A Strange Christmas

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Today is Sunday December 20th. Kia ora katoa.

What an odd time it is. Here in New Zealand, Christmas celebrations and decorations are very muted, with many people opting for miniature Christmas trees. It seems odder than ever to be celebrating Christmas in a traditional way in what we hope will be hot, summer weather.  The weather here is very changeable, being hot some days, and quite cold on others. The wind is still with us. The most irritating aspect has to be the badly sung Christmas carols you encounter in the supermarket. I prefer Christmas carols sung in traditional ways, by people who are indeed Christians. I don’t think anyone’s loved ones are flying home for Christmas, and we are certainly not joining them.

We will head north to spend Christmas with our daughter, and share this time with some of our Hohepa friends. We have given the grandchildren their presents. I bought myself a copy of Tableland; JD bought himself the latest Lee Child novel. We will probably buy some more stuff to give Vicky for Christmas.

Overseas, despite the promise of effective vaccines, Covid 19 edges ever closer to our loved ones.  In the US, the distribution of vaccines seems to have been messed up. Is this because of the severe snowstorm in the North-west of the US, or is it evidence of Trump messing things up even further?

In the UK, a new even more infectious strain of the coronavirus has emerged, and Christmas regulations, already quite draconian, are becoming even more so, with a Tier 4 introduced.  A cluster of infections has broken out in Sydney. The dream of a travel-bubble between New Zealand and Australia in the first quarter of 2021 remains just that, a dream.

The Book Depository has cancelled my order of John le Carré’s A Pigeon Tunnel; perhaps instead I shall order a copy of Betrayal in Berlin, by Steve Vogel. I read it in a rush and returned it, already overdue, to the library last Friday, but it was a good read, and I should like to have spent more time on it. I am now reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.  What an interesting novel it is! Very civilised. I am quite enjoying it.

Last week I met my cousin for lunch on Monday; Tuesday was a quiet day but on Wednesday I went to hymn singing (we sang O Holy Night), and then to a movie at the Khandallah Town Hall – Last Christmas. I had seen it before, but it bears seeing again. Afterwards we had a lovely Christmas lunch together.

On Thursday we had a last singing session for the year, and I met two friends in the afternoon. On Friday my cleaner came, and on Saturday I had my hair done. On Sunday I made another Christmas cake. What a lot of work, even though it was supposedly easy! I hope it tastes good. I overcooked it – really annoying, after all that hard work.

Overseas, in the US, it seems to be one step forward for Joe Biden and his team, followed by two steps backwards. Trump still has a month in power, and while he’s not doing his job as president, I am sure he’s conniving behind the scenes as to how he can further foul up the works, and ensure that he will not be forgotten. Many US citizens seem to believe, despite failed court cases, that the election was fraudulent, and that Biden is not legitimately the President-elect. There are all kinds of issues with delays to the transition, although Biden’s election has been confirmed by the Electoral College, William Barr has stepped down as Attorney-General, and Mitch McConnell has congratulated Biden on being President-elect in the Senate; he was surprisingly gracious and congratulated “our colleague” Senator Kamala Harris in being Vice-President elect.  The Congress and the Senate have still not quite managed to pass a relief bill.

Meanwhile, as if there weren’t enough to worry about in this dangerous interim period, the Russians have hacked the computer systems of several government departments. The damage caused by these hacks is extensive, and potentially long lasting, in that there are fears that code has been embedded to activate at some later date(s).  It does not seem that the extent of the damage is understood yet. Pompeo has admitted (although this was promptly denied by Trump) that the Russians were probably responsible. In a supreme irony, it was Microsoft that alerted the US government to this intrusion. This intrusion has been going on for nine months!

There seems to be an ever-growing gap between facts (reality) and falsehood. The kind of denial we have seen over the pervasiveness of the coronavirus, has spread into denying that Trump lost the election, and denying the effectiveness and probable safety of the vaccines. The growing number of deaths (now 315,000) seems not to deter these people. There are death threats against quite ordinary officials, as well as politicians such as Brian Kemp; these are truly alarming. And this from the pro-life party…One of the ten commandments says “Thou shalt not kill”.

Now it is Monday, December 21st. In the US, a relief package has been passed by the Senate. Let’s hope it is approved by Congress and by Trump: McConnell says this package has been agreed: what does that mean, exactly?  I’m sure the relief can’t come soon enough for many, but one wonders what corporate relief has been included?

In the UK, Boris Johnson has in effect cancelled Christmas. Bojo seems to be really “freaking out” about this virulent, new strain of the virus, although he’s been mocked by Trump, and no doubt many in the UK will be quite upset about the restrictions.  I just listened to an update stating that as suspected, Kent is in the new tier 4; that the new strain is extremely infectious (and we don’t know if vaccines are effective against this mutation); and people are advised to start unpacking, if they were packing to go away; gatherings are severely restricted. Several European countries have banned travellers from the UK.

I think of it as being like wartime: there are huge restrictions on travel, on communication, and on some kinds of foods. In some places there are curfews (not yet introduced, but masks are mandated in certain areas).  The Sydney cluster is growing (15 new cases today), and I feel there is bound to be another outbreak here in New Zealand. Although we’re pretty much acting as normal, we’ve been warned that over the festive season there could be another outbreak, and we’ve been advised to keep track of where we’ve been. I’m sure we could spring right back into higher levels, if needed. One hopes it won’t be needed. At least it’s summer here, and people can be outside. We don’t go crazy over Christmas here, thankfully. I think gratitude is the main emotion: being thankful that we are here, thankful that vaccines have been approved, and, for some of us, thankful for the birth of our Lod and Saviour, Jesus Christ – the reason for the season. Ngā mihi.

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