2020 is a year of disappointment. it was a year we dreamt of, a year that marks the beginning of a century from ‘Golden 20s’ which we longed to return to. But instead of any golden glimmers, it brought with it coronavirus, economic recession and much despair to individuals. We may not have big Christmas celebrations with our families and friends, and certainly clubbing is a big no, but there is no reason why we cannot crawl under a cosy blanket with a glass of mulled wine and a Christmassy book (which, by the way, is not written this year, which is a good starting point if you are looking for reminiscent of better times). Here, may I introduce to you two Christmas reads that will not disappoint.
The Twelve Birds of Christmas
Contrary to what the lady in Waterstones told me last year, it does not have a gripping plot, for it is not a fiction. Moss adapted the lines of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ carol as the foci of the twelve chapters – grey partridges, turtle doves, domestic chickens, blackbirds, yellowhammers, geese, mute swans, nightjars, cranes, black grouse, sandpipers and woodpeckers. Despite not being a Biology person, I enjoyed reading about the habitat of the fauna and the origins of the folklore. Particularly compelling is the association of turtledoves with fidelity and loyalty. It brings joy to my heart learning that the ‘turtle’ in ‘turtledove’ is a representation of the ‘soft, somnolent and repetitive “tur-tur” call’ of the male turtledove. It is heart-breaking, rather than ‘light-hearted’, as termed by Moss himself, to learn how the species are under the threat of extinction, at least in Britain, because of global warming, deforestation, the industrialisation of farming and hunting which are induced by humans. Maybe the most shocking and upsetting piece of information is that as with other species such as partridges, they were easily spotted in Britain just a century ago, but because of increasingly selfish human behaviour that is short-sighted and neglectful of the wellbeing of other inhabitants on earth, the bird is rarely seen in Britain nowadays. It comes to me as an eloquent warning against self-pity in these turbulent and ‘unprecedented’ times as a result of coronavirus – for years, more species have suffered a larger existential crisis that is either overlooked or spurned.
A Christmas Carol
How can a Christmas come by without Dicken’s classic novel, A Christmas Carol? The novel has always been more than a mere happily-ever-after tale; it is a prompt for introspection and awareness of our privileges and most of all, a call for charity and thankfulness. No matter whether we believe in fate and karma in life after death, going along Ebenezer Scrooge’s physical journey with three ghosts and his psychological journey of self-awareness culminated in an epiphany act as a warning against selfishness and pettiness. Alongside as a critique of the upper and middle classes of society, Dicken’s novel may be read in a personal level, encouraging understanding of wider social issues such as poverty and poor living conditions, and inviting us to take pains to reflect on our own attitude towards these issues. Most of all, A Christmas Carol is a vivid reminder that not everyone can enjoy a wonderful, grand Christmas, perhaps impeded by financial difficulties and poor family relations. We are thus reminded of the importance to be aware and grateful for what we have, instead of what we do not possess, and always be ready to extend a helping hand to the less fortunate.
At first glance, the two books may have little in common other than sharing the theme of Christmas, but upon closer scrutiny, one comes to the painful epiphany that life will never be perfect. Although Dicken’s novel ends with a ‘happily-ever-after’ reconciliation between the once money-minded Scrooge and his employees and Tiny Tim, it is only possible because of the horrors brought by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. In real life, the year 2020 is certainly not, and neither will 2021 be perfect, for wider social and climatic problems cannot be resolved in a day. However, this does not stop us from being grateful for the deeds of human kindness, be they tiny or huge, and marvel at the inexplicable mystery of nature as we hear birds chirp early in the morning. Just as the opportunity of redemption offered to Scrooge and the increasing awareness in and love of birds in Britain that prompted the legislation of the Wildlife & Countryside Act in 1981, there will always be hope, as epitomised by the recent success of the vaccine against Covid-19.