Last Christmas, eh? What a time to forget: plans cancelled, lonely turkeys for one – and everyone stuck indoors because of the Covid crisis. Thank goodness we have a chance to do it over, this year; to do it bigger, brighter; to be more dazzlingly sociable. Oh.
I have a bad feeling about Christmas 2021 and it’s making me shudder, because, as for so many of us, Christmas 2020 was one of the most miserable I can remember. I didn’t lose a loved one to the pandemic, for which I am of course unspeakably grateful – for families and friends of the 66,000 people or so who died of Covid in the UK in the lead-up to 2021, the Christmas period was raw and harrowing and grief-stricken, and nothing can equate to the heartbroken misery of that.
But even if we were fortunate enough not to lose someone we loved, it’s likely none of us had a very good time. My household was struck down with Covid for two weeks before Christmas Day itself, which meant we were in isolation for all but December 25 – not that it made much difference. “We’re free!” I remember crowing – only to realise that we couldn’t go anywhere or visit anybody, anyway. Plus ça change, if the current fuel crisis continues.
Like so many others, I spent Christmas 2020, for the first time in my life, completely alone with my two young children – and it was hard. Impossible, at times, to plaster a cheery smile on my face and keep the day bright and colourful for those all-important annals of childhood. I didn’t want my kids to look back at the most magical time of the year – particularly when they’re both still young enough to wholeheartedly believe in Santa – and see it stained with a shadow. Same goes for this year.
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But there was no disguising the differences last festive season, particularly when it came down to numbers. There would usually be grandparents making a fuss of us all; aunties and uncles and baby cousins to meet and to play with and entertain. As a single parent at Christmas for the very first time, in the middle of a global pandemic, I found the pressure to be “jovial Ms Claus” intense and (at times) overwhelmingly lonely.
My parents, who suddenly found themselves facing the prospect of a turkey for two (rather than 10) did a driveway delivery of a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings in Tupperware, neatly labelled – they even included a mug of gravy. It was achingly thoughtful, but it also broke my heart to see them wave at their grandchildren from a safe, two-metre distance. They couldn’t come to the doorstep, and instead we had to perform a weird “to me, to you” Chuckle Brothers-style exchange of gifts and crackers in cardboard boxes. We later opened our presents together on FaceTime.
Still, we made the best of it – and with small children around, that’s what you have to do. We watched films and ate mince pies and wore party hats and had a living room disco. After they’d gone to bed, I settled down with a glass of prosecco and considered just how fortunate I was, despite the odds.
But the thought of a repeat performance this year, amid warnings of another wave of Covid, of the potential for a new winter lockdown and of sharp shortages in food and fuel – which may keep us all housebound and unable to travel, regardless of whether or not we’ve been vaccinated – is sobering. More than that, it’s sad, and actually quite heartbreaking.
It’s been a s****y year – again. We’ve hauled ourselves partway through the pandemic, but the ghosts of our collective pasts are now coming back to haunt us: first Covid, which never really went away (and isn’t likely to, thanks to the rush to open the country back up again, and those who refuse to wear masks or get vaccines), and now Brexit. The Christmas message for 2021 looks a lot like a sorry case of “you reap what you sow”, for which we’ll all now have to face the consequences.