By Ian Pattison

Well, that’s not the way it was supposed to be. The finest Christmas tradition of all went out the window Friday as families were kept apart by a virus that’s doing its best to mess with our minds as well as our bodies.

We cling to every bit of news that suggests we’re overcoming this pandemic and lament every uptick in case numbers. As of Sunday the District Health Unit was reporting 95 active cases and 16 deaths.

We communicate in a strange language we’d never heard of a year ago, yet one that everyone understands. Social distancing. Contact tracing. PPE. Surge. Superspreader.

We Zoom (is Facetime now passé?) instead of meeting face to face because to do so would be to endanger those with whom we most want to be face to face. It’s an odd situation to be sure.

And yet there are things to be thankful for. Among the gifts that were received on Christmas Day was the gift of time. Time was perhaps the best thing about the worst year ever.

Think back, pre-COVID, when our lives were largely dictated by schedules and situations and priorities, real and imagined, that left us short of time all the time. Rushing here, hurrying there, never enough time to spend on any one thing let alone the things that matter.

Well, now we’ve got time, plenty of it, though spare a prayer for health care personnel run off their feet, working overtime to keep up with COVID on top of the needs of every other patient whose diseases aren’t patient.

The rest of us are forced by viral danger to mask up, do the bare minimum out and about, then scurry back to the safety of homes that have become sanctuaries. Compared with every front-line worker out there, being homebound is a blessing, not a curse.

Chores long put off have become welcome distractions from the news of the day. Summer DIY projects were so popular they left lumber yards short of wood. Rooms relegated to storing our “stuff” were cleaned out and turned into offices to work from home. If you still haven’t done it, well, there’s your New Year’s resolution.

Contact with long-lost friends and relatives that somehow wasn’t important last year was gradually resumed with charming results. ‘I’d forgotten why I like that person so much.’ Heck, we’d even welcome time with our own Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Who knew that baking was so much fun -- as long as you could find yeast at the grocery store. Speaking of stores, wasn’t it a treat to not trudge the hot, crowded malls?

Christmas interruptus featured another development this year, one of those curve balls that no one saw coming. Four members of the Church of Satan asked Thunder Bay city council to reconsider allowing a Catholic fraternal organization to install a Nativity scene in Connaught Square, which isn’t a square at all. It’s a triangle where the biblical manger has been a Christmas fixture for 65 years.

Thunder Bay is made up of more than just Christians, say the Satanists, and so rather than allow the Knights of Columbus to erect the creche de noel, public spaces should be “kept religiously neutral,” they say in a letter to council.

Well, except that Christmas is the most beloved of all holidays in more than 160 countries and the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth is at the heart of it. Despite what you may or may not believe, it is asking a bit much to force the vast majority to give up a familiar tradition that, incredible as it seems to some, gives strength and hope to many.

Instead, Satanists might ask the council for permission to install their own symbol someplace. In Chicago, the local Satanic Temple puts on display a "Snaketivity" sculpture that depicts a hand holding an apple wrapped by a snake. It sits at the Illinois statehouse alongside a Christmas tree, Nativity scene, and a menorah.

Thunder Bay, too, could celebrate Santa and Satan. And any other religion’s holiday symbol. Surely there is room for Judaism’s Star of David, Islam’s Crescent Moon, or the Dharmachakra with its roots in both Budhism and Hinduism. The “Snaketivity” would be a harder sell but that’s why we elect politicians to make the hard decisions.

Ironically, the Church of Satan, established in San Francisco in 1966 -- “Year One to them” -- does not believe in the Devil. Its current High Priest, Peter H. Gilmore, describes its members as “skeptical atheists.” They believe in Satan as derived from the Hebrew word for “adversary.” They’re contrarians, hence the Nativity challenge.

The church’s website says that it is “openly dedicated to the acceptance of Man’s true nature — that of a carnal beast, living in a cosmos that is indifferent to our existence.” So, if that’s your thing, there are at least four others locally who share it.

We got another gift this year in the form of the U.S. presidential election that saw Democrat Joe Biden beat the lying pants off Republican President Donald Trump, an outcome cheered the world over.

Notice how we don’t feel the need to pay attention to Trump anymore? The soon-to-be ex-president has quickly become a non-entity and not a moment too soon for our addled brains.

As we await president-elect Biden, president-reject Trump is still trying to mess with the system that elected him (just not a second time) and his legacy of mind-bending truthlessness and willful manipulation of the worst human tendencies will persist for a while yet. Trumpers are nothing if not determined to be difficult.

He’s still pardoning his crooked cronies and beating the dead horse of electoral fraud. But that orange face, silly pompadour and inane theories on things he knows nothing about are no longer fixtures in our daily news. Oh, what a relief it is.

Even his Palm Beach neighbours want nothing more to do with him, seeking a court order forcing him to live up to an agreement he signed that he wouldn’t move to his Mar-A-Lago club estate after his term ended.

Persona non grata at home, and facing likely criminal charges once he leaves the White House, Trump and his conniving spawn may be seeking sanctuary someplace that won’t send him back. Dubai, United Arab Emirates is seen as a likely destination.

Trump recently signed an arms deal with the U.A.E., so he’s in President Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s good graces. The emirate is a Russian ally where Trump can relax with his pal, Putin. It has golf courses where the notorious game cheat can kick his balls from the sand dune traps. Dubai has all the gauche glitz of the Trumps’ Manhattan apartment. It’s a tax haven, which suits Trump’s habits, and it has no extradition treaty with the United States. It’s perfect.

Book a flight now, Trumps, and good riddance. The Grinch who tried and failed to steal an election and then our Christmas cheer will have conniptions trying to escape the long arm of U.S. law that will surely be extra-persistent in his case.

This new season of Trump TV will be the gift that keeps on giving. And we can look away anytime we want to.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs. 

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