So, Christmas is cancelled, and everyone is up in arms. Boris and co have let us all down; they raised our hopes and expectations, only to cruelly dash them. Our Christmas bubbles have been well and truly burst.
Of course, humans have very short memories (my mother used to say that if anyone remembered what giving birth was like, nobody would ever do it again), but, if I may be so bold as to jog the collective brain cells – each year, how many times do you come across a magazine and newspaper article offering advice on how to “survive” the festive season? On how to navigate the often-stormy seas of inter- and intra-family relationships; on how to manage the elevated stress, the unrealistic expectations, the kitchen dramas, and the “I totally know you hate that present and that you’ll regift it as soon as my back is turned (and PS I kind of hate you, too)” moments?
2020 has, undoubtedly, been a tough year for many people – for most, in fact – and there’s no doubt that the security, familiarity and, yes, even difficulty, of a boisterous festive season with family will have provided a sense of normality. Annual events are important, of course; they provide anchors in our lives, touchstones of progress, an opportunity to look simultaneously to the past and the future.
But amid the outpouring of disappointment let’s take a moment to remember that as much as our freedoms have been curtailed by the restrictions imposed this year, there have been some sighs of relief. No commuting, no suiting and booting, no obligatory Sunday lunches, no stilted conversations and awkward school gate interactions. And for some, the same will be said of our heavily restricted festive season.
Everything is infinitely more desirable when it’s whisked away from us. It’s why so many stringent diets fail. It’s why, when celebrities die young, they stay tragically gifted and beautiful. Why toxic partners become ‘the one who got away’. Why the toy that we just abandoned on the nursery floor becomes worthy of scratching our playmate’s cheek for.
Most of us are more than capable of reverting to toddlerism, in the face of a “no, you may not”. So shall we take a moment to call upon that ghost of Christmas past and refresh our memories?
The relative who resolutely refuses to acknowledge a dietary requirement (“Oh, but you’re not vegan at Christmas, surely?”) The tug-of-war between divorced parents, in-laws and, once children are grown up, the additional demands of further-extended family.
The passive-aggression across the dining table (“Are there some potatoes left? Oh, I thought you’d finished them off after your third helping. You’re looking very… well, by the way”). The ungrateful child who bursts into tears at a “rubbish” present.
The pointed questions about career/ partners/ parenthood. The embarrassingly drunk and maudlin aunt.
Being constrained by another person’s house rules, and not feeling comfortable to pour your 11am G&T. Abiding by someone else’s menu and timetable, which may have you tucking into turkey (yuck) at 2pm (too late). The quest for glowy-eyed perfection, fuelled by countless social media posts and big-retailer ad campaigns.
These aren’t all my personal experiences, but I know many people who won’t be sorry to swerve them, or ones like them, this year.
I don’t for a moment wish to make light of the experiences of those who are lonely at Christmas and who would trade their empty living room for a stroppy child or inappropriate stepfather in a heartbeat. But some of us should use this opportunity to welcome the reprieve.
Perhaps this year’s experience will help us, in future, to better appreciate and tolerate the things that we normally dread, when we can eventually have them again. Or perhaps it will even – who knows? – set a precedent and allow those who want to do Christmas differently to do so – without blame or guilt. Let’s look on the bright side, shall we? It’s Christmas after all.