The past 12 months have been a lot to process – and the world is looking at a very different festive period in 2020. As we head into the season of goodwill, we asked the brilliant Northern Soul team how they will be spending Christmas during a global pandemic.
So, whether you’re solo, avoiding it completely, opting for a takeaway with your household, cooking a feast for your support bubble or taking the time to pause and reflect, we wish you a very Merry Christmas – and a happier New Year.
Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul
As has now become a tradition, my official Christmas begins on Christmas Eve with the wonderful old Building and Loan, Jimmy Stewart, and a tear in my eye. Since I discovered It’s a Wonderful Life five years ago, it’s become the starting gun for Christmas proper, usually enjoyed in front of a roaring fire, under a blanket, and flanked by three cats. As this terrible year draws to a close, I’ll be taking comfort from Clarence the Angel: “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.” If ever I’ve needed my pals, it’s been in 2020.
By Christmas morn, I’m opening my stocking (yes, my mum still does one for me and, yes, there’s always a satsuma stuffed in there) and salivating over the prospect of Christmas dinner cooked by my brother-in-law who, rather handily, is a chef. I once burnt a potato in a microwave during a Home Economics exam so having a professional cook in the vicinity is a blessing. We’re not a big family and so, thankfully, Christmas will be much the same this year thanks to my protective bubble: a small circle rampaging through a mountain of presents while my niece gets giddy and, during the post-prandial period, a collective thank you to the person who invented elasticated pants.
Emma Yates-Badley, Deputy Editor
I’ve barely seen my parents since March. They live more than two hours away so restrictions have meant that travelling to visit them has been impossible (and ill-advised).
Despite the Government allowing us to form Christmas Bubbles (let’s face it, they missed a trick by not calling them Christmas Baubles) with up to three households, we don’t feel comfortable loosening the reins just yet and so have decided to spent Christmas apart. But we are hoping to meet in a public space somewhere to briefly exchange gifts and drink coffee from thermoses.
I’ll be celebrating Christmas up North instead. Christmas Eve day will be spent with my best friend (and housemate), Jess. We’re going to make a fancy egg-based brunch, sip on snowballs and watch Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square. It’s been a hard year for Jess, a teacher in a high school, and I’m grateful that she will have a fortnight to rest and recuperate. In the evening, I’ll head over to my boyfriend Adam’s house to see out the remainder of the festive period with him and his daughter (the pair have been a part of mine and Jess’s support bubble since the summer).
Christmas Day will be spent cooking a veggie feast, eating chocolate, hibernating underneath a blanket and binge-watching festive films. We’ll reserve time for video-calling our friends and family. Then, come Christmas night, I’ll throw on my festive PJs, curl up with the dog and mainline a box of Celebrations. I’m also looking at a relatively booze-free day (oh, how times have changed) as we’ve decided to wake up early on Boxing Day and go for a long hike to blow the cobwebs away.
It’s a weird one this year, and bittersweet, but I’m just so grateful that my friends and family are safe and healthy. Besides, I’ll still be going at the festive period with all the festive joy of a manic elf.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Damon Fairclough, Liverpool Correspondent
It’s the festive rebooting I’ll miss this year.
Normally, just as Christmas begins to stutter and drag like an overloaded laptop, we simply CTRL-ALT-DELETE the whole experience by jumping in the car, driving from Liverpool to Sheffield, and repeating the routine several times over with the other twisting branches of our sturdy, South Yorkshire-rooted family tree.
But this time round, there’ll be none of that. While I admit that I’m looking forward a little guiltily to a car-free Christmas, with no reason to ease up on the egg-nog as I won’t be called on to drive, I’m going to miss the usual trans-Pennine excess that’s characterised our family festivities for the best part of two decades.
So, faced with a full Christmas season in the same scouse house as my next of kin – my immediate, COVID-19-safe kin – will I be yearning to pull on my stringback driving gloves and camel-hair car coat before Boxing Day’s done? Will I be desperate to swap our paddling-pool-size tub of Celebrations for a tin of sugar-dusted travel sweets and a snow-dodging run ‘over the top’ towards Sheffield before we’ve even got started on the stilton?
I hope not. Because there’ll be no CTRL-ALT-DELETING this virus-wracked Christmas. From It’s a Wonderful Life right through to Jools Holland’s last squawk, we’ll be stuck with it – and my wife, kids and cat will be bloody well stuck with me.
Karen Connolly, Northern Soul writer
Christmas has always been a huge event in my Italian/English family. The bigger the better and that includes the tree, the lights, the food, drink and people. I loved it and transferred that tradition to my own little family of me, my husband and son.
Christmas this year will be different for everyone, including me but it will also be the first one without my dad. He died in May having contracted COVID-19. He died in hospital so there was no last goodbye or clutching of his hand.
This Christmas will be a much smaller affair , my family living overseas can’t get here so it will just be three of us, but we’ll still celebrate with a fabulous feast and I’ve decided the drinks will have an Italian theme which, come on, can only be superb.
Christmas breakfast will be the usual smoked salmon, bagels and Buck’s Fizz, lunch will see the table groaning with turkey, pigs in blankets (veggie options for me) and the Christmas cake made to my late mum’s recipe.
Then, come Christmas night, it’ll be new pyjamas on, candles lit, wine poured and the biggest cheese board we can find.
And we’ll raise a toast to my dad. Buon natale.
Chris Park, Northern Soul writer
Christmas, like the rest of 2020, is going to be a wee bit smaller than previous years. I’ll be spending the day with my parents who I’ve been bubbling with. It will be nice and relaxed with the usual turkey dinner and pudding from Hebden Bridge market.
I’m hoping the meal will be a more relaxed affair than the last we cooked together. I thought it would be fun to do a cookalong with James Martin a couple of months back. To say it was stressful is an understatement. We ended up with my mother cutting peppers into a pan with scissors and my dad spatchcocking a chicken with his bare hands.
For me, it’s the build up to the big day which has been affected most. Missing Christmas parties or meals with friends is a shame. I’m on a health kick at the moment so it’s probably not a bad thing overall. Let’s face it, as soon as it’s safe to go out, we’ll all be hitting the pubs and restaurants hard. A bit of cutting back now is just like putting money into your savings. You know you’re going to make up for it at some point.
Lisa Wood, Northern Soul writer
I will be spending the festive season supping on fizz and catching up on sleep. For most of us, 2020 has been a bizarre kind of year and not one I hope to repeat in a hurry. However, our beautiful baby girl arrived during the chaos of masks, bubbles and tiers and made our life complete.
In a world full of sadness and uncertainty, our little lady has brought us so much joy and contentment. Being a Mum in lockdown is quite a lonely life. No baby groups are open, playdates are off the cards, coffee is supped on the go and feeding has to be done on a bench in the cold.
I miss my family, parties, cuddles and girly lunches. I miss my eldest having her friends over for tea and seeing her live life naturally as a six-year-old. I grieve for the loss of our freedom, and when we could stop and chat to people without wearing a mask and worry about the spread of infection. But I am grateful for the small things, such as our health and wellbeing, food on the table and money in the bank. Never have the simple things meant so much.
As the festive season approaches and we look forward to a new year, I take some cherished memories from a bizarre period with me. More time spent in nature, less time stressing over the minutiae. This Christmas it’ll be a small gathering and not the usual endless days of family parties. My parents are part of a support bubble (thanks for that one, Boris), so they’ll be with us. Everyone else will have to join us at a Zoom party, making up for lost time in 2021 (fingers crossed).
My Christmas wish for everyone is to stay healthy and safe and enjoy every moment of what life has to offer. Be more in the moment. You might enjoy it. Merry Christmas.
Lucy Clayton, Northern Soul writer
For me, Christmas is all about togetherness. Ever since I was born, our family have spent Christmas with my grandparents, either by making the journey back to my hometown of Chesterfield or my gran and grandad travelling up the A1, through the Tyne Tunnel and into Geordieland (not as snowy and festive as Lapland, I can tell you.) So, with our small family combining to make the perfect bubble, it was a given that for Christmas 2020 we would carry on the tradition and reunite. Mainly because we can’t face another Zoom call.
In my opinion, Christmas Eve is the most special day. It’s the anticipation of ‘tomorrow’ alongside the sherry, festive TV viewings, roaring fire and games. After finding out my grandparents love a game of Cards Against Humanity, this year we have updated our cheeky board game selection and added Scrawl, which I can only describe as a rude version of Pictionary.
Despite getting older, my parents still find it necessary to shout “Santa’s been!” as we enter the living room on Christmas morning, but it’s more the pigs in blankets and roasties that I get excited about now. We stray from the traditional on Boxing Day and make a turkey curry, giggling about the time my gran added curry powder that was a decade out of date.
Christmas 2020 will be a weird one for all, but sticking to our somewhat normal routine will definitely, in the words of Mariah Carey, “make my wish come true”.
Cathy Crabb, Northern Soul writer
Everyone is expecting a disaster because I’m doing the food this year. It suits them to paint me as daft Mum who can’t cook. I can cook. I’ve been keeping them parasites alive for over 20 years. It’s just that they wish my flaw was bad cooking. Alas, they know that if I’m in a manic state, as Christmas usually promotes, I won’t have had more than three hours sleep a night on the run-up.
I’ll have spent the previous days singing show tunes to the dogs, looking and smelling like a bog brush in a fleece. So, by the time the day arrives, they will expect cold turkey and pigs in blankets that look like cat shits in a row. That has happened. They have photo evidence. But what the kids don’t know yet (and they never read what I write) is that exile has made me serene. There’s been bigger worries, of course. And I mean, what’s to be worked up about? It’s Sunday dinner in drag. Everything is coming out of a packet and timed. I’m just going to enjoy being around my oven buns. My greatest creations.
Claire Fleetneedle, Gardening Correspondent
At Christmas we usually spend a lot of time socialising. Christmas Eve is always spent with one of my oldest friends and her children. We love taking them sweets and gifts, even though the kids are getting a bit too grown up for that now. Boxing Day, and sometimes Christmas Day evening, is also a time spent with a group of friends. But this year we will be enjoying Christmas Day with just one friend who we’ve been in a support bubble with since March.
I’ll be cooking a full festive dinner with my favourite homemade stuffing and all the trimmings. I will be making a trifle and I’ll probably manage to eat my own body weight in chocolate, too. We’ve decided to go traditional this year – dinner will be followed by charades and other daft party games. We plan to have some mad festive dancing round the living room to burn off some of the post-Christmas dinner calories (probably to Slade). We’ll walk our friend Kat home later that evening and get a breath of cold night air. I know many people will find the oddness of this Christmas difficult, but I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky. We aren’t hungry or ill, we have a home and we’ll be able to get together with our loved ones hopefully next year. Happy Christmas.
Robert Hamilton, Opera Correspondent
This time last year, pre-virus, we were in Barcelona for a long, long weekend. On our way to lunch at Set Portes, we walked past the cathedral which was full of Christmas stalls selling logs with legs, faces, hats and covered by blankets. The Blond, who has a familial knowledge of Catalan culture, explained that they were Caga Tió. Roughly translated it means ‘shitting uncle’ or ‘shitting log’ and forms an alternative present delivery system to Santa.
The story goes that the Caga Tió is kept in the house a week or two before Christmas and fed daily. On Christmas Eve the children hit their Caga Tió with sticks while singing “shit, log” to induce Uncle Christmas to shit presents, which come from under the blanket. It’s such a brilliant tradition I bought one to bring home.
This year, partly out of COVID-19 induced boredom, I decided to make some Caga Tió of my own. My neighbour kindly gave me a suitable branch which I could saw into five or six suitable logs. I made legs out of dowelling rods and hats and blankets out of felt. I glued on eyes, nailed on red noses and drew mouths with a red tongue. It might seem really daft but it was oddly cathartic. You can see the full process on Instagram at #bobbymakesacagatio
In the meantime, my Barcelona-bought Caga Tió has a homemade companion They are both being well looked after in the hope that, after a sound beating on Christmas Eve, they will shit many presents. As for Santa, sod him. I don’t have a chimney.
Charlotte Oliver, Northern Soul writer
Rather than risk our parents’ health for the sake of a ‘normal’ Christmas, we will mainly be staying at home this year. I will miss the visits from and to other people (getting dressed up, hanging out with our favourite people and, at one friend’s in particular, the chance to eat all the strawberry creams which none of them like). But my husband’s joy at the prospect of a largely anti-social Christmas is only thinly disguised.
We’ll still celebrate with relatives but it will be brief and outside the family chalet (beach hut) late on Christmas morning, where hypothermia will be kept at bay with the help of sherry and assorted pastries. We’ll then stride home to reap the rewards of our perfect Christmas Dinner preparation where the only job left will be to steam the sprouts. Or, in reality, there’ll still be loads left to do, the kids will disappear off to their rooms just like on any other day, and we’ll all eat too many crisps before dinner. But we’ll be able to put our pyjamas on whenever we want, there’ll be no charades, and we’ll have tonnes of leftovers. Hmmm. Perhaps he’s not so wrong after all.
Ly Stewart, Northern Soul writer
Christmas at the Stewart household has always been rather traditional. There are no extravagant winter trips or flashy décor. Just good and old-fashioned. Family-oriented and energetic, to say the least. There is never a quiet moment. Unless someone’s got a plate of turkey in front of them, there’s laughter, a song or some rambling anecdote filling the room. This year though, things are probably going to look a bit different.
Taking restrictions into consideration, a 2020 Stewart family Christmas could go one of two ways. One: we get to have at least two other households of family over. Two: it’ll just be me, my parents and the dog. Despite being only 20-years-old, I’ve already started to see Christmas as more stress than it’s worth, but I’m willing to put my ever-growing cynicism aside for one year. Especially after not seeing everyone for so long. I can say for certain, though, that it’ll likely end up being more chaotic than usual since we’ve all been deprived of each other’s company.
The inconsistent will-they-won’t-they-ing of the Government isn’t too helpful, but I’m hoping for a more normal Christmas, whether it’s the whole family or not. But I’m not complaining about some peace and quiet either.