A society is nothing if it does not, at its core, have human connection. In the past two years that connection, that network of family, friends, workmates, passersby in the streets, has been tested.

It has been stretched, strained and for many, broken.

People cannot live in isolation, yet in stages and degrees of severity and duration that is what has been brought into our lives to protect the greater community from coronavirus and its bringing of illness and sometimes death.

Christmas decorations in Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall.Credit:Getty

At Christmas, the quality of human connection is reaffirmed in the gatherings of families and friends. That can be a religious celebration of Christ’s birth for everyone, but for non-Christians there are the rituals of the season. The joy of meeting and celebrating is all the more acute after their absence. If there is to be a good side effect from these past two years may it be a greater and deeper sense of what human connection means in our lives.

In 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote that “in this world nothing is certain except death and taxes”. He was speaking about the ratification of the American Constitution.

While his observation has endured for more than 200 years, there are other certainties in life to which people hold, and need. For many, one is faith. Christmas is the bedrock from which Christian faith is built.

While not everyone celebrates as a Christian, we all can celebrate Christmas’ message of hope and connection. The thread that ties a community is faith in our fellow men and women. Faith in an increasingly secular society in Australia, with an increasingly culturally diverse religious society, has broadened in scope, definition and meaning.

During the past year, The Age has documented examples of people reaching out to others who have fallen on hard times. Kindness does not shout, but speaks volumes. These stories are uplifting, such as that of Fiona Waters in Thursday’s Age. In a hard year, she finds joy in song and being part of a community of singers, the Carols by Candlelight choir. The Carols will take place on Friday night, as per tradition, at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Christmas traditionally is the brake on the hubbub of routine that was the year, where people can reflect. When the routine has been altered, that reflection takes on an alchemic element. It is both looking back on the past 12 months and looking forward. These days, however, looking forward can seem fraught with uncertainty.

Christmas can also bring into the light the plight of those who have no others, who rely on charity. A recent survey found that this time of year drew from people a despairing sense of loneliness. The Christmas spirit is alive in those who give their time to help others.

A common thread through the COVID years has been people discovering a greater appreciation of time, and how best to use it. Even when the gradual normalisation of life has seemed possible, it can be dashed on the rocks of the new variant.

It is an important perspective to keep when the number of COVID cases in NSW and Victoria is climbing rapidly. Victoria recorded 2005 cases and 10 deaths on Thursday. The daily case number hadn’t been over 2000 for two months. There are almost 15,000 cases in the state and almost 400 COVID patients are in hospital.

The Victorian government announced on Thursday that masks were now mandatory indoors, and at major events of more than 30,000 people when people were moving around. The small window of returning to the office or worksite is also now diminishing again with the government asking that people work from home. We do not know what next year will bring.

In this coronavirus calculus of uncertainty, there is solace and comfort in holding onto rituals and Christmas remains a central one. The universal hope which connects us all: peace on earth, goodwill to all.

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