The festive season is hard upon us once again; our second under pandemic conditions. Kingston now holds first place in a contest no one wants to win, with the highest rate of COVID-19 in the country; up a step from last week, when we were merely the highest in the province.
It’s a little hard to feel festive while sporting an ever-so-attractive N-95 mask (I won’t be wearing my bright red sequined holiday mask this year) every time I leave the house. Those masks may keep us safe, but they sure are not comfortable.
As we did last year, we are finding ways to spend time with people we care about that keeps us safe and within the rules.
We made a trip to Hamilton earlier in the month to see my partner’s son and his kids, which was an improvement over last year’s side of the 401 gift exchange. My son and I, in lieu of the holiday movie we like to see at this time of year (the Screening Room has closed temporarily “due to the risks and uncertainties surrounding Kingston’s Omicron outbreak”), went for a long walk on his farm earlier this week. My partner’s daughter joined us for dinner another day.
We plan to spend this evening with my daughter, her partner and her two sons; but we are all doing rapid tests before we gather, just to be on the safe side. Tomorrow, we will see our closest friends for dinner; all of us triple vaxxed and generally cautious in our socializing.
The year with no cookies
In October, I made my annual spiced Jamaican fruitcake, wrapping it in rum-soaked cheesecloth to season for two months, but it’s in early December that I usually get serious about baking and cooking for the festive season: digging my hands deep into flour, sugar, spices, chocolate and dried fruits to make cookies, cakes and candy and trying out new recipes for other food gifts.
This year, I decided to book a week off at the beginning of the month so I could really dedicate myself to this enjoyable task instead of crowding it in before and after work responsibilities each day. My lists were ambitious and included the usual array of sweets: ginger snaps, fig newtons, cherry shortbreads, dark chocolate almond bark, pfeffernusse, mincemeat tarts, stollen. Rosemary spiced mixed nuts, variously seasoned salts, a hot chili condiment, dukkah, cranberry liqueur and vanilla extract all appeared on my non-sweet food gift list.
However, a series of unanticipated family and work challenges interfered with my well-laid plans, the week off turned into a few hours off here and there, and not a single cookie emerged from my kitchen. I did manage to make some of the non-sweets on my list as well as stollen, which I think may have been my best effort to date. I put it down to music: usually, I give up before I have kneaded the dough for the required 15 minutes, but this year I kneaded as I sang along to The Highwomen’s self-titled CD, and the time flew by.
As both winter and wave four (or is it wave five?) began to surround us earlier this month, I found it increasingly difficult to motivate myself to do much more than the bare minimum: my job and a few tasks around the house.
Last year at this time, I walked almost every day. This year, the aforementioned walk with my son was my only one in many weeks. I had a couple of craft projects on the go in December 2020; not a one this year. Instead of making my own festive season urn of greens and wreath for the front door as I did last year, I bought pre-made versions, simply adding some lights to each of them.
My partner and I hit perhaps our all-time pandemic low when, earlier this week, we watched four disaster movies in two evenings; none memorable enough for me to even recall their names.
Two days ago, I decided it was time to force myself out of this pandemic slough of despond; mostly because I was bored with myself. I decorated our festive tree, spent an inordinate amount of time stringing tiny lights around the house and began preparing food for our Saturday feast. I made holiday crackers to pull with our friends, stuffing them with small treats, while listening to Over the Rhine’s beautiful album, Blood Oranges in the Snow.
I was not feeling brave/foolish enough to engage in one of my favourite festive season activities — smoking a joint and wandering through the mall just to look at the people – but I did mask up and take a walk along Princess Street looking in shop windows and at other shoppers.
Much as the current situation, to quote the PM, “sucks,” we have little to complain about, really. We’ll enjoy good meals, good company and good times over the next few weeks, appreciating how fortunate we are compared to so many others.