss of Christmas narrative that is being peddled is vastly simplified, wholly disrespectful and failing to account for the losses from both this pandemic and generations of inequalities. These are not generation losses, these are generational grievances with scars of austerity that have yet to heal.
The rise of COVID cases was inevitable as soon as the economy is given priority over human life. This will be a Christmas of loss. We should mourn the 40,000+ who have sadly lost their lives, which includes over 600 frontline NHS staff. ‘Normality’ will never be the same as we become wary of everything we touch, mindful of every interaction we make and wary of every cough or sneeze we hear. These are truly unprecedented times and one would love to wrap the things we love in cotton wool and protect them from COVID. Sadly, we don’t have enough cotton, lives continue to be lost and we are being sold promises that no one can really keep. The cross-party consensus on Christmas feels very similar to the one on reopening school and that has gone so well hasn’t it? We may have lost this Christmas to COVID but many have so much through a decade of austerity and deprivation. This Christmas will be like no other but for the most vulnerable, it will be like Groundhog Day. Another year passes with poverty and deprivation marring life chances and another lost Christmas. It’s a national disgrace.
The ‘loss of Christmas’ narrative also needs to critically assessed. The losses many have endured can never truly be compensated by presented under a tree. Yet also, for those who have never experienced the magic of Christmas, their loss and generational experience of structural inequalities can never go unaccounted for.
I pray we can have Christmas with our loved ones, and Eid and every other celebration, religious or not. To also note that many of the religious festivals of the BAME community have been rendered invisible over the pandemic. However, we must start with us taking precautions, analysing our surroundings, calling out those policies and practices that undermine the sacrifices of so many. Finally, I hope we can realign ourselves with empathy and compassion. In a world full of losses, we can never afford to lose those.
Thank you for reading,
Cost of Christmas – https://www.bridgingloans.co.uk/news/the-economics-of-a-uk-christmas/
Child Poverty 2019 – https://www.buttleuk.org/news/child-poverty-in-uk-in-2019