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Have yourself a very merry – and sustainable – Christmas!

Have yourself a very merry – and sustainable – Christmas!

— Fred Larsen, for Sustainable Orillia

As I sit down to write this Christmas note to the Orillia community, it is just a few days before Christmas Day, 2021. I don’t think it will be anything close to the kind of Christmas holiday that all of us were hoping for, even just a few days and weeks ago.

The new COVID-19 variants, delta first and now omicron, have put a damper on all of our holiday celebrations leading up to Christmas Day, and even on the gatherings that we were planning for the very day and weekend. Recently announced restrictions have come like a “Bah, humbug!” that could have come from old Scrooge himself. Many of us, hearing of the new restrictions, are feeling that applying them at this very moment is just meanness by those responsible for making these decisions.  Scrooges, indeed.

But perhaps Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the story of rich old Ebenezer Scrooge’s meeting with three spirits—the ghost of Christmas Past, the ghost of Christmas Present and the ghost of Christmas Future—and how these meetings change his attitude toward Christmas and toward people, has something to tell us about how we should be feeling this Christmas.

Throughout the story we see the Cratchit family—father Bob, who works for Scrooge, Mrs. Cratchit, and the children, especially the youngest, Tiny Tim, who is crippled and weak, his conditions not helped by the poverty that the family lives in because of Scrooge’s unwillingness to pay Bob a living wage (Are we still talking about this in 2021?). In spite of their poverty, we see a loving family where happiness comes from simply being together, and where kindness and good wishes are uppermost in the minds of all of them, even directed at Mr. Scrooge, himself—though Bob has to remind his wife, gently, that the old skinflint should be included in their well-wishes.

In these pandemic times, this is an important message.  Love, kindness, happiness and well-wishes—these are feelings that help us all endure even the most difficult circumstances.  Some in our community may have lost family members—loved ones—to COVID-19 over the past year.  Some may have lost jobs. Others may have lost businesses.  It has been a difficult year, now almost two years, for so very many people.

And yet so many voices have urged us simply to “Be kind.” A friend of mine often quotes B.C.’s Bonnie Henry, the Chief Medical spokesperson in that province, who has reminded her audience since the pandemic began of the importance of being kind to each other as we seek to endure. “Be kind.” Such a powerful message in its simplicity, it is echoed by our own Mayor of Orillia Steve Clark in his recently launched “Be Kind” local campaign.

At Sustainable Orillia, in addition to the trials of the pandemic, many of us find our minds on the climate crisis impacts in recent weeks and months—the western fires last summer, the “heat dome” in southern BC in June, the tornadoes that swept through several U.S. states recently, the flash flooding in B.C. that resulted from torrential rains that were unprecedented in the country’s history. Again, there may be people in our community who have friends and family that have been affected by these extreme weather events, but whether we have or not, we can empathize with others who are losing so much. And all of us are becoming more aware that what we are now experiencing on our North American continent—and yes, across the entire world—are signs of things to come in the climate emergency.

These signs are telling us that we have to change our ways as people.  Our buying habits, our living habits, our housing, our businesses, our jobs, our travel—even the way we think! 

On top of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s almost too much to also think about the climate crisis and how we need to change and adapt quickly if we are going to prevent the worst consequences—consequences that will impact our children and their children and the children that are born into generations to come. However, Christmas is a special time for children—a time to be thinking of those children and especially their futures, their dreams, their happiness.

The story of Scrooge has another lesson for us:  we are never too old to change our ways! And how quickly can that change happen? It can happen literally over night.

This holiday season, above all, is a time of hope.  Whether people are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other form of the midwinter (for us, anyway) celebration, hope is a major part of what the season brings to all of us.  The Christian religion sees the day as the birth of a saviour for all humanity. Hanukkah, also known as The Festival of Lights, commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem for the Jewish people in the second century B.C. Kwanzaa, a celebration begun in America in the 1960s, is an African-American celebration of family and culture—of life. 

The ancient world of the northern hemisphere saw this season as the beginning of the return of light. And the winter solstice of December 21 signalled the longest period of darkness, after which light begins to return and lengthen its presence with every passing day.

The light does return.  The hope is not in vain.  Even in the darkest night, even in the darkest night of the soul, light can and does return. And with it, life.

What form can hope take this year?  As Bob Cratchit reminds Mrs. Cratchit, be kind. Think well of all of those who live in our community. Think well of all people. Scrooge’s example tells us that we will only find happiness if we change our ways and do our best to help all people live joyful lives.  Can we find the will in 2021 to learn the lesson Scrooge learns?

As 2022 dawns in Orillia, our community will embark on a newly-established “Community Climate Change Action Plan” designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thereby accelerate the process of changing the way we live on this planet—a process that we all should have begun by now (some have) but which we must tackle in earnest at this time.

“Merry Christmas!” “Happy Hanukkah” and “Happy Kwanzaa” from all of us at Sustainable Orillia. See you in ’22. And, as Tiny Tim said at the end of Dickens’ story, “God bless us—every one.”

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