City of David

I had a brainwave in the shower Christmas Eve morning. It had been building for a while, I think, but I was humming Joni Mitchell’s “River” and remembering how I played it for colleagues a couple of weeks previous on a semester-end Zoom social. I work with the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK at Cardiff University, and many of my colleagues and our students are Muslim. Easy assumptions about Christmas are therefore suspect, but it’s not a matter of rejection. My friend and co-lecturer Mansur Ali, for example, gives an annual sermon about the nativity and the importance of Jesus in Islam.

Nonetheless, I didn’t think that “O Holy Night” would be the right one to bust out. And puerile commercial Christmas songs like “Jingle Bells” just grind in the annoying dominance of the season with none of the spiritual uplift. Well, “River” is the silver tuna, then. Christmas-adjacent, and pretty besides. One of my students even beckoned her mum to join the Zoom call to hear.

Photo by Katie Munnik

So now we’re all locked down again for Christmas. The governments at Westminster and the Senedd really mishandled the messaging for this season. They devised a dubious pretext for safe family gatherings, which then required a tranche of other disruptions to school and university students so that isolation could happen in time to make these gatherings “safe”. I personally thought this was a bad idea, but the stakes are low for me anyways because my family is all back in Canada; we’ve been used to being just the five of us for the holidays for many years.

I’m not a Grinch, though, and I’m sympathetic to the desire of those whose grannies and aunties and cousins and such are close. I’m also a pragmatist, and I know that many, many British people were going to do it anyway. But when the weight of the bad-ideaness crushed even the bumbling optimism of Boris Johnson, who redrafted people’s plans with less than a week to go, even I felt angry and dismal.

That was the moment the ukulele brainwave should have landed, but it took a few days.

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