Well, it's finally happening. The argument about Christmas has arrived. Not the confected culture war one about whether or not people get to bellow the word "faggot" in the Pogues' Fairytale of New York, though that one seems to come round earlier every year, doesn't it? No, the slightly more fraught one about whther we get to have a "normal" Christmas, whatever that is. Following Chekhov's dictum of the gun on the wall in act one being used in act three, this little row's been coming down the pipe for a while; since July, in fact, when part-time Prime Minister impersonator, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson uttered the fateful words that it would "all be over by Christmas", and any keen student of dramatic cliche immediately felt their hearts sink. Clang, went the plot point.
The young airman who's going to fly this mission and then go back and marry his girl? Dead. The cop one week from retirement? About to have a really shit day. The robber tempted out of the straight life for one last job? You know how this story ends. The second the bumbling arsehole made himself a hostage to fortune with that imbecilic line we all knew what was coming in December. In fact anyone who'd been listening to any epidemiologist wearily explaining that as a respiratory disease there was almost certain to be a second wave in winter knew what was coming. But it still seemed to take the country by surprise.
Because, believe it or not, SARS CoV-2 doesn't particularly give a monkeys whether 'tis the season to be jolly or not, it's just getting on with its merry job of spreading via aerosol or droplet infection, and a very efficient effort it's making of it, too.
And now December is just around the corner, and lo, the shit is hitting the fan, as the tabloids belatedly wake up to the overwhelming likelihood that we won't have a standard All-Round-To-Mum's-Try-To- Ignore-Your-Uncle's-Drunken-Racism Christmas. And they are NOT happy about it. Cue lots of emotive headline speak about "Saving Christmas".
I have a number of problems with this, but it's important to acknowledge the importance of people's feelings on the subject. For most people, it's been a bloody awful year, and many will have had their hearts set in ending it with their loved ones around them. I understand that entirely. Then there's the argument about the damage done to the economy by a locked-down Christmas. For most pubs and restaurants, Christmas pays for the first quarter of the following year (or it makes up the shortfall from a crap year). Without normal December trading, there's going to be a bloodbath in hospitality come January.
(No, not me gentle reader, we'll be absolutely fine for a long while yet, but it's sweet of you to be worried. I won't deny that I'd rather be open, though)
But even if lock-down does end on Dec 2nd ( a sizable if, at time of writing, as cases still rise in all parts of the country other than here in the good old NW - where we've been under severe restrictions for a lot longer than the rest of you, hence our cases are coming down) it's ludicrous to imagine that we can get back to normal in December. Because set against all these reasonable arguments is the simple plain fact that this virus is a killer. Restrictions ease - people die. If I were a betting man, I'd say we'll most likely go back to some sort of tiered system for a bit, as the Government ties to nudge things along, and we all keep our eyes peeled for that vaccine which is tantalisingly just around the corner.
This is the problem with all the hyperbolic "saving Christmas" language. There is no saving of what people imagine Christmas to be. Even if you can meet a few members of your family, there's going to be no meeting up with your mates on Christmas Eve in the pub, no touring round from house to house, no going to the game on Boxing Day, no Midnight Mass. And that's okay, just this once. These are unusual times, suck it up and get on with it. All things pass eventually.
Millions of people in this country celebrated their religious festivals under lockdown. There were no family gatherings for Eid, for Yom Kippur, or Rosh Hashanah, no mixing of households for Diwali. There is no mention of this in tabloid discourse. People of faith have been denied their usual services for most of the year, huge sacrifices have been made. Are you willing to throw all that out of the window for the sake of a few days? The conversation around "Saving Christmas" denies all the hard work that's already been done. And it's been an astonishing effort from the public, for every self-absorbed bell-end not wearing a mask, there are twenty doing the right thing. For every Dominic Cummings, there are fifty who've stuck to the rules, no matter how much it hurt to do so.
I want normality back, too. Now, I admit that twenty-odd years in hospitality leaves me with a slightly different attitude towards Christmas Day, I tend to regard it as a chance to catch up on sleep rather than visit family, working late on Christmas Eve and living hundreds of miles from anyone I'm related to puts paid to that idea, so it doesn't make a huge difference to me whether I'm locked down or not. I'll fix the family some breakfast, we'll go for a walk, I'll do something a little more elaborate than usual for dinner
And you know what? That's fine, that's a nice day. And I think that's what we all have to do this year. Accept that it isn't going to be normal. Have as good a day as you can. I understand that it's easy for me to say, and that for those living alone this answer sounds pat and uncaring, and I'm sorry about that, but we're not far off getting this thing beat. The longer we pretend that things are normal, the further off that day becomes.