This time last year I, like many others, had not yet heard the word Coronavirus. This year it seems to colour almost every plan we make and is changing our behaviour and our lives at every turn. Whatever tomorrow brings, it certainly seems that this virus is not going to wind it’s neck in so that we can crack on with our desires for a normal Christmas, whatever a normal Christmas might mean anyway.
A few years ago, in my immediate family, a bit of a row took place in the Autumn of a somewhat difficult year anyway. For once, it didn’t involve me but I will try not to be smug about that. What it did mean was that the approach to Christmas was rocky and it became obvious that the 25th of December was going to be a rather bleak affair with very notable absences from aggrieved family members. At that point a good decision was taken when we (the righteous side) decided that rather than being in the usual place, doing the usual things, with the absences being very noticeable and upsetting, we would go somewhere else entirely and do things we liked – Deal in Kent as it happens and we spent time dog walking, eating in restaurants, playing golf and not cooking turkey – and do you know what, when the family rift was thankfully resolved, we are still (all of us together) doing pretty much that. The lessons we learned were (in no particular order) that doing the same thing every year isn’t a good idea, not everyone enjoys Christmas as much as we think they do and we don’t have to be dictated to by the traditions we are supposed to celebrate. We keep trying to remember these hard-earned lessons but it isn’t easy when the idea of the perfect Christmas is so fully thrust into our faces at almost every turn from late September onwards.
Given that whatever happens Christmas is going to be different this year, I think if we can embrace that or at least accept it, it might make for a better event than if we struggle on trying to keep things in some way similar to previous years. Changing the venue of Christmas celebration may not be so easy as anyone who has tried to go on holiday in almost any form this year will know. However we may find ourselves, or choose to be, in a different place than normal anyway – most likely at home rather than visiting others – and it is definitely worth taking the opportunity to make positive changes to the Christmas model. Ask yourself and those involved what you would do to celebrate Christmas if you had a blank sheet of paper – what would be your most delicious meal, favourite drink, great way to spend the day, most wonderful present to receive or give? Imagine it as if it were an unexpected day off in mid-winter rather than December 25th.
So what about the environment that you spend the festive season? Starting with the obvious, Christmas decorations can be very symbolic and putting up the tree that you always have when those who you normally share Christmas aren’t there can take the joy out of things. Think about changing how you decorate your house, not necessarily by buying a whole load of new decorations but perhaps using a different approach. An example is to use traditional winter greenery – fir, holly, eucalyptus, pine cones. These look great on their own, on a mantlepiece or shelving, on the table, or can be used with some of the fairy lights you might have used on a tree, or even some baubles if you have to. Fairy lights are also brilliant in a garden, which when viewed from the house look enchanting and as long as you don’t go for a lit up reindeer affair, should be left out to be enjoyed after dark all year round.
Talking of lighting, the shortest days of the year are an excellent time to review your lighting generally. Are there rooms in your home that would benefit from some additional lamps, some changes of placement of lightings or simply some light bulbs being replaced. I am always amazed by how different a room feels when lighting is adjusted and I would encourage you to do this – it will make you feel better and make your home look more inviting.
In a similar vein, I would find a whole new playlist for Christmas. However lucky we are about being able to see loved ones this year, I feel ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ needs to take a year off. Now is the time to find some great new hits to download – Christmassy or otherwise – and enjoy them. Music is very evocative and this seems the time to turn to something new and enjoyable, rather than reminding ourselves of things we may be missing.
Even more immediate for recalling memories, in my opinion, is smell and whilst you may not have particular smells that you associate with Christmas, now is the time to find a few new smells to love and indulge yourself. I like a scented candle - St Eval is my go to place but having bought their candles for a number of years I know the smells well so I have just acquired two candles from our own Ark in Market Square – one wonderfully fresh lime, basil and mandarin and another gloriously fruity rhubarb and ginger. There is a proper smell to each of them but there isn’t that heady scent that you get with some candles that can eventually be rather off-putting.
On a boring note, so I will say it quickly, one of the best and most immediate ways of making your home feel better for you and any guests you may be allowed is to have a fantastic clear up. Unless you are already super neat, in which case I commend you, big tidy-ups, trips to the tip/charity shops (when open), sales on ebay etc. will make you feel instantly better and is a gift to yourself that lasts long after the festive season is over. Whilst you are about it, put a few photos up of family members, people you love, holidays, good times you have had and so on and remember to tidy up/photo up your zoom background scene – people do notice and it is good to be proud of your background when having a good nosy at other peoples.
Finally, make plans for the New Year, it is important to have things to look forward to. Whether it is a whole new refurbishment for your home, a coat of paint in a single room, some new accessories or even just planting some indoor bulbs – give it some thought and put some timescales on it, even if they change.
Whilst I don’t want to be annoyingly Pollyannaish about it, we will eventually all get back to some sort of normality and it is important to view this Christmas, not as the Covid Christmas, but as the year that things were a bit different – and let’s at least try to make some of those differences positive ones.
I wish you all a happy, peaceful and healthy Christmas.