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And Still We Celebrate On

By Laura Ferries @lauraferrieswriter

New Year’s Eve, 31st December 2019. The world held its breath in giddy anticipation of not only a new year but a new decade. There was a ring to it: the new ‘20s. It evoked parties, celebrations, prosperity. I sat by the fire in my new pajamas, opened a good bottle of red and eagerly awaited the strike of midnight to usher in this sparkly new decade of promise.

When the Covid-19 virus hit the world at the turn of this new decade, the 20s, the one that was supposed to be full of renewed glamour, excitement and razzle-dazzle, the world came to a pause. It slowed down to a new-found peace in some corners, while in others it dragged on under a slow and heavy pressure. The skewing of time disoriented us and bred anxiety and confusion. Uncertainty is the root of anxiety; anxiety is the fear of the unknown and uncontrollable.

Births, birthdays, religious festivals, graduations, engagements, weddings, various cultures’ new years and so many, unnamable more celebrations felt like they were being robbed from us, but we learned to adapt and craft new methods in the madness of our new circumstances.

We are habitual creatures who mark our lives by the calendar. It helps us move through the seasons and orients us: Easter traditions are so closely married into the spring while Diwali lights up the darkening evenings of autumn.

Celebrating the good things in life is a part of the ecstasy of being human. It marks triumphs and successes, connects us to others and reminds us of the great possibilities of people and the world.

Like observing a Roman sundial cast light and shadow through the passing of time, we gauge where we are in the rotation of the years by what celebration or festival we are preparing for.

Suddenly, we weren’t allowed to see each other in person anymore. We collectively discovered Zoom and vouched to stay connected in virtual realms until the day we would be reunited. We found novel ways to bond when feeling isolated. We became gameshow hosts and quizmasters; my cousin Luke even became our family’s own celebrity chef, hosting guided ‘Cook-a-thons’. We became more familial.

Music is and always has been a sensory medicine; an aural shot of serotonin. Songs, secular hymns that praise what it is to be human in this topsy-turvy world, became daily sermons that kept us going when faith waned. Not much, not even a virus can keep music out of the home.

Birthdays, meanwhile, had to take on a whole new format: like a paradoxical trip back to the late 90s, our video calls became cyber cafés where we relied on bandwidth and pixelated faces while we clinked glasses to screens to toast one another’s collective orbits around the sun. We sent Moonpigs and parcels to each other’s addresses, little uplifts of light on our doorsteps; gestures that reminded us we are not alone. Remember you are thought of in the minutest of reminders and someone is always missing you, somewhere. We delved deep inside ourselves and the kindness of strangers prevailed even when the political powers above were a tide pulling against us, threatening to drown us in the mire.

Many people will have sadly felt robbed of their due celebrations. University graduates watched their names spool across YouTube video roll calls from home instead of shaking hands with robed and mortar-board bedecked academics. Year 11 and Year 13 students left school Sans prom night with only WhatsApp group emojis and transient Snapchats to bid their farewells. Weddings had to be postponed but love prevailed in the outpourings of gestures from well-wishing relatives and friends.

As the earth breathed, we took to our daily walks and discovered the ancient yet perpetual beauty and medicinal properties of oxygen, water and trees. We celebrated this earth of ours in our art, music and poetry in our private moments and we also shared it online in collective ceremonials.

Conversely, our gained time drew our attentions and opened our eyes, ears and minds much more acutely to the injustices of the world.

The battle cry protest against the unlawful and barbaric murder of George Floyd sparked a new surge in the Black Lives Matter movement. We celebrated black music, art, literature, film and the kaleidoscopic facets of black culture. We learned to celebrate it and not appropriate it and we learned to check our privileges and become not only not-racist but anti-racist. This overdue learning and reflection brings hope which is cause for some celebration in itself.

In a time of introspection, we turned to the arts as a mirror for our lives, experiences and our world. People used paint, ink and instruments to honour what they love, lament the things they missed and illuminate the vital things we need to cling on to in such unprecedented times of uncertainty.

In the often-harsh face of turning inwards, we learned to protect ourselves by establishing our own private ceremonials that preserved our health, happiness and sanity. The fragility and the resilience of the human body was juxtaposed and highlighted under the destructive glare of the Coronavirus and we were reminded to seize and cherish life. When you can’t do much else other than work and/or stay home, the little rituals we form in protecting our physical and mental selves become sacred.

Whether for you it is painting your nails, spritzing your favourite perfume on yourself even though you aren’t going anywhere, lifting weights in your back garden, evening runs, late night baths, lighting candles, burning incense, reading books, meditation, listening to music into the deep early hours… these are all the self-preserving self-celebrations that we have relied upon to keep going even when the external world felt a bit bleak.

As we inch closer to winter celebrations: Christmas, Hanukkah and myriad others, we will be true to form and we will be innovative in how we mark them in a manner that is socially distanced, safe yet celebratory. It will be different, that’s for sure, but in our newly clarified ability to look on the bright side, at least it will be unique.

When we watch the clock tick towards midnight on the 31st December 2020, we will all hold hopes and desires for the new year ahead. The virus won’t magically disappear because it isn’t 2020 anymore but we will be inching closer to its diminishing and to being able to be together freely again.

Despite the hardships and challenges that the pandemic has brought, we will have a lot to celebrate on that evening. I will be sitting by the fire, a good bottle of red open, raising a quiet glass to the reflections of the last year and celebrating a new dawn, a new year and the new times ahead.

Find more from Laura in her poetry books: ‘Somewhere Between Roses & Oranges’ is available to buy at ‘Give Poetry a Chance! The Anthology’ is available to buy at ‘Lucid Dreamscapes’ will be published with end of 2020/early 2021

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