Season of not giving
Remember that Christmas when Lucy left my spanking brand new Silver Cross doll’s pram in front of the Flavell gas fire in the living room, and the back melted half away leaving an ugly hole and a mess like molten wax dripping down the outside?
It was the first new pram I had ever had. It came out of the box from the shop instead of someone else’s garage. It was beautiful. Not a hand me down or second-hand. Navy blue with a padded inside, sparkling white wheels and the chrome finish silver, shiny and rust-free. I was the pram’s first owner and I couldn’t wait to show it off.
But then it was spoiled. A moment of carelessness during the chaos of Christmas and it was scarred, melted, ruined and the thrill of the new had gone. That was the Christmas I learnt that festive excitement should always be tempered by a dose of harsh reality.
And my little sister learned that I never forget.
Notwithstanding that early lesson in expectation management, I love Christmas. Not because of the giving or receiving of presents or even the religious significance – faith has passed me by – but I love the whole messy affair.
The build-up, the laughs, the surprises. And tempers, tantrums and the inevitable tears are all the better for being wrapped in tinsel and twinkling fairy lights.
The Christmas that mum had one too many brandy and Babychams and forgot to put the oven on. The presents that Dad threw out by mistake in his impatience to clear away discarded wrapping paper. The turkey, still partially frozen, defrosting in a pool of watery blood at the side of the bath as grandparents arrived early, ready to tuck in.
I love it all, even the plans that go wrong, because in the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s just about being there and together.
And the smell. I love the smell.
But Christmases do change. This will be our third without my dad. And increasingly, Christmases become marked by those that we have lost, the places at the table no longer filled and the memories of times gone by.
And that’s the point for me this year. We must now draw on that bank of memories and use them to plan for a different Christmas. A safer one.
But be clear, this isn’t a straight choice between some Scrooge-like misery or a full-blown bacchanalia. Smaller, more intimate, and even on your own, it can still be a celebration. And we are all in it together.
I understand that people are fed up. We are all scunnered. We have had eight months of being told what to do. Of being locked up, of being apart, of losing relatives, colleagues and friends to this horrendous pandemic, and we have watched others suffer as illnesses go untreated and death comes prematurely. Our mental health is at breaking point. For some, tragically, it has been too much, and they have found their own escape. Many others have found themselves at the painful end of other people’s breaking points. Relationships have splintered, along with body and mind, and we will carry the wounds of this horrendous time forever.
But despite it, we have come through, we have got this far and the end is in sight. We know the vaccines are almost ready and now is not the time to weaken. This virus doesn’t stop because it’s Christmas. It isn’t going to climb out of the trenches with a white flag and indulge in a friendly game of football. It’s a killer.
Yet on the day that the highest number of deaths from COVID – over 600 people – were recorded in the UK since May, the four nations announced a relaxation of the rules so that families could get together for Christmas.
This isn’t science; it’s politics. It’s a death sentence and it’s madness.
At a time when there are granular calculations made of scientific evidence to ensure that pockets of the population adhere to differing tiers of restrictions across the country and even between shires, we plan to abandon it, all for a few days of Christmas cheer that will set us back weeks. And cost lives.
In a season of giving, I want to pull back.
A family gathering at Christmas may feel like the uplift we need, but at what price? For the last eight months, we have been told to follow the science and the science tells us that allowing the old, the young and those in between to mix indoors for long periods of time will put them at risk while infection rates remain high. And with alcohol, high spirits and well insulated rooms to keep out the winter chill, those risks get higher.
For what? And who exactly is this appeasing?
Sensible people have already made their plans. In a season that should be marked by a sense of humanity and giving, they are putting others before themselves and they are staying apart.
Others have already been forced to put their religious festivities to one side. Passover, Eid and Diwali, they have all come and gone under a forced lockdown with none of the dispensation afforded to Christmas. How must they feel right now?
And what of those that always dread Christmas? The sad, the lonely, the bereaved? This is how it always is. What must they make of the senseless debates about how to cheat the rules just to cram more of us into one room?
Enough. It’s one day. A vaccine is in clear sight and I for one can wait a bit longer to spend time with my family when it’s safe and we can then plan many more Christmases, COVID-free. In this season of giving, let’s give life.