The Forth Road Bridge in the golden hour

Contemplating a Covid Kinda Christmas

This week the UK government was forced to clarify the rules regarding how its citizens will be permitted to “enjoy” the festive season in this time of coronavirus, and I don’t know about you, but I for one am super-grateful for the clarity this has brought to us: especially those of us in Scotland and Wales, who got to watch Boris Johnson insist that “all four nations” were in complete agreement on The Roolz, while our own illustrious leaders stood in the wings shouting, “OH NO WE AREN’T!” And to think we all thought panto season would be cancelled this year!

So far, the “rules” as I understand them – at least here in Scotland – are as follows:

— We can meet up to three other families, but should only meet up with one other family, and only if we’re prepared to all die as a result of that meeting.

— We’re allowed to meet these other families for five days over the Christmas period, but should only meet them on one day, and only if we’re comfortable with the idea of being cold-hearted murderers. We shouldn’t do it, though, unless we want to, in which case we CAN, but still shouldn’t. And we should/should not do this for either five days or just one day, depending on where we stand on the Murderer/ Not a Murderer scale.

— We can meet other families indoors, but should only meet them outdoors, unless it’s not possible to meet them outdoors, in which case we can meet them indoors, but we absolutely MUST NOT stay overnight, unless we absolutely have to stay overnight, in which case we can do that, but only if we feel really, really guilty about it in the morning.

— We can travel for Christmas, but absolutely MUST NOT under any circumstances leave our homes in order to do that.

— These rules will not be enforced, apart from in the places where they will be enforced, in which case they will not be enforced, but we should assume they will be enforced.

— The rules will not change: unless, of course, they DO change, which is something we should all be prepared for, whilst, at the same time, being confident in the knowledge that they will not change. Unless they do.

— We should have a happy Christmas, but not TOO happy a Christmas, because that’s not really on brand for 2020, is it?

I THINK that’s about it, but, like most people I know, I pretty much gave up trying to keep up with the current guidelines at roughly the same time I gave up the will to live, so I’m just here for the surprise Taylor Swift albums and all of the really quite excellent memes this year has inspired now. But back to Christmas, and the rules that now govern our personal relationships…

Looking out at the Forth Bridge from South Queensferry

On social media, this week’s announcements went over about as well as you’d expect, really. On Twitter, I’d say it’s roughly a 50/50 split, with half of the people screaming “JUST STAY HOME!” and polishing their halos while declaring that, why, THEY’RE not even planning to see their own reflection in the mirror this Christmas, while the other half just shrug their shoulders and go, “But I’ve already ordered the turkey: I’m not changing my plans now!”

A lot of people seem to feel there’s a simple choice: you either have yourself a Charles Dickens kinda Christmas, with gruel for lunch, and a lump of coal in your stocking, or you get Covid and kill your granny. The reality, of course, is that it’s a lot more complicated than that, and these latest rules – just like ALL of the rules we’ve been subjected to this year – do not (And CANNOT) take account of all of the complexities of our different lives.

In our case, for instance, we haven’t done much of anything for weeks now, and neither have my parents. The risk involved in the five of us meeting up over Christmas, then, is vanishingly small: so, yes, we are absolutely going to be doing that. Because, not only is it “allowed” under the current rules, it’s also as safe as anything really CAN be in these trying times, and I refuse to feel guilty about wanting to see my own parents on Christmas day.

Except… I DO feel guilty. In fact, I feel guilty about pretty much everything I do, say or even think right now, because that’s what this year has done to us, really. Throughout the pandemic we’ve been encouraged to feel guilty about everything: led to believe that normal human emotions are something to be suppressed at all costs, and that, if you’re not able to do that, you’re weak and selfish, and, actually, YOU are the reason we’re all in this mess.

But that’s not actually true, is it? The real truth is that we all have different circumstances, risk levels and risk perception, but, regardless of that, we’re all expected to follow the same, one-size-fits-all rules – incomprehensible though they often are. I’m not saying that’s wrong, by the way, or that I have a better solution to the problem that is … this whole THING… because I don’t, unfortunately. (And, you know, nobody’s asked me, anyway…) I’m just saying that it’s horrible and complicated and that I wish people would stop trying to insist that this multicoloured spectrum of problems and solutions is actually black and white, and that their way is the only way of looking at it.

I’m just trying to say that I’m tired, really.

I’m tired of the competitive martyrdom of people who claim to have been locked in their bedroom cupboards since March, because they’re better than you are at not killing people, and THEY WIN THE PANDEMIC, SO THERE.

I’m tired of the way some people assume that everyone is part of a neat little nuclear family unit, and will be able to thoroughly enjoy “snuggling up” with them for a wholesome, family Christmas, probably involving lots of blankets, and the liberal use of the phrase, “our little family”. As if no one is on their own, or stuck in an unhappy/abusive relationship, or badly in need of support. As if everyone has exactly the right number of loved ones to be able to form a festive “bubble” without leaving someone out, and potentially damaging their relationship with them forever as a result. As if everyone has the emotional stability and coping strategies to allow them to weather this storm without the slightest wobble, and to endure long periods of isolation and loneliness, without complaining, and without even hoping for something better.

I’m equally tired, though, of the people who won’t take this seriously, no matter how bad it gets. The ones who wear their masks under their noses, and think social distancing is for sissies. The ones who sneer about people “living in fear”, as if there’s no reason for that fear. The ones who can’t seem to last more than a week without throwing a freaking house party, and who think the vulnerable should all lock themselves away for ever, just so everyone else can go to the pub.

I’m tired of hearing that it’s “just the elderly” who are dying, as if that’s OK, because “they were just going to die, anyway!” and also, some people need to get their nails done before Christmas, so if the vulnerable could just, you know, do the decent thing and DIE already, so we could get on with our lives again, that would be super.

I’m tired of the people who are just desperate to “cancel Christmas” AND of the ones who can’t see any reason to alter their behaviour even one little bit in order to protect other people.

I’m just really, really tired. Of ALL of it. I think we all are, at this point, and, as I said somewhere in that rant above, I have no idea what the solution is to that, but I’m starting to think that staying the hell away from social media might be part of it? Just maybe?

So. Just over a week to go. We’ve bought all our gifts, but have yet to wrap them. I haven’t bothered buying new outfits for either me or Max, as I usually do, because I can’t be sure we’ll have any reason to wear them, but this week we had a drive-through encounter with “Santa”, which Max found every bit as thrilling as last year’s Christmas parties and other festive activities, which he has absolutely no recollection of.

He doesn’t know that you don’t normally have to wave at Santa Claus through glass, or that driving round the streets looking at other people’s Christmas lights doesn’t even come close to the kind of spectacles we’d normally be taking him to see at this time of year. He thinks the tiny square of chocolate he gets from his advent calendar every morning is the absolute pinnacle of festive excitement and has asked for “a candy cane” for Christmas, because, to him, that’s the kind of thrill that just could NOT be beat. So he’s fine. We’re fine. It’ll be… fine.

It won’t be fine for everyone, though, and while I really don’t want to end this post with some tedious cliché about being kind, because everyone is fighting a hard battle right now, I think I AM going to do that, because, well, it’s true. And it has to be said. It’s possible to understand the need to curtail our Christmas plans, while still feeling personally upset and frustrated by that, and if that’s how you’re feeling, then please know that you’re not the only one.

So I hope you all have the best holiday season possible this year, whatever your circumstances. I hope you are fine. Or at least as fine as you can be right now. And, more than anything, I hope next year is better…

P.S. I write a weekly diary which goes out every Friday to my subscribers. Sign up below to get on the list...

I also write books
  • John McNaught


    But Santa will still have a few surprises… just as he always does. Just keep his grandson away from that barbed wire lamp post 🙂

    December 18, 2020
  • Roisin Muldoon


    I’m not seeing family for Christmas, not out of moral superiority, but because there is no safe way for me to travel to see them: being dependent on a flight or a long train journey and then a ferry to see my family or a long train journey including changing stations in London to see my husband’s family introduces an unacceptable level of risk into the equation. But when your family are nearby and you’ve minimised risk leading up to it? That’s a different proposition altogether! I hope you have a lovely day with your parents, and I’m sure it’ll be really special for Max. I’m so angry with the government for getting people excited about the relaxation of the rules and then pulling the rug by strongly implying that following the guidelines is dangerous… which, I do think specifically telling people that then can travel wherever they want during that five-day window IS irresponsible… added to the fact that we are at a dangerous intersection of high optimism for a vaccine and high levels of pandemic fatigue: telling people to ‘be responsible’ and not follow guidelines that have been published is grossly grossly unfair. They would have been better off pulling them altogether rather than play yet another kind game like this. Ugh. I don’t have an answer. It’s completely exhausting!

    December 18, 2020
  • Ruth


    Beautifully put.

    December 18, 2020
  • Sacha



    December 18, 2020
  • Fiona


    Totally agree! We aren’t changing our plans since the latest advice but our plans were modest to begin with.
    We will bubble with my parents and sister who all live together anyway, and who have my son at their house 1-2 times a week while I’m at work. We won’t spend five days together but as they live less than 5 miles away we will hopefully have them over on Christmas Day and visit them on Boxing Day or the 27th.
    We’ve not gone to any cafes etc for the past two weeks but my partner and I can’t avoid the risks of our workplaces (he at least is in a very quiet office, but I face the general public in a library… with people who literally remove their masks so that they can see better… thank god for plastic screens!!) but we have decided that it has been a very long and hard year and it’s worth the risks to have a tiny proportion of Christmas seem normal and fun.

    December 18, 2020
  • Pip Lee


    I hope I’m not on the moral superiority train, but I’m not seeing my parents because they are in their late 80s and I’m a teacher. I feel guilty enough putting my family at risk everyday because I teach 5 and 6 year olds and they can not social distance and they are so snotty! Today a child did not come in because her Mum tested positive but she has been in school all week. I just want to have a few lie ins, eat nice things and enjoy as much as I can. I am just a little sad.

    December 18, 2020
  • Anita


    ‘I’m just trying to say that I’m tired, really. ‘

    You know what, this sums it up for me perfectly. I am so, so tired of weighing up each and every little thing I do because it might kill me, or someone else, or… something. Obviously I don’t do anything stupid like going around licking doorhandles, but, if I go to the supermarket, does that mean I might inadvertently kill someone there?? I don’t know, and when I say *I* don’t know, I actually consider myself better informed than most people because I’m a doctor. I think it’s genuinely hard to know what to do for the best sometimes. If I don’t go to see my dad for Christmas, then both he and I will be on our own and that just makes me feel so sad; but of course it’s better than potentially killing him. Truthfully, I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do, but thanks Pip (above) for making me feel even worse about the fact that I’m even considering seeing him. This is all so fun, isn’t it.

    December 18, 2020
    • Pip Lee


      I’m really sorry Anita, I really didn’t mean to make you feel bad. I think personal circumstances play a big part in the decision I have made. It doesn’t mean it’s right for anyone else. The situation in schools is dire. I have parents sending children in when they know they shouldn’t because they need to work or just because it’s easier. We have had 4 year groups out in the last month and 3 staff testing positive this week. I’m not judging anyone but I have no way of knowing if I am safe. I just know I have been in a risky situation for months, and I have seen it get worse over the last month. I am in London.

      December 18, 2020
  • Ann Speirs


    Well said, you have summed it all up perfectly. Instead of it should be
    Hope you and your family have a safe Christmas never the less.

    December 18, 2020
  • Myra Boyle


    The first part of your post made me laugh out loud as you summarise how many people feel about the ridiculous rules.

    I am going to spend this Christmas in gratitude for so many things: my daughter putting me in her bubble rather than her partner, for my family and friends who love and care for me, for the love I have for them, for t’internet for letting me make contact with loved ones, for a warm home and food. I am thankful ❤️

    December 18, 2020
  • Lori


    This made me laugh, cry, and feel all the things…it puts soooo much in perspective. Here’s to hoping it’ll be fine for EVERYONE. x

    December 18, 2020
  • dublinerInDeutschland


    yeah I hate the constant guilty feeling following me around. We isolated for a week as did my husband’s family so we could meet them for two hours outside on Stephen’s day to exchange Christmas presents and go for a walk and hubby and I still worried we weren’t being careful enough and almost cancelled. Please can 2021 be better! x

    December 30, 2020