It’s beginning to look a lot like Shitmas… and I don’t just mean the lack of cold days and constant barrage of heat coming Malta’s way this year. Ironically enough, though, the biggest difference we’re getting is one we seem to have imposed on ourselves.
We always knew things would look a little different when there’s a global pandemic still killing hundreds of thousands out there. But it turns out that trying to go out of your way to “fix” something which can’t really be fixed only makes it worse.
By now, everyone should be very familiar with the phrase “COVID-19 won’t kill Christmas”, the latest war-like soundbite to emerge from Malta’s government.
A golden nugget from Valletta Cultural Agency chairman Jason Micallef (you know, the custodian of all things tasteful and artistic on this island), the phrase was uttered during this week’s launch of Christmas in the City. It is the first in a series of shows running from the end of November until the end of the year. We’re talking children’s choirs, opera shows, festive lights, nativity scenes… and of course, free parking baby!
Micallef’s claims were supported and amplified by Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli (of summer’s makanisms fame), who announced the initiatives and investments as a way to boost business in the capital since, granted, it’s been a very tough year for everyone.
Now we could endlessly argue about what Jason and Julia actually meant – and many already have throughout this week – but we’d probably end up missing the wood for the line of fake plastic Christmas trees.
Excuse the cheese, but Christmas was never really about that drunken staff party where you finally (and maybe accidentally) tell your boss what you really think of them. It’s never really about that random Secret Santa gift you get from someone who barely knows you either. And I don’t know about you, but it’s definitely never been about free parking.
We already know that the majority of the nation does not want to go into lockdown again. Hell, you’d have to drag most of us home even if there was an official decree by the government to stay indoors. However, our leaders should not be encouraging us to have fun while they worry on our behalf. We always knew people would be making their way to hubs like Valletta for the festive period anyway.
And that’s all well and good. After all, masks are now obligatory, people should (should) know what needs to be done to curb the virus’ spread on a personal level, and Christmas is Christmas. Who doesn’t love walking down a beautifully decorated street on a cold(ish) December night, cuddled up in a thick jacket (now also including a mask), and checking out the intricate window displays? Heartless pyschos, that’s who.
But that was always going to happen organically, because people need rays of hope to get them through tough times. And when the tough time lasts a whole year and the ray of hope is perfectly placed days before the end of the year, it’s a match made in quarantined heaven.
Addressing something with implications as monumental as a communal holiday during a pandemic is an extremely fine line to tread… and getting it wrong can end up causing more harm than good.
And, right on schedule, that’s where Malta’s politicians decided to come in.
But how many things can go wrong with a declaration like “COVID-19 won’t kill Christmas”? Well, a lot. Let’s start with a thesaurus.
First off – and I can’t believe I have to say this, but here we are – maybe choose a different verb when people are literally being killed by the virus hours before and after you say something like that?
Gone are the days when Malta stops and shivers at the news that one of its own passed away while being infected with COVID-19. Now, you might actually get shat on for spreading fear and panic – by the Prime Minister himself, no less.
But the fact remains that, moments before the now-notorious statement was made, three virus-related deaths were reported. The next day, another four. The next, another three. That’s 10 people dying in the amount of time it took for most of the country to even hear the phrase “COVID-19 won’t kill Christmas”. Irony, your name is Malta.
Never mind the country’s largest medical union – and a whole bunch of other specialists – having to state the obvious and lambasting the phrase. I mean, what do they know, right? They’re just the guys dealing with this in the hospital wards. They’re just the frontliners we were all filming ourselves applauding eight months ago.
But the biggest negative effect a bold and irresponsible phrase like that can have will only be felt when it’s too late. And everyone will feel it in a different way.
In a time when naming and shaming has become the name of the game, many are already feeling on edge and hesitant of doing anything. Many should. Some don’t necessarily need to.
Hours later, the controversial quote started being used by both sides of an ever-heating debate, from flag-wielding patriots to sarcastic nihilists. But stuck in the middle is a chunk of the population that doesn’t want to be branded as either.
They’re already worried as is. They were already going to take their own precautions. And whether or not their own precautions were enough, what they should’ve gotten from their government is a reminder to err on the side of caution.
What they got instead was a smiling push out of their houses… and a pull to a city our leaders seem to hope will be more crowded than what it is at the moment.
And while – as has been happening for much of 2020 anyway – many people would’ve definitely ventured out to Valletta, Sliema and other hubs this Christmas whether or not they were told to do so by our politicians, that outing has now become politically charged.
That outing has become a national controversy for a whole week… and no doubt longer as we stumble into December. That outing has become yet another reason for our nation to be divided and for some of us to wish death to each other on Facebook. That outing has now been weaponised.
Now sure, Christmas for many people like myself is about more than just a trip to Valletta to see some lights. Christmas is about spending some quality time with your loved ones, be they the parents you barely get to see because of how busy you are at work, or the friend you’ve been inadvertently ghosting for weeks. But let’s no kid ourselves here – Christmas 2020 is going to look and feel very different.
Some of us won’t be able to meet the gang for the annual bash. Some of us won’t be able to visit their parents for fear of infecting them or because of added restrictions. And at least a hundred of us have had to bid an early, impersonal and gut-wrenching farewell to their loved ones because of this virus.
But if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that hope is one tough fucker. Even in the face of insane challenges, that ray of hope persists. And if there’s any holiday that’s all about rays of hope and compassion, it’s Christmas.
So by all means – understand that people will still need to go out and have at least a simulation of what a “normal” Christmas would be like. Make sure the necessary measurements are put in place. Give them something to hang onto so late into this very weird saga. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t forget that the words you use matter.
Because COVID-19 might not kill Christmas… but if you keep acting like this is a war you can win or a problem you can solve with free parking, you might just end up killing Christmas yourself.
What do you make of this?