"Traditions at this time of the year were so important to us..."INSTAGRAM/PEACHYS_PAGES

Content note: This article contains discussion of coronavirus, the death of a family member and grief.

Christmas and New Year were always going to be different this time around. In spite of my fervent hopes that things would get slightly more back to normal for the holidays, I had the ominous sensation that they wouldn’t in the weeks leading up to going home. The introduction of the fourth tier the weekend before Christmas – limiting us to mingling on Christmas Day alone – was the cherry on the cake. It interrupted our plans to have both of my grandads, who live alone, over for a few days during the festive period. Many had it worse, we knew this, and yet it felt like just another thing to be dealt with at an already difficult, stressful time.

Traditions at this time of the year were so important to us; one grandad would come and stay for a few days, and the other – with my then-living grandma – would come and see us on Christmas Day. There’d be a party on Boxing Day with the extended family, and then we’d see my Cornish cousins from the other side of the family at New Year. Perfect.

“Determined to see things as optimistically as possible, it meant we had to be more inventive and fill our time with different things.”

However, in recent years, things had deteriorated slightly anyway, for various reasons. We were all older, my siblings and I, as were the various cousins. The family Boxing Day party slowly went; the death of my great-aunt, and my grandma a few years later, finally put things to an end – they were the two people holding the two sides of the family together.

Last Christmas felt strange, as it was the first we celebrated without this grandma. We attempted to do things in the same way, following the same order of business on Christmas Day (quick breakfast, open presents, salmon blini and the long wait for Christmas dinner, everyone fast asleep in the sitting room afterwards). It just felt ‘off.’ We had observed these traditions so steadfastly because that’s what we’d always done. However, far from comforting us, they reminded us keenly of her absence.

This year was, then, in many ways, an opportunity to do things differently. Determined to see things as optimistically as possible, it meant we had to be more inventive and fill our time with different things. For instance, as with many British families, walks were a staple of our festive activities. It became a much less appealing prospect, however, due to the fact that the pubs were closed. But moving on...

We sat down together a lot more in the evenings, simply for lack of things to do – I opened one of my presents, a pack of Cards Against Humanity, a few weeks early, and we all began to play that together. The images of my parents playing it with the three of us children were priceless, and I continue to wonder which of us were more horrified by some of the (hilarious) answers.

I finally finished the Lego Harry Potter game on the PlayStation that I’d started with my sister several Christmases ago, and we spent several evenings sitting in my brother’s room alternately listening to music and watching films, with his gaming keyboard, curved screens, mouse and speakers flashing lights at us, all synched up for optimum vibing.

“Fewer faces and more brisk dog walks at unspeakable hours reminded me of what is important at times like this – my connection with other people.”

On yet another occasion, we dug out the old camcorder and watched home videos with my parents, dating from 2002-2009, marvelling at the scenes of the old family holidays and especially the visions of old Christmases and New Years gone by. We compared them to the empty house we had this year, and were put out – but then we would promptly go onto the next video, and be reminded of how chaotic it all was.


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Of course, we only saw my two grandads on Christmas Day itself. They did return to empty houses, leaving us together to clean up and relax – tired, but together at least. This is the heart-breaking effect of the ongoing pandemic, and there’s no way around that fact. We did get to have that day, though, which is more than some.

Even with this in mind, this festive period was a chance to do things quite differently to normal – if not as exciting, or fast-paced as normal, it was definitely good fun. Fewer faces and more brisk dog walks at unspeakable hours reminded me of what is important at times like this – my connection with other people. My family. It even reminded me of times in the depths of the summer lockdown, when I actually spent time with, and discovered more about, my growing younger siblings. Traditions are excellent ways of maintaining a connection to the past, of people that are no longer with us. We saw this in the few films we watched, and the family videos. This comforted us. Every once in a while, though, we need to live for ourselves, too.