Was it really only three or four days ago that I reported my optimistic hope of a preserved Christmas, the Pandemic’s end thanks to the vaccine, and a probable Brexit deal within a day or two? Just as well that I added a few caveats to my predictions.
I now write on the darkest day of the year- 21 December, the Winter Solstice- facing as we do a total Lockdown in the South East of England; and a sudden reduction of the festive season here in Wiltshire from five days to one. We have woken up to a new strain of the virus so virulent that its spread is out of control (albeit no more serious in medical terms than the old variant); to the highest spike in new cases since the Pandemic began and the likelihood that it will get worse before the vaccine saves us all; to the French (bless them) blockading Dover for at least 48 hours with resulting road freight chaos; to little sign of a Brexit agreement; and to all of our Christmas plans being disrupted if not wholly ruined. Rarely can the Winter Solstice have witnessed a bleaker time in our national history.
It seems to me astonishing that at a time like this Parliament has not (yet) been recalled. Surely it is only right that we MPs should be able to speak up for our constituents. It may not be very convenient; it may wreck our own personal plans for Christmas; but I for one would be happy to sit through for the sake of scrutinising what the Government are doing with regard both to Brexit and to Covid. The House last sat on Christmas Day in 1656, at least partly because the Cromwellian Puritans thought Christmas was a pagan (or a papist?) festival. So the Commons met as usual to transact business - by coincidence the Second Reading of a Bill for holding a Sheriff’s Court in Devizes. All 18 Wiltshire MPs were present, representing perhaps 50,000 people, by comparison with today’s 7 with a population of 750,000! If we could do it then we can do it now, and I call on the Government to recall Parliament with no further delay.
Yet we must not slip into the scaremongering panic language of some parts of the media. Christmas has not been ‘cancelled.’ Wherever we are and under whatever difficult and sometimes sad circumstances we find ourselves, we still celebrate the birth of Christ more than 2000 years ago, and the warmth and decency which it means for us all, whatever our own personal beliefs may be. Might it not be symbolic that at this, the worst of all possible times, the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in our night skies comes close to replicating the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ hesitating over the stable in Bethlehem? Similarly, the ancients who built Stonehenge actually celebrated the Winter Solstice more than the Summer one, as it heralded the end to the cold and hunger and darkness and was a signpost to the return of light and plenty, warmth and happiness.
So in these hardest of times, I wish you all the happiness that Christmas can bring to you and your families and friends. Be as merry as you can; rejoice at the Star of Bethlehem hovering over the low Wiltshire horizon and all it means; and join the Wiltshire ancients round Stonehenge looking to better times to come.