A Christmas Lockdown Isn’t Cause For Complaint
When Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the UK’s return to national lockdown, he reassured the public that such a measure was necessary in order to ensure “as normal a Christmas as possible.”
It’s now looking like the lockdown might have to be extended, potentially infringing on the Prime Minister’s promise of normality. Meanwhile, severe restrictions on gatherings and travel seem likely in parts of Europe and America. In other words, Christmas will be very different this year for those who celebrate it. In-person gatherings, long distance travel, and large events over Christmas have already been ruled out by many governments.
These measures will limit celebrants’ ability to make the most of the holiday season. They will also prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases. These are the kind of perplexing decisions we face in 2020: save Christmas, or save lives?
The potential of lockdown measures in December has already been politicized. In October, Trump claimed that Biden would cancel Christmas if elected President. (Never mind that Biden won’t assume office until January.) This attack was absurd, but predictable. After all, even the most mundane things have been portrayed as attacks on Christmas in recent years, including red Starbucks cups and the phrase “happy holidays”.
Still, a Christmas lockdown would be deeply unpleasant. It will cause emotional distress to some families, and this is not something we should take lightly. But we don’t need to rely on pure speculation when it comes to predicting how Christmas during lockdown will pan out.
For South Asians, Diwali is one of the biggest events of the year, traditionally marked by parties, food, fireworks, and religious ceremonies. This year, most governments required people to celebrate Diwali within their households and social bubbles. Some traditions, like large gatherings of friends and extended families, could not go ahead.
Did everyone abide by the restrictions? Of course not. In the predominantly-South Asian city of Brampton, Ontario, a gurdwara was fined for hosting a party which exceeded the limit of people permitted to gather in an outdoor space. Though this received extensive news coverage, Mayor Patrick Brown was quick to point out that Brampton has over 100 places of worship and 30 gurdwaras, with only one of them observed breaching regulations.
99% of people celebrated Diwali while respecting for the law and the health of those vulnerable to COVID-19. The same is true of Ramadan and Eid-al-Adha, which were observed by Muslims in May and August respectively.
What about Christmas? It is quite possible that the silent majority of people will stay socially distanced. This is especially likely in the context of most people having vulnerable family members whose health must take precedence over festivities.
These are the kind of perplexing decisions we face in 2020: save Christmas, or save lives?
However, one thing will distinguish Christmas from the holidays already observed by minorities. Those who oppose Christmas lockdowns will be vocal, influential, and politically active.
COVID-deniers occupy positions of power within every level of the American government. The pandemic has been politicized by Europe’s far right in the hopes of winning hearts and minds with conspiracy. Meanwhile, reactionaries who view the traditional celebration Christmas as a bastion of Western civilization will portray lockdowns as an attack on Christians and white people more broadly.
Lockdowns over Christmas won’t be without their costs. But if those of us celebrating Diwali, Eid, and other major holidays managed to follow the rules, everyone disappointed about a cancelled Christmas will be just fine.