This year, most of the families do not celebrate Christmas according to the traditions that they are accustomed to. Still, how could we have a holy celebration, even if physical encounter is not possible? How could we involve the aged, more isolated family members? How could we bring peace, quietness into this year’s peculiar holiday season? – Dr. György Purebl, Professor, Head of the Institute of Behavioural Sciences at Semmelweis University provided useful advice for these questions.
“Even though this pandemic situation is not ideal for celebrating, or for being able to sit around the table with the big family, yet we do not have to renounce encounters and conversations providing intimacy. This is a sad situation, and also a test for us how to fill this year’s Christmas celebration with a different sort of content and to find the connection to one another in it instead of rejoicing. Even if we cannot eat, drink and laugh together on a physical level, but we can still stay together virtually”, said Dr. György Purebl.
The head of the Institute of Behavioural Sciences encourages everyone not to be sad or complain about the fact that this Christmas cannot be similar to the previous celebrations, but instead we should all make use of the opportunities provided by the 21st century to spend time online, to play together or to talk to each other. Isolation has to be undertaken physically, but not virtually. It is very important to continuously keep in contact with each other, especially with those aged, and ill relatives or family members who are isolated from the world in the current situation, much more than we are.
According to Dr. Purebl, it is also very important to plan these online meetings in advance, similarly to a physical meeting: these should have a defined content, time, time period, and we should think about what to say to the other person or what to ask from him/her. Let’s make a conscious effort so that our virtual meetings also have a ritual, a depth. Instead of baking walnut and poppy seed rolls or cooking fish soup, now we should invest more energy in filling the virtual meetings with content – he recommends. Based on the experiences of the first wave of the epidemic, it is evident that those aged people who had thought earlier that they were not able to learn how to use the internet or social media, are now doing very well in it – Dr. Purebl said.
A lot of creativity can be brought to personal meetings meanwhile we still keep the distance from each other – Dr. Purebl emphasizes. As an example, he mentions that we can go to the grandmother’s window to give a serenade or to have a walk together. The professor also calls our attention to the fact that we should actively initiate telephone conversations instead of providing an opportunity to aged relatives to be able to reach us. Based on experiences, elderly people long for conversations, but they do not want to disturb, and not all of them can use the modern technical devices properly, which inhibits them in trying to contact others. It is not enough if we are available, we have to be active and initiate personal meetings or conversations via the phone or on the internet with isolated family members. Besides just accepting that this Christmas is different, we should find out how to make the celebration good and intimate – Dr. Purebl points out.
The professor encourages hospitalized patients, recovering patients and their relatives to keep contact with each other on the phone, since this substitutes personal meetings to a certain extent and supports the recovery of the patients. Based on some research results, it turned out that patients recovered from COVID-19 often shows the symptoms of anxiety, trauma and the likelihood of panic attacks and depression increases. However, this does not only happen to patients, but can also happen to relatives around a COVID-19 patient or among the COVID-19 patient care personnel.
“COVID is a community crisis, since people are sympathetic, therefore it is not only the patient, who is affected by the disease, but the caring relatives as well. Every big epidemic is a crisis, but we are not accustomed to such a situation, since there has not been a pandemic in Europe for 102 years. However, in the past eight months, we had the opportunity to learn a lot about how to live with the presence of coronavirus, a lot of good solutions were found how to minimize the negative effects”, Dr. Purebl said.
Most of the people have a spiritual dimension in his/her life, which intensifies in such emergencies or during the Christmas celebrations. This is not necessarily manifested in being religious, it can be the faith in the essence of life or in a future purpose. It is worthwile to devote as much space for this in our lives as possible, yet it is also important not to force our own spirituality on others – Dr. Purebl said.
The professor is hopeful that families and individuals will all gain strength from this difficult situation, and it will turn out that Christmas can be enjoyable and meaningful even if people are not spending time together on the physical level. The celebration of love may get back its intimacy, and we learn that it is not about buying things and consuming. The Christmas in 2021 will be even more enjoyable if we manage to build these insights into next year’s celebration.
Photo: Attila Kovács – Semmelweis University
Translation: Katalin Illés-Romhányi