Christmas Day. A day of cultural and religious celebration for millions of people around the planet, a public holiday in many countries and an occasion for being with loved ones and for giving thanks and gifts. The 2020 version will bring all that, of course, but along with it much reflection on the state of our world.
I had not anticipated spending Christmas in a Hong Kong serviced hotel apartment, but this cursed pandemic put paid to any hopes of being with bairns and new grandbairn long ago. However, there are many worse places to be than Hong Kong, where despite a ‘fourth wave’ officially being in place, coronavirus numbers remain relatively under control (71 new cases yesterday).
Sometime in coming hours the 80 millionth COVID-19 case worldwide will be reported. And another tragic fatality will take the death toll past 1.75 million. Many of the former and some of the latter have been people you and/or I know. So this Christmas has to be a time of remembrance as well as reflection, of caution not just celebration, and most of all perhaps, of reprioritising what truly matters in life.
So when I woke this morning, my first choice of music was not a traditional carol nor seasonal tune, nor even Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart album, which nigh wrecked my four kids’ Christmas every year, so they say. It was instead a song by a name I doubt you have ever heard of, Colin Vearncombe, though you may recall his stage name, Black.
Black was an English singer-songwriter who emerged from the punk scene to become a highly popular mainstream pop figure. I use the past tense because he was killed tragically in a car crash in Cork, Ireland in January 2016.
The song that catapulted him to fame was called Wonderful Life (introduced to me by long-time Aer Rianta International-Middle East boss John Sutcliffe), a song Black explained memorably in an interview. “By the end of 1985 I had been in a couple of car crashes, my mother had a serious illness, I had been dropped by a record company, my first marriage went belly-up and I was homeless. Then I sat down and wrote this song called ‘Wonderful Life’.”
The chorus goes like this:
No need to run and hide
It’s a wonderful, wonderful life
No need to laugh and cry
It’s a wonderful, wonderful life.
Yep, that’s my Christmas number one (though, I confess in case any of my kids read this Blog, I now have the Bob Dylan Xmas album playing and I can confirm that no-one has ever wrecked ‘Little Drummer Boy’ quite so magnificently).
In front of me I have splendid desk calendar kindly send to me by Airport Authority Hong Kong General Manager of Retail Portfolio Retail & Advertising Alby Tsang. It is beautifully illustrated with paintings of the airport and of aviation.
Just looking at it makes me pine to get on a flight again. And flipping to the final page and seeing the 2022 calendar really cheered me for Christmas 2020 is also about looking forward, about imagining again the joy of being in a great airport such as Hong Kong International, of flying to a destination abroad, of discovering new places, and of meeting loved ones and business colleagues again after too long apart.
Ok, Dylan’s rendition of O Little Town of Bethlem (think of a crow with acute laryngitis) has even driven me to change music. I’ve opted for a present I bought myself, Bruce Springsteen’s majestic new album Letter to You. My favourite song on this masterpiece is called House of a Thousand Guitars. “It may be one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written. It draws on everything I’ve been trying to do for the past 50 years,” Springsteen (‘the Boss’) told Rolling Stone.
I want to close with a quotation from an unlikely sounding American website called The Way of Improvement, published by John Fea, Distinguished Professor of American History at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Listen to what he says about the song.
“It’s all about politics. It is about a politics of hope. It is about citizenship in an alternative political community that speaks power to the ‘criminal clown’ who ‘has stolen the throne’. This prophetic community is defined by friendship and fellowship and beauty and art and the search for meaning and the things that bind us together.
“Springsteen is telling us not to worry – ‘it’s alright, yeah it’s alright’. He urges us to keep announcing this community of hope from the small town bars and the large stadiums, or wherever you have a platform and voice.
Right now we ‘tally’ our ‘wounds and scars’, but we belong to a place ‘where the music never ends’.
That sentiment seems singularly appropriate for how I feel this Christmas Day as I ponder the year ahead and gaze at Alby’s calendar with a mix of nostalgia and anticipation.
Our travel retail community too is defined by friendship and fellowship and though it has not been stolen by a ‘criminal clown’ (an apt description of a soon to be departed US President), it has been savaged by a pandemic. But those wounds and scars will heal. For, hard though it might be to believe it sometimes, it remains a wonderful life.