Arna Brown Morgan | Christmas is coming, let us be safe
I love Christmas. It’s more like I adore Christmas and have done so my entire life for as far back as memory serves. I am a social person, and Christmas fulfils my mothering urge in every way. I love shopping Christmas sales for bargain gifts for my family and friends. I love decorating the Christmas tree, cooking Christmas ham, and midnight church on Christmas Eve! I love Christmas breakfast with my kids and even clearing up the wrapping paper after gifts are opened. There is nothing I look forward to more than the many luncheons, dinners, and family and friend gatherings that take place. It always means I gain weight but in a totally enjoyable fashion.
Don’t take my word for it! Just ask my siblings! My parents had an arrangement with our Aunt Gwen to bring in ‘Santa’ items for the Christmas tree (yes, Santa Claus was still relevant then!). We lived in Runaway Bay, St Ann, and Aunt Gwen lived in New Kingston. Well, we’re driving out of town and I’m age 12. That means I know Santa is Aunt Gwen! We are at 6 Miles, and I seem to be the only one who has recognised that Aunt Gwen got in the car with only her overnight bag. Really? Me to family quite loudly: “I wonder what Santa’s going to give me for Christmas?” Aunt Gwen to my father: “George! Turn around the car! I left something at home!” Yes, that was me. I saved Christmas for our family!
But back to Christmas 2020. How do we make it happen safely? Is a version of Grand Market even possible? Can we do the massive pre-Christmas store sales safely? The business world must be gnashing their teeth! This is when liquor sells, when people bake Christmas pudding, and generally, it is the time when many groups of people with large and small businesses make money to help bank roll the coming year. So how can we help ensure that this Christmas is not a gift to COVID-19? It’ll take both planning and common sense!
Businesses: I’ve noticed that some retail stores are advertising the ‘Black Friday’ sales to last longer than the weekend. This is good! Black Friday sales should be for an entire week. This would serve to prevent the massive sales crowds of mainly women shoppers who race from store to store trying to visit all locations on their list in two days. It is quite possible that with this forethought, sales will actually be greater and safer! Businesses could issue free disposable masks at the store door and institute more frequent hand sanitising at the entry points to different departments within a store.
Grand Market Christmas Eve: Crowd control is again necessary! A larger area could be approved for use by the powers that be. In Kingston, the Half-Way Tree-Constant Spring Grand Market could be allowed to extend its margins linearly, with booths located at 6-foot distances. The monitoring security force could offer free government or private industry-funded masks to the public and manage crowd control. There could be Grand Markets at more than one location to thin out the crowd at any one place. If Christmas Grand Market cannot be planned with crowd control, then sadly, we shouldn’t hold this potential mega superspreader event.
PLAN ON A QUIET CHRISTMAS
Christmas dinner: We could try to keep this to the usual family members and a small number of close friends who we interact with regularly. Christmas dinner 2020 is no time to expose your household to people who you haven’t seen in a long time. Christmas dinner is often the place where we see our country or town cousins and aunts and uncles and friends from overseas returning to celebrate the Christmas season. Honestly, we need to refrain from doing this for 2020! Look at the spacing in your homes, and if possible, plan to eat out doors. COVID-19 and small enclosed spaces multiplied in homes across Jamaica is a real disaster awaiting us! Serious crowd control is needed. Have compassion on our older family members and plan small!
Better still, plan on a quiet Christmas with less shopping, less eating out, and more quality time to make it special at home for our children and elderly. Drinking sorrel and rum punch and eating home-baked pudding or delicious cornmeal pone as we sing Christmas hymns and carols is something to look forward to!
Church: Christmas is sometimes the only time some people (usually some men) will go to church with their families. Well, they have permission to stay home this year! Nevertheless, church pastors need to plan for the Christmas services in particular. Religious services should not be prolonged beyond one and a half hours, and social distancing should be observed as well as mask wearing and hand sanitising. One extra service for Christmas Day could be planned and advertised to decrease overcrowding and improve the social distancing at the services.
Restaurants: They could advertise Christmas take out brunches arrayed in wicker gift baskets. This would defray the temptation to overcrowd the Christmas brunches and lunches, which are yet another source of big-income earners and quite likely to also serve as epicentres of COVID-19 spread! The popular eateries and restaurants could pre-advertise and promote pre-booking. This would allow them to plan indoor/outdoor seating arrangements, allowing for COVID-19 protocols.
Beaches and rivers: Opening beaches and rivers to public gatherings on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day would be disastrous (I’m just saying)! As they have been in past COVID-19 times. They should be closed for these holidays as has been the plan in recent times. Instead, they could promote the holiday season, generally. Many families do have some down time over other days during the Christmas season. They could promote a sale on jerk pork or add ‘sand clowns’ or horseback riding as a Christmas feature on the beaches. That is, they could promote an ongoing feature over the entire season, which would bring families to their gates over the entire season, just not on the special days, which would serve again as superspreader events!
With planning and forethought, we can experience a joyous Christmas season without endangering each other and without holding superspreader events, which will make COVID-19 numbers surge not only for people infected, but for deaths. We cannot allow our Christmas to be the harbinger of death. Our government and business executives can plan thoughtfully for the coming Christmas season. With care and with a measure of discipline, we can have our cake and eat it! Imagine that!
- Dr Arna Brown Morgan is a family physician, regional treasurer of the Caribbean College of Family Physicians, and past associate lecturer in the family medicine programme at The University of the West Indies. Send feedback to email@example.com.