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Christmas 2020:  By Rachel Martin

My Advent Calendar

This Christmas will be different from many others. We’re constantly hearing about the so-called ‘cenone’ or Christmas dinner, how many people and who can sit around your table, who you can visit and not leaving your region. We won’t be getting on planes or trains to visit family and friends or picking them up from stations and airports. So yes, this Christmas will be different from many others.

I remember when it all started back in February, the empty shelves in supermarkets and how our kids didn’t go back to school. We started to hear that we were going into lockdown one Saturday afternoon. Some of us went on Facebook that night, wondering what lockdown would mean. Our world was changing before our eyes and there we were right in the thick of it. I see the Bergamo mountains from my balcony every morning. I wonder if I will ever look at them in the same way again.

Now we find ourselves in a second wave, with Monza at its epicentre. The singing on the balconies has stopped and the atmosphere has changed. Some of us have lost loved ones. We miss our old lives and travel and visits to family overseas and around Italy, and coffees with friends that we miss too. I remember going to Lecco back in March and there was an elderly gentleman sitting by the lake on a bench, alone. It could have been my father, it could have been your father or your mother or your neighbour. You may identify with it yourself. Sometimes it is enough to feel that you are being seen.

When my family and I celebrated New Year last year it was with a group of other middle schoolers. My son had asked if he could have a party, a continuation of the Halloween party when they all stayed up and let off bangers in the street. We welcomed a new decade, the year of my husband’s 50th, my elder son becoming a teenager, our 15th wedding anniversary. In the morning I cooked them all English breakfast: bacon, eggs and piles of toast. I stood in my kitchen and loved the moment as life played itself out around my kitchen table. We all have similar memories of our children, of our families, of times we have spent with friends.

For many of us, this is what Christmas is about, aside from any religious beliefs you may hold. It’s the coming together and sharing of our lives with friends and relatives, those we love. At Benvenuto it’s Christmas parties and Christmas fairs with generations of children tagging along, and then before we know it those children are already grown. Every year we come together for Christmas coffee mornings with the traditional raffle, and our ladies take photos by the Christmas tree.

When I was growing up we always had things that were stashed away in cupboards that we weren’t allowed to touch because ‘that’s for Christmas!!’ It always made me think why wait for Christmas, can we not just have Christmas every day? But no, my mother would reply, it wouldn’t be Christmas then, would it? True, but sometimes there is a strong case for Christmas every day, and especially if you’re living through a global pandemic. The Advent Calendars in our house have already been finished, not that I mind. Besides, I’ve decided to have a different Advent Calendar this year. It’s an old tried and tested one that many of you will know, but it’s one that certainly can be very powerful, and especially where women are involved.

This year my Advent Calendar will involve trying to bring a little bit of Christmas every day into someone’s life. I’ll be virtually catching up with old friends and new friends. For some of us whatever colour zone we’re living in won’t make the slightest bit of difference: it’s still a pandemic and the risks are still there. Personally, I always find there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned phone call. It takes me back to when I was a teenager and I would chat on the phone when my mother went out, twiddling the cord as I talked. It takes me back to my childhood, centred in kitchens with the women who brought me up. They may be gone now but I still feel them give me a push when I’m wavering. We recreate these female worlds with our friendships, offer each other our support, keep each other going when times are tough. It’s how we get on with it, hold it all together, and keep getting on with it. Female friendship can be a very powerful force.

I imagine my Advent Calendar might also involve food, and what better time than Christmas to do this? Food has an immense capacity to unite but of course the women in Benvenuto already know this. There are the zoom cooking sessions, and there’s always the annual making of Christmas cookies. Sometimes it’s just a case of laying an extra ‘virtual place’ at your table or having a chat and a piece of panettone together over the phone. Human contact, reaching out to someone and feeling received, has never felt so precious. As I read through this piece, news of a Christmas concert has come through on the WhatsApp group. Music has a capacity to unite, too.

So this will be my Advent Calendar this year, and my Christmas. I’ll be trying to make a difference in some small way because that’s all we can really do at the moment, bring a little bit of Christmas to each other’s days.

I imagine you all might too.

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