I admit it: the turkey was a bit of a panic purchase. There had been an article in the news about a run on Christmas turkeys, and I found myself settling for the store brand version of a Butterball instead of something local. Now I have this 18 pound Behemoth in my freezer and a slight case of buyer’s regret. Turkey is my COVID toilet paper, apparently.
In the midst of all the trim and trappings of our big ole family Christmases, I am still inexplicably linked to the turkey dinner. To the point that I, being the least of those qualified to do so, have taken on responsibility for this yummiest aspect of our yuletide celebration. I trim and cook the turkey, open the can of cranberry jelly, mash the potatoes and bake the yams, add a secret blend of brown sugar and local butter to the turnips, and do everything associated with Christmas dinner–except for the gravy, which seems beyond me somehow. Invariably, I’m usually completely uninterested in food after a day in the kitchen–or burnt out from school, or sick with some bug….. And yet, I want the Christmas turkey dinner, even if I would rather have a little lie down when dinner finally comes around.
It is this unjustifiable and imbecilic love of Christmas dinner that resulted in my trying to find room for an 18lb turkey in our little chest freezer.
According to my Turkey Research Binder–yes, it exists–we typically do a 12 or 13lb turkey for our family, including my in-laws. That gives us two full dinners, plus leftover sandwiches and one hash brunch. In 2004, we did a 16-pounder because we were having some students over who had no particular home for Christmas–like ourselves, Christmasing in Vancouver, far away from home. So the 18-pound pre-dinner beast in the ice chest is something of an outlier for our little family.
I justified it at the time–standing above a pile of frozen birds at the store, wondering if this would be my last chance–because we wanted to have a small handful of international students in this year. It has been a really tough year for students from abroad, as they have flown to our island, isolated for 2 weeks, and then went to a dorm room where they had food delivered and took classes online. What a terrible, terrible experience for their first year in Canada, for their first semester at college. This is how I justified upping our turkeyness by 50% this year: hospitality to stray students. After all, Christmas seems like a good time of year to welcome pilgrims.
Alas, this is not the year. Because of strict pandemic-response measures–and a handful of other factors–Prince Edward Island has not been devastated by COVID-19. The majority of our cases have come from people who travel–folks working elsewhere but living in PEI, folks coming to PEI to do the low-skilled and high-tech jobs in our economy, and folks bringing us the food and supplies that we need. The Island is at the end of the supply chain and in a wintry region. If we want citrus and bandaids and flour, we rely on truckers to bring us the goods. But for the most part, Islanders have obeyed self-isolation and stay-at-home orders, and there has been no community COVID spread.
Until there was. In the midst of spiking cases in much of Canada this November, and as our nearest neighbours were battling local outbreaks, Prince Edward Island had its first community spread cases–including an unknown-index case. As a result, in early December, we went into a 2-week circuit-breaker response of limited movement and targeted testing. Intriguingly, it seems to have worked–and the hundreds of students who have returned home for the holidays have followed the rules. Our social restrictions have softened in a bit of Christmastide public health generosity, but we are still in a situation where our chief doctor has told us to limit contacts.
And thus, a pretty empty table and an 18lb turkey.
I am disappointed. Frankly, though, we really have it better than most. We can visit with my wife’s parents and my sister’s family–though I’m deeply sad that my niece and nephew and their family from the next province over are not part of our Christmas season, as they have been every year we have been in the same time zone. I support our partial lockdown measures, knowing that in many parts of the world, these are not partial measures. In so many places, people are alone this Christmas because their family is far away or local cases are spiking–or, frankly, because this disease that has killed a confirmed 1.7m people, including 320,000 Americans has also killed their partner, parent, child, or friend.
It has been a long winter, this 20th year of the new millennium. There is something about Narnia‘s century-long freeze that makes me want to connect it to this year of health crises, social distance, travel shutdowns, and economic hardships. The tyranny is of a different form–not a single dictator who bends all of the Narnian woods and citizenry to a single self-serving vision, but a haunting threat, a destroying fire, and the variously successful attempts to make things a little less terrible. COVID-19 is like a tyrant: cruel, oppressive, despotic, and arbitrary master. It has frozen our world in place, making us afraid of shadows, wary of secret police forces, and suspicious of neighbours.
Unlike Narnia’s long winter, though, there are no whispers of divine intervention, no folk prophecies that we can count on. A little knowledge of history and a modicum of faith in our technological systems leads me to suspect that Christmas 2021 will not be like this year’s solitary affair. It may take a couple of years before the globe is spinning again, but I have some hope in a recovery. Though I lack the security that faithful Narnians have to let me know for sure, I have enough self-delusion and trust in humanity that it will be better soon. Or soonish.
I must say, though, thinking about Narnia, that I admire the pluck of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Over a century of snow and ice–no running streams and buds in spring since their grandparents’ days–and yet the Beavers are full of spirit. They defy the tyrant in myriad ways. They are part of a revolutionary movement to defy the royal pretender, Jadis, by smuggling the true heirs to the throne across the countryside. Beyond that, they are clearly part of an underground trade system with Archenland to the south. They have hops for beer and fresh potatoes–two ingredients impossible to keep for many winters–as well as technologies like a sewing machine. Rather than depressed by years of solitude and cruelty, the Beavers are brave and determined–with some degree of self-deprecation in the bargain. When I read about the years that people have spent suffering in wartime and periods of plague–or the so-called long winter behind the iron curtain–I think of the plucky, brave, revolutionary Beavers in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
With the Beavers in mind–and with an 18-pound turkey now thawing in the fridge–I have determined to raise my spirits a bit. I think of the closing words of Charles Dickens’ iconic moral tale, A Christmas Carol:
And it was always said of [Scrooge], that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!
If I can transform the words for this long winter, I have determined to keep COVID well! I admitted in a previous post that the months of full lockdown were a struggle for me. I have determined during this period of renewed circuit breakers and community shutdowns to be brave like the Beavers–not just brave in the face of danger, but brave in the face of drudgery and want and a yearning for something better. I hope in this season to look not so much at the empty chairs at the dinner table, the unbridged distance between me and the ones I long to see, and the plans of career and adventure that were dashed to the ground in 2020, a year I won’t forget. Instead, I am determined to count my blessings, to bear up against the unknown, and to live in a way that challenges the title of this article.
After all, think of the extra leftovers I will have this year!