I’m not sure I’m supposed to admit this, but a Christmas spent without the company of friends or relatives wasn’t the crushing prospect for me that it’s been for a lot of folk this year. Of course, I want to see all the people I’ve been missing every day. But at this late stage of 2020 – a year that has dealt both hammer blows and paper cuts with relentless regularity – I just don’t have it in me to be outraged or devastated by one more thing.
Like everyone else (or rather, almost everyone – I’m looking at you Rita Ora) I stopped making weekend plans or booking holidays months ago, and the pessimist in me had, by November, already chucked Christmas into the box marked ‘bit sad: don’t dwell’ along with holding my friends’ new babies, and karaoke bars. But Christmas has a powerful energy so, for many people, the embers of hope continued to glow in the face of increasingly gloomy news.
And then the bombshell that, despite most of the UK being under lockdown and infection rates rivalling those of the first wave, Christmas wasn’t cancelled after all and, having become accustomed to meeting one friend in a frozen park and yelling our news (fine: our Netflix intake) to each other across the social distance, we were suddenly going to be able to have two whole households inside our houses, and hug the stuffing out of them too…
Now, I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth here. But if that horse is potentially riddled with plague, I might stop and think before ushering him into my living room for a Ferrero Rocher. And for that reason, BoJo’s proclamation hangs in the air like a sprouty fart. “I’m tired of deciding what’s the right thing to do,” he might as well have declared from his podium. “It’s on you now, fuckers.”
In search of a plan
How are we supposed to navigate this? For those of us lucky enough to have more than two households we’d like to see over Christmas, the decision of who gets to come round is one that’s bound to put a few noses out of joint.
It’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of which cousins to invite and what size turkey to order and forget to ask ourselves: is this even safe? I’ve only seen my parents once this year and they, being in a risk category, haven’t seen anyone except the cashiers at Tesco since February. I would love to have them come and stay with us and cocoon them in mulled cider and fairy lights to make up for a drab and lonely year, but with two kids coming and going from school and nursery and a partner in the NHS, I can’t make my home a safe place for them without holding my family hostage for the next two weeks.
I don’t mean to be a grinch about UK Gov’s festive dispensation, but the vaccine is already coming to our collective rescue, galloping over the hill towards us on a white horse, like Gandalf. Sure, most of us won’t get jabbed for at least a few months. But with the cloud of uncertainty starting to lift I wonder if for now we should maybe just… wait?
Of course, it’s not an easy decision, and everyone has their own set of circumstances to negotiate. But in lieu of any credible guidance I’ve devised a plan for myself: I’m going to stop fighting my instincts and just surrender to a half-arsed Christmas, for one year only.
This is a high comfort, low effort approach that I would recommend to anyone who’s feeling frazzled, fed up or overwhelmed. I’ve thought it through, and this is how it’s going to go: Santa being a key worker, the day will begin in traditional fashion with the kids dive-bombing our bed before dragging our barely conscious bodies into the living room for the Big Reveal. Once all the presents are opened and the smalls are occupied with their shiny new stuff it will still only be 6am, so plenty of time to get a jump on the day.
We can finally go on that walk we always say we’ll take on Christmas Day but never do, because every year’s a mad scramble to get ready before folk arrive. We can bundle up, have hot chocolate on the beach and not look at our watches once. And when we get back and peel off our woollies to get changed, there will be no tantrums from the kids about wearing their best stuff, and no fretting about whether I’ll fit into that velvet jumpsuit I bought last Christmas (spoiler: no chance).
Instead, the kids will be straight back into their still-warm onesies and I’ll pluck out a beguiling ensemble of schlubby jumper and lounge pants. Stretch is very much key.
And so, to the main event: Christmas dinner. Usually found attempting to coordinate the cooking of a dozen meal components while three large gins to the good, this year I’ve decided to stand upon zero ceremony and outsource a buffet. Rather than dragging the kids away from their presents to sit through a long meal of torturous courses – meat with weird jam and sprouts? A hot raisin cakey-thing that you set on fire? Are we monsters now? – I’m going to put on a spread of M&S party food and a seriously sexy cheese board, with something aggressively chocolatey to finish us off. Everyone eats, no one cries, minimal washing up.
Christmas nights are usually a favourite time for me: not content to stop the feeding until people can no longer bend at the waist, it’s always pleasing to see a couch full of stuffed relatives try to fend off carb comas with a game of Heads Up and another espresso martini. With the adults well fed and the kids flitting happily between their new toys like hummingbirds, I usually shrug off my responsibilities as host sometime around midnight, content but knackered.
This year, though, my husband is working on Christmas night, so once I’ve managed to wrangle the kids, high on yule log and magic, into bed, I’ll have no one to stay up late for and the full Christmas telly schedule under my sole command.
So, while I really, really hope to be spending next Christmas in a week-long haze of parties, drinks and dos with everyone I love around me, this year you’ll find me on my couch, brie in hand, watching all those Christmas movies that tell us in myriad, madcap ways that it’ll all be alright in the end. And it will.