DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
I just finished reading “The Plague” (in translation) by Albert Camus. I didn’t consciously do it as a preparation for writing this, but it had that salutary effect. I say salutary because it’s not an easy or pleasurable read, whether you happen to be in a pandemic or not. But it does give a lot of interesting insights into our current situation. If you can’t spare the time to read it, Wikipedia has a
thorough synopsis and analysis. Scores of articles have been written recently about Camus’s “Plague,” which is on trend right now, but here are two of the best: a piece focusing on present-day Algeria and the activists there at bbc.com/news/world-africa-53946103 and a piece making comparisons between the plague and COVID-19 responses at city-journal.org/albert-camus-the-plague.
There is only one holiday that occurs during the action of “The Plague”—All Souls Day, where the Algerian French Catholics, who comprise most of the characters in the story, traditionally visit their ancestors’ and loved ones’ graves in the cemetery outside of the city walls. In one of the novel’s most chilling and distressing parts, Camus describes the impact on this cemetery of the plague, where at the height of it, which occurred around September through November, bodies were being dumped into deep lime pits. And anyway, the cemetery was off-limits to ordinary citizens, and the train that ran to it carried nothing but corpses.
Sorry to scare you! Our Dia de Los Muertos was nothing like that, nor will our Thanksgiving, Diwali, Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day or Hmong or other Asian lunar New Year’s be anything like that grim. One advertising wag has renamed Black Friday to Bleak Friday, but all that has really happened is that, while, yes, the business picture overall is pretty bleak, with too many going out of business, the surviving ones will still have sales, but a lot of the actual selling will happen online.
In deliberate (rather than accidental) preparation for this writing, as I always do, I scanned the internet for details about plays, comedy, concerts, festivals and markets around Christmas and other winter holidays. I expected that everything that isn’t outdoors would be online, and that some things would simply be canceled, but I was dismayed that there was so little information about anything, and what there was often seemed incomplete or tentative. Although dismayed at first, my growing attitude of stoic fatalism then took over, and I saw the bright side. As with goats in Welsh towns and porpoises in the Venice canals, a partial cessation in the hectic tide of human activity can be healing, even to ourselves.
So, one approach to observing holidays (or holy days) while not going out much would be to turn to older traditions: intimate gatherings of your household only, DIY instead of shopping, eliminating waste instead of conspicuous consumption, and holding your distant loved ones in your heart instead of in an actual hug at the airport.
Another way is to shop, but more consciously, to visit virtually, to feed hungry people instead of your family who have plenty. These can be seen as the monastic and the householder ways, and as I have observed before, they are not as mutually exclusive as dogmatists would have it. You can do a bit of both.
How to consume more consciously? Buy local, buy green, buy simple, buy healthful, buy with social justice in mind. (I will list some ideas at the end.) How to find out about alternative traditions, DIY, contemplative practices? Here are some suggestions:
• Meditation courses and apps, too many to list, some are free, some are not.
• Just walk. The easiest, cheapest form of meditation, but so helpful.
• Cooking and baking, preserving, and other kitchen wizardry is very satisfying. Sourdough baking, making pickles, kombucha,
or yogurt ferments, or fancy jams and jellies, are just a few of the popular pursuits right now, and very apropos for the holidays.
• Obviously, making decorations at home rather than buying them is fun, especially with kids. (The Julmarknad at ASI, mentioned below, has some inspirations.)
• Needlecrafts! If you’re already doing it, no need to preach to the converted. If you always meant to start, maybe now’s the time. (Check out Steven B for lessons.)
• Make your own music. Missing big Christmas concerts? Start learning to play an instrument and you’ll be so busy you won’t even notice. If you already play or sing, put on a Facebook Live or Zoom concert for your friends and family.
And now for the conscientious ethical shopping ideas. A lot of these come from previous neighborhood focus articles. (Sorry we didn’t have space for all of them!)
• Kitchenware from Flotsam+Fork (local)
• Greeting cards or lunch bags from Doodle Bird (local)
• Fabrics from Quilt Shop Co-op (local, simple)
• Healing items and resources from Present Moment (local, healthful)
• Art from Ricardo Levins Morales or other local artists (local, social justice)
• Indoor plants from Mother Earth Gardens or Fractal Cactus (local, green, simple)
• Zero Waste bulk edibles or sustainable personal care from Tare Market (local, green)
• Glass ornaments from Glass Endeavors (local)
• Bicycles or accessories from The Hub, Angry Catfish, Full Cycle (local, green)
• Coffee, beans or ground, (delivered) from Peace Coffee (local, green, social justice)
• Bread and other baked goods (delivered) from Laune Bread (local, healthful, green)
• New books from Birchbark, Black Garnet, Boneshaker, May Day Books (local, social justice)
• New or used books from Moon Palace Books, Dreamhaven, Irreverent Bookworm, Once Upon A Crime (local)
• Used books from The Book House in Dinkytown, James and Mary Laurie, Midway Rare and Used Books (local, green)
• Arts and media from The Art Shoppe (local, social justice)
• Online cooking class from your favorite food co-op (local, simple, healthful)
• Online exercise classes from your favorite health club (simple, healthful)
• Paid meditation app for their phone (simple, healthful)
Here are the actual entertainment, festivals and markets we were able to find. Note that things seem to be rolling out at the last minute in these frantic times, so keep an eye out on Facebook, Eventbrite, city listings and other sites for things that just hadn’t been announced in time.
Markets and festivals
Holidazzle is all virtual this year. Actual schedule due out in early November at holidazzle.com.
European Christmas Market in St. Paul, usually at the Landmark Center, is also virtual.stpaulchristmasmarket.org. Similarly, No Coast Craftorama, the big market at Midtown Global Exchange in early December, says they’re “taking a break” but offer a list of vendors here: http://www.nocoastcraft.com/2020-info
MN Christmas Market is happening in person at Quincy Hall. You can get tickets for $1 at Eventbrite.com, which will limit guests in the 1,000-capacity hall to 250 at a time. All entry fees and 7 percent of sales benefit Hospitality House Youth Development. See their Facebook page for more. The Holiday Craft Fair in Roseville, to benefit the Harriet Alexander Nature Center, is 100 percent virtual, but all I can tell you is that their virtual portal site will be “up” on Nov. 27.
The Mill City Farmers Market is still having a limited number of indoor winter markets. Nov. 21, Dec. 12, and Jan. 9 (2021) are planned. Midtown Global Market will host the Green Gifts Fair Nov. 19 through 22. A little bit of live activity but all streamed; find out more at doitgreen.org/green-gifts-fair.
Julmarknad, the American Swedish Institute’s usual Yule offering, is a mix of outdoor and virtual. Go to asimn.org/calendar and advance to November and December for individual events, which run Nov. 12 to Dec. 20. Finally, another very local tradition, the Gingerbread Wonderland at Norway House on Franklin, is also using Eventbrite.com to carefully space out attendance and keep people safe. Small family groups are allowed but all have to be “ticketed.” Snacks and warm drinks included.
The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus is offering a short but sweet thing called “Holiday Hotdish.” (Search for that on Facebook to find more.) It combines seasonal choral offerings with a baking show. Season ticket holders also get a mask and a cookbook.
The Minnesota Orchestra and the Minnesota Opera are both offering streams, both live and recorded, for free or cheap. See their websites for evolving details. Cantus is presenting “Lessons and Carols for Our Times,” loosely based on the UK’s King’s College Cambridge’s perennial program “A Festival in Nine Lessons and Carols.” Tickets go on sale on their website Nov. 27.
“A Christmas Carol” is being presented as a livestream by the Guthrie Theater. From $10 for a single-use household stream, tickets on sale at their website now, streaming begins Dec. 19. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (not local, but I could find no Nutcrackers this year!) has All Access streaming, donation requested. Go to YouTube and search for Alvin Ailey. And this is not local nor even that famous but looks awesome. Actor’s Theater Direct of Louisville, Ky. is offering an online series called “COVID Classics—One-act Plays” that includes works by Apollonaire, Chekhov, Pirandello and Strindberg, plus “Plague of Athens” by Thucydides. actorstheatre.org/shows/2020-2021/covid-classics/