Making the most of a virtual Christmas
For the last five years, I’ve celebrated Christmas digitally with my family down in England. It’s nothing more high-tech than a WhatsApp call to my brother – after my nieces have torn open their presents – to wish them well and have the kids show me everything Santa brought.
Normally when that happens, I’m happily ensconced in my in-laws’ living room, next to a roaring fire and surrounded by good cheer.
So, when Scotland’s clinical director Jason Leitch said the idea of a normal Christmas was “fiction” and “people should get their digital Christmas ready”, I was, like many, a bit alarmed.
I’d already accepted that my normal New Year celebrations up in the Highlands with friends would be cancelled (though we did jokingly consider forcing one of the couples in the group to get married so we could go anyway), but the thought of spending Christmas Day in our Edinburgh flat, just the two of us, feels like an extra few kilos of coal in my 2020 stocking.
But then I remember the thousands of people across the country for whom even that would be a luxury. People who are shielding; older people in care homes who might not see their families; students from abroad for whom flying home is not an option because of quarantine rules.
And then, there are the people for whom Christmas is always a lonely time. People without family, the homeless and people like my friend who, estranged from family, usually celebrates Christmas with others left on their own over the holidays at a local community centre – but that probably won’t go ahead this year, either.
We can hope that the virus is back under control again in just a few weeks’ time to at least see some of our nearest and dearest. As the First Minister said: “We are unlikely to be able to celebrate Christmas with no limits on the people in our houses and no limits to what we do. But the more we get this virus under control right now, the greater chance of having some ability to interact with our loved ones we will have.”
But if not, we’ll need to think about other ways to keep the festive spirit alive as we head into what will likely be one of the toughest winters many of us have faced. Christmas can already be difficult for some, with calls to Samaritans higher than average each December.
And fresh research has also shown the extent to which lockdown has caused depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, especially among those who were already battling with an issue or are from disadvantaged backgrounds.
This year, be sure to check in on elderly relatives and neighbours, friends who already grapple with mental health issues, and anyone who might be lonely. Spare a thought for the thousands of families who are facing their Christmas without a loved one for the first time.
If you are able, donate to foodbanks and charities so families who are struggling with reduced income or recent job losses can experience a happier Christmas.
And do schedule those video calls with family, because hearing my nieces shout-sing “we wish you a merry Christmas” has been the highlight of many a December 25th.