When Cities, Christmas and Coronavirus Collide

This piece was inspired by the sudden changes imposed on all facets of our lives, public spaces and cities in 2020, due to Covid-19. And it speaks to how it redefined the priorities of our holiday seasons, and upended Christmas.

“…we cannot continue with Christmas as planned” were the spoken words of the British Prime Minister -Boris Johnson on Saturday morning, barely a week to Christmas. And instantly, for most, Christmas plans came to a screeching halt, and their hopes, of end-of year festivities that typically lead into the brand-new year were crushed.

Before I proceed, I would like to commiserate with all those who had lost their loved ones to this historic pandemic and are grieving. I am saddened about the news of children, who died, lost a parent or were orphaned. My heart goes out to those isolated, like our elderly, the frontline workers and other vulnerable population of great men and women, who have been dying needlessly, and daily too, due to this pandemic, and our nation’s lack of preparedness and resilience.

The year has become symbolic of a dark winter courtesy of this creepy pandemic. And in this uncanny nature, it is on the prowl again, this time, aiming fully at Christmas. Suffice it to say then that it is not the PM that is trying to steal our Christmas, rather, it is the unpredictability of this virus that is to blame. Thus, Covid-19 is the proverbial grinch that may very well steal the 2020 Christmas.

Pre-Covid Cities and Spaces
Until this virus came barrelling into our world, cities and the holiday proclivities, like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas have existed successively and beneficially. And at Christmas time, cities worldwide have often imbued their public spaces and places with the bright hues of red, blue, yellow and green lighting. All lit up as early as possible, shinning ready for Christmas, and making the waiting, worthwhile.

But the pandemic’s impact this year have thrust cities on a collision course with ‘change’. Change, an often-placid word of momentum, has become eclectic this year 2020 as it depicts more of lockdowns and restrictions than movement. Thus, to state that the force of Covid-19 on our cities and on this year’s holiday season has been brutal, is an understatement. It has been cataclysmic.

To those that cherish Christmas and to those that don’t, it is evident that truncated experiences of traditions like Christmas, Kwanza and Hanukkah will be awkward. The elaborate partying, cooking, visits with family and friends, travelling, and so on, are fixtures of this period, whether you are participating or not. These occasions have assumed their irrefutable positions in the world’s end-of-year ordering of time, and holiday seasons, and most people like that very much.

Consider global cities, like Las Vegas, a host to perhaps, the biggest technology exposition in the world, known as the CES. This week-long event that has lighted up the daytime scenery of the Las Vegas strip, brighter than its Casinos at night, every first week of the year, for decades; will for the first time since inception be held virtually in 2021. That means, no physical connection to the venue or the products will be possible.

And if you have ever attended the CES, you’ll know what that means. I have been a regular attendee for some time now. And while I was there last year, I had the opportunity to take a ride in a self-driving car, the first of its kind in the USA. This type of experience with nouveau products and first to market ideas will simply not be possible, no matter what they come up with, online.

In 2020, approximately 170,000 people attended the Convention. Think about the losses to the hospitality industry, the airlines and other businesses that have come to rely on the flow of tourists, exhibitors and delegates to such a huge Convention. And across other major cities, worldwide, there are other examples of cancelled events and truncated experiences too numerous to mention.

Thus, as I ruminated on how we live and thrive in our cities, communities and homes, and the various organised patterns that we observe in them, there is that inevitable drawing of these three elements -Cities, Christmas, and Coronavirus. It is incontrovertible that the continuity of things and our resilience is inextricably linked to the state and health of our cities, and the wellbeing of people and communities that populate them.

Milieu and Vicissitudes of Christmas
This chary rendition of Christmas, predicates on its historical contexts and antecedents and culminates in its discernible and observable elements, which are inextricably woven and adorned in the observance of the yuletide. It is this exceptionalism of Christmas, which by the way, is known as ‘Noel’ in French that led me to immerse myself in this writing.

Whether or not it’s true, in historical contexts the origin of Christmas has been proximate to pagan worship. In my introspection of the plausibility of that assertion, I deemed it necessary to find well written books about the specifics of traditions centred around the lunar year, as Christmas. I also focussed on the meaning of terms.

I found that while the term, ‘pagan’, may allude to ‘unholy worship’ of some ‘unholy people’; in the etymology of the word in a basic search of the Dictionary, the meaning, in the contexts of the primeval people or practice, indicates a condition of being ’unrefined’ or ‘old -fashioned’. This is not in terms of their worship of anything, but the natural ways they were doing things (i.e., acts of celebration, either in music, in thanksgiving and sharing) at those times before the advent of Christianity.

And in a book, I found adequate for the purpose, titled “Christmas: A Candid History” the author explicates on certain key concepts in the celebration of Christmas. First, on why the celebration is in the last week of December, and why it involves such show of exhilaration and sharing of gifts. As the author explicates, the time of Christmas marks the time of the winter solstice. These were all parts of a pattern that “predated Christianity” (Forbes, 2008) with origins in ancient Rome.

In addition, the use of the evergreen tree, which is a tree that never wanes, was also emblematic of survival and hope in harsh winter, serving as an evidence of life in the midst of very little or none. Likewise, the decorations and other things that adorn the Christmas tree were to simulate the sparkle of life, beauty and hope. And of course, this was important to the people as they cope with the harsh realities of winter in those dark ages before much of the inventions of modernity (Forbes, 2008).

Thus, while the traditions of Christmas have evolved symbolically in the trappings of it (the adornments and ornaments, and other synthetic objects were fashioned after their true likeness) in substance; the essence of Christmas remains the same – captured in the holiday spirit of love, gratitude, carols, and joyful giving.

Christmas will always be about basking in celestial air of love, joy, benevolence and euphoric reciprocity centred around the birth of Christ, the saviour of the world. It will continue to transcend the orbits of such impediments as race, class and culture, ever triumphant as a global language of love and selflessness.
This is the language of Christmas.

Therefore, in this pandemic ridden year, in particular, the message of compassion for the weak amongst us, the expression of inclusion, diversity, joy, godliness, empathy and hope of a new dawn, must resonate. And we do need focussed prayers for the survival of the human race and the planet.

To this end, my message to everyone today, is not to despair. Do remember the evergreen tree and how it prevails over the dark days of winter and be rest assured that this dark winter, too, shall pass. Besides, there are many ways to engage, now, virtually than at any time, before. So, continue to follow the directives for staying at home, while you keep on connecting to all your loved ones.

Before I sign off here, let me share some awe-inspiring Christmas-themed historic events with you:

  • Do you know that since the end of the second world war, from the year 1947 to be exact, Norway has always sent a Christmas tree to London for England’s support during the war? The tree was always placed right there at the Trafalgar Square. And despite the challenges of 2020, Norway still delivered. ☺


  • Do you know that the Christmas tree lighting event has been a tradition in California for 88 years? This Christmas, as the city endures another lockdown, the Governor of California made a thoughtful gesture to bring the Christmas tree lighting tradition to children and families in the comfort of their homes. It thus became a Christmas celebration like no other, in a merrily virtual way. ☺


  • Do you know that it’s been a really tough Christmas for Santa Claus? The lockdowns, shuttered malls, and kids kept away were not the only problems they face, being older and chubby in a Covid-ridden world put them at significant risk of complications of infection and death. But unrelentingly, Santa Claus still came to town when at a mall in California, he and his elf helped stop a car-theft from happening. ☺

What else can I say?
Have An ‘Elfy’ Christmas!

Forbes, B. D. (2008). Christmas: A candid history. Univ of California Press.

Shade Adepeju-Joseph, DipM MA MS PMP FCIM
Industry Analyst, Resilience Thinking Media Institute

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