Christmas, this year, will be different, irrespective of where we live or what we do for a living.
The borders are open, but every day brings a new uncertainty. Will they close again? Which ones? Will we be spending Christmas as we’ve planned? Or might that change too?
Indeed, the Queen reminded us of the challenging times this week, announcing that Sandringham was off her holiday list for the first time in 30 years, as she bunkers down at Windsor Castle to wait out the UK’s second coronavirus lockdown.
Our digs might not be as flash as Windsor Castle, but we are certainly fortunate in Australia not to be confronting the pandemic challenge the UK is facing this Christmas. Nor the US or many, many other countries, like Italy, for example, where the country has been divided into three zones – red, orange and yellow.
Emotional scenes at Brisbane airport this week told the pandemic stories of heartbreak and happiness, with families who had been separated by borders now united for Christmas.
Some are meeting grandchildren for the first time; others are hugging children for the first time in a year and others are now holding the hands of parents grappling with terminal diseases.
But the smiles and tears were testament to what is important to remember in a year many of us would prefer to forget.
Research is still sketchy, but already evidence suggests toddlers have become shy and needy, without the challenge of sharing with others outside the home.
Teachers are reporting 10-year-olds, given mobile phones during lockdown, are now grappling with face-to-face conversations. They’re not sure how to converse, without their smart phone.
We know, too, that our teenagers have missed formals and graduations, birthday parties and first dates.
For parents, it’s also been a difficult road to navigate: juggling work and childcare around the same breakfast table has been impossible for many, as has been finding peace and quiet in a home that is also a workplace.
For many of our elderly, especially, it’s been the loneliest time of all; absence is supposed to make the heart grow fonder, not break it.
But when we consider the theme in all that is bad, most of the heartbreak has stemmed from one thing: the loss of human contact. Toddlers not learning to share. Primary school children struggling to make friends. High school students navigating relationships. Parents and partners finding new boundaries. And visiting our aged through closed windows.
That’s the glass half empty.
But consider the glass half full, for just a moment.
Fathers home in time for dinner, forging new relationships with their children. My local park is proof of that. Dads and children flying kites, going for early morning runs, playing cricket and football and frisbee.
In recent research for an upcoming book, ‘tween’ girls said ‘spending time with dad’ sat at the top of the list of good things to come out of 2020.
For many mums, there have been silver linings too. In my house, it’s meant fewer packed school lunches and fewer late nights collecting teenagers from part-time jobs and parties.
It’s also meant more time together, playing board games and talking and watching the latest series of The Crown – all delightful episodes that might not have been done together, outside a pandemic.
This Christmas will be so different, and not just for the Queen. We won’t be sitting our toddlers on Santa’s knee, and fewer will witness a white Christmas in person. We probably can’t yet plan Boxing Day cricket parties, or bank on Australian Open tickets either.
That will make it different from previous years. But take the ugly wrapping away from this year’s Christmas presents, and there’s already plenty to celebrate.
And not even a pandemic can steal that hope that sits at the bottom of every Christmas stocking.