The most wonderful time of the year

With just over two weeks to go, Christmas is fast approaching, sending us all in a spin of preparations, frenzied ordering of gifts online and hectic trips to supermarkets and shops. As every year, my plans to start getting organized are thwarted by reality and I have to deal with the eternal disappointment of my family that I still haven’t baked any of the traditional German biscuits I make every year. Christmas 2020 is being hailed as a special one, in more ways than one. Whilst restrictions here in the UK still remind us that Covid-19 has no intention of leaving the party early, many have also decided to “go all out” this year, spoiling loved ones with presents, treating themselves to extravagant things and making the best out of a situation none of us could have dreamt of 12 months ago. So how has Corona changed my Christmas? Am I feeling that excited tingle of the Christmas spirit yet? And what am I missing most this festive season?

My Christmas has always been a close family affair. I adore spending the festive days with people I trust, people I feel utterly comfortable with and those that make me feel loved and at home. Since having children, Christmas is all about them, to make their memories special and to have some cosy and relaxed days where, for once, I am not fretting about whether I need to follow a schedule for work, for my business or the kids’ schools. Christmas once lost its magic, in my late teens when I was in a quite dark place and couldn’t cope with any of the enforced happy family affair. Luckily, my brief stint as the Grinch didn’t leave a lasting mark on me and Christmas has since been a focal point of the year for me.
Corona changed a lot of things this year and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about a lot of things. My overactive mind had all sorts of scenarios worked out before the first month of isolation was over, but my panic subsided when I realised that, realistically, we didn’t miss out on much at Easter. We had chocolate, we had booze, we had cake and presents. We didn’t go without, bar those Easter egg hunts and social interactions we love so much. I would also be telling a fib if I said I thought we would still be in this muddle by Christmas. I had no idea and am slightly overwhelmed by the fact that, in just over 3 months it will be a whole year that I have not hugged my closest friends, their children or had people over spontaneously. I don’t even want to think about how long it has been since I have seen my family abroad – it breaks my heart. But, regarding Christmas, things are just like they have always been: A relaxed morning with the kids, opening stockings and the first few presents. Lazy breakfast and the first sip of bubbles, going for a Christmas Day walk and then cooking that fabulous dinner I fantasize about months before. A cosy afternoon with a family film and some games, stories and play time. And once the kids are in bed, we have a cheese platter with port. Bliss. Not even Covid can take that away from me, and isn’t that something to be eternally grateful for?

It always takes a while to get into that Christmas Spirit, even though I have started to decorate the house earlier this year than ever before. Work usually goes crazy around this time of the year and now I own my own little business, too, demands are ramping up. The kids need 120,000 things for school by the next day and reminders about this or that keep popping up on my phone. The stress of getting everything for the big day nags away in my head and I wonder why I never seem to be able to get everything sorted early enough, as I rewrite my 10th list for Christmas. Listening to Christmas music and watching some old classic films definitely does the trick, as does the odd glass of mulled wine or a warming hot chocolate after a walk in the cold. The kids are hyped through all the decorations, the extra activities at school and love their advent calendars. This year we also have an elf, which, admittedly, I first of all dreaded, but now actually really love. Having to help him to get up to no good requires extra planning, yes, but it’s also great fun and keeps those creative juices flowing. In just over a week I will break up from work and it’s my birthday soon, too. The anticipation of the big day creeping closer keeps me going and lets me feel excited when I stop for a moment and think. My anxious and overworked brain definitely needs a lot of TLC in order to catch up with that festive spirit, but once I am allowed to switch off from everyday duties, I tend to find that inner peace that Christmas promises and I so rarely experience.

Of course, like with many things this year, I am also missing a few things this Christmas. I don’t live close enough to a Christmas market and, having grown up with them, they do play a huge part in making me feel festive and Christmassy. I will never forget those days and evenings spent in Germany, roaming the most amazing, picturesque and quaint Christmas markets, the air filled with sweet and indulgent smells of roasted almonds, grilled sausages, Lebkuchen, eggnog and mulled wine. Pushing through the crowds with a smile on my face, stopping to drink a warming punch that spreads all the way to those frozen fingertips – there’s nothing quite like the atmosphere of a Christmas fair. Where I live in the UK, the small town has a late night shopping event which is the closest to a festive event I can get, but it’s lovely and colourful and bright and a wonderful time to meet other families, friends and to support some local shops and food stalls. Sadly, this had been cancelled, the Christmas lights had been turned on without the annual ceremony and, whilst the shop windows are beautifully decorated, lingering in a boutique over a festive drink and mince pie isn’t possible this year. During this time I also love to take my little clan out for some festive drinks and nibbles, but it’s also not really possible – Tier 3 and all its restrictions cancelled those little rituals, too. Having Santa’s sleigh come past the house and visiting Santa’s Grotto are all highlights during the Advent season that the kids love and having them as little milestones to get excitement before Christmas is something I will definitely also miss, alongside with those wonderful festive squeezes and hugs from friends and those friendly, extra warm smiles from strangers in shops, on streets or in parks. Most of them are now hidden behind masks or hurry by quickly, with their heads down.

Saying all that, in the grand scheme of things, having things cancelled or re-arranged at Christmas may not be the worst thing in the world and may actually help us to slow down and re-evaluate what this season is really about. Maybe, with all those rules and regulations in place, our own rule can be to take it easy, relax, put our feet up and treat ourselves and those we love to the indulgence of doing nothing, to laze about and talk to each other, make plans and dream of what is to come. What truly matters is our health and well-being. And if we have that and some love, it’s a pretty perfect Christmas already.

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