Religion has not had a good run of it this year. Churches have not been able to hold services, and outdoor gatherings have been limited through social distancing regulations.
More importantly, in the face of a virus that has infected about 80 million people, and whose death toll is heading to two million, many people have had their faith tested to the limit. Some, having had their habitual modes of worship disrupted, have sought solace from the myriad of online spiritual offerings, forming new virtual communities of worship to replace the physical communion which has been denied societies around the globe.
It is likely that many small congregations whose churches have been closed will never regroup, and so the social fabric of these communities will be irrevocably altered. The Covid-19 pandemic has precipitated what has been called a “religious recession”, amplified by the socio-economic devastation which has shattered the world in 2020.
In many countries, notably those such as the United Kingdom which have reimposed harsh lockdowns, people have desperately looked forward to celebrating Christmas, but now even this simple but meaningful ritual has been denied them because the limit on numbers means that families will not be able to get together. This seems a cruel culmination of a miserable year, and for the millions who have suffered increased mental anguish, there will be no small comfort in sight.
But as Covid-19 has reconfigured office work, it was inevitable that it should reconfigure rituals as profound as religious ones. Christmas is one of those rituals which is important not only spiritually, but for families for whom it is an opportunity to gather and bond. Many will now have to reconfigure the day on how they pray and learn how to hold fast amid conditions of separation and extreme fluidity. No doubt, as with everything else that has been weathered this year, people will find a way to love and celebrate. Happy Christmas.