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Copp’s Hill Moment: Christmastide and Pandemic

The hopes and fears of this past year

by Thomas F. Schiavoni

Christmas Eve will soon fall softly upon an ancient burying ground and the former tenements atop Copp’s Hill. There will be no movement, no sounds of traffic, nor the machinery of commerce at the epicenter of a major American city. There will only be empty sidewalks and streets devoid of vehicles. In this darkest of seasons, the hopes and fears of all the years have morphed from the lyrics of traditional carols into pathogens and droplets hovering within sacred spaces and contaminating the warmth of public gatherings once assembled for communal celebration.

Christmas at Copp’s Hill.

This Yuletide will definitely have a different feel to it. No Bethlehem star, but the strange conjunction of two planets not witnessed for a millennium. We will not be expecting angelic voices, but pray that there will be a respite from the sirens of a distant ambulance racing toward a downtown emergency room. The most relevant part of the Christmas story will undoubtedly be ‘The Flight into Égypt’—except that some folks will not be traveling in caravans across the Sinai Desert into the unknown. They will be racing down the expressway, and on the turnpike and interstates toward the seclusion of second homes and rentals along the coast and deep into the woodlands and mountains of New England—ahead of Herod’s advancing soldiers mounted and armed for more slaughter before there is a vaccine for pandemic and fear.

Awaiting a distant spring.

On Christmas Eve, a cluster of families in my neighborhood will be sheltering in place. We will look out and see scattered pinpricks and splashes of light from within the midnight silhouettes of darkened buildings. My wife and I will be huddled inside our home. After all, we have 300 million years of mammalian evolution to guide us by instinct in the art of survival by hibernation—warding off the sickness and malice of the past year.

We will be commemorating the birth of a child once upon a time in Bethlehem. And, not quite that miracle, but just as transformative for us, will be the arrival of a granddaughter, an infant named Maria, in a faraway land, twelve time zones removed from our dwelling.

We will reserve a special bottle of champagne for Christmas Eve as we partake in a culinary adaptation of a traditional Italian Feast of the Fishes. But first, we will invoke a special blessing in gratitude for our good health, the imminent arrival of a new life, and the possibility that the wounds of a trembling, divided nation may be healed.

A theologian, Harvey G. Cox, once observed that “to toast the integrity of the human community in a time of hatred is an act of faith.” In that spirit then, I raise my glass and wish all peace on their journey through the darkness of this season into the light of a new year.

From Boston’s North End, Thomas F. Schiavoni writes about neighborhood life, city living, and urban epiphanies. Read more of his columns by searching the tag Copp’s Hill Moment.

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