The cross : This year, families will not be able to gather around large tables at Christmas. The government recommends not to exceed six guests, not counting children, to limit the circulation of the virus. How to preserve the spirit of this small family celebration?
Jacques Arènes : The Christmas spirit is not necessarily incompatible with hardship or even some form of sadness. Previous generations know this well. It is often in difficult times that we test the strength of our bonds.
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The restrictions imposed by the pandemic can make it possible to overcome family tensions, which are quite frequent on New Years Eve, and to understand that, behind the difficulties on the surface, there is the strength of the bond. The relational winter that we are experiencing can thus make us want to make an extra effort and we may, this year, give more importance than usual to this celebration. To experience the depth of the bond is to rediscover the meaning of Christmas.
How can you reinvest in Christmas rituals when you can’t be together?
JA: We need rituals that take this distance into account, but it does not prevent the expression of compassion, tenderness and love. The fact of not being able to hug your loved ones is not an obstacle to feeling. We can see it in certain Asian cultures, for example. It is certainly not ours, but we can think of it as a kind of spiritual exercise which consists in expressing emotions without having to touch yourself.
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The physical absence can also give the opportunity to overcome a certain modesty and to say things that one did not dare to express. It’s up to everyone to find the means of expression that suits them best: a letter, a poem or a game via videoconferencing tools… This Christmas at a distance will perhaps, paradoxically, allow us to rediscover a closeness that no longer existed and to be more attentive to what the other is going through.
Christmas Mass is a highlight for Catholics. But this year, the number of people who can attend will be limited. How? ‘Or’ What live the religious dimension without this ceremony ?
JA: For some people, going to midnight mass with the family, and especially with the children, is very important, but sometimes it is more of a challenge than a religious holiday, so difficult is it to convince everyone and to keep the younger awake.
The fact that Mass is no longer an “automatic” ritual can be an opportunity to rediscover a more authentic and unique relationship to Christmas, through prayer and reading texts at home. The repetitive dimension of the rite is essential in religion, but a momentary interruption can lead to deepening what is behind the rite. Waiting and uncertainty give back all its strength to the Eucharist which, in itself, is not a reassuring rite but the expression of a mystery.
So, after the first confinement, some people told me how intense the first mass was for them. This is undoubtedly what Christians experience in countries where it is not so easy to attend a religious ceremony.