Just remember, the real Christmas cannot be cancelled - Christa Ackroyd

Can we all just stop a minute? The noise is deafening.

Florists from York Minster prepare the Advent Wreath at York Minster in November this year. (Picture Credit Charlotte Graham).

“I’m not having a vaccine.” “I’m seeing who I like over the holidays.” “Christmas won’t be Christmas if we can’t all get together...”

Just a few examples of some of the loud and selfish comments I have read this week. May I remind people that whatever the rules in this country and abroad – because we are not alone in this – Christmas is not cancelled. It never was and never will be. Not the real Christmas.

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Because the real Christmas is not about partying, or spending a fortune on a few days of gluttony. Instead it should be about others.

Yes, Christmas will be different this year. We will not be able to see everyone we want to see, or we shouldn’t if we care about their wellbeing. But the reason for Christmas remains the same. It may be distinctly unfashionable to say it, but Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ.

And if, like me, you are a Christian, or respect those who are, a time to think of others less fortunate than ourselves. Despite the fact that down the years it has become a crazy, costly, almost obscene few days of over-indulgence, that’s not the true meaning of Christmas. So let us pause and reflect on that. And stop the tantrums.

Would we really risk the health of the elderly for a turkey dinner? Because that’s what it comes down to. And there are nearly 70,000 people who sadly don’t have that choice this year and families for whom Christmas will never be the same again.

They are the ones we should be focusing on as we re-evaluate our plans. They died because of this. Not because of a government, but because of an unknown disease we knew nothing about this time last year.

This week I read a letter a lovely little girl I know sent to Father Christmas. It was covered in drawings of a family and her dog. It had kisses and red hearts on it. And it broke my heart.

It began like any other letter to Santa, asking for a pixie fairy doll. So sweet. It then asked for the impossible. “I would like to be able to see my grandma Jill and my family. I wish we wasn’t [sic] in lockdown.” Bless her.

Even without lockdown she won’t be able to see her grandma again. Because her grandma, at the age of 60, was my friend and one of the first people to die of coronavirus back in March.

Under the same Facebook post from a grieving daughter, someone recounted the story of their little boy who had an eyelash stuck to his face. As his mum blew it away she asked him to make a wish. “I wish for grandma,” was his reply. Not for expensive toys, or for a big party. He just wanted his grandma. And he will never see her again either. Nor will my friend see her mother, or my son in law see his grandad.

The politicians can only do so much. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t over plans for Christmas. But we can do more.

It’s up to us if we want to reap the repercussions in the New Year. We know about this virus. We know it kills the elderly and the vulnerable. And surely after all this time you don’t need a government to tell you that although you might not die you could pass it in to someone who will. It’s as simple as that.

We whinge about a nanny state, then whinge some more when they are forced to nanny us. It’s time this stopped. Anger, resentment and disdain are not what Christmas is about.

This year has been devastating for so many people. Families are on the breadline, businesses have been decimated and the mental health of a nation has been rocked.

If I look back to 2019 I am almost ashamed to think of all I took for granted. Be honest, you did, too. We went on lovely holidays with family and friends. We visited Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka and New York because we could.

We went with our grandchildren to Cuba where we danced the rumba in Havana with a strawberry daiquiri waiting for us at a bar once frequented by Ernest Hemingway.

We visited the theatre in Sheffield and Bradford to see musicals, choirs and plays. We welcomed family members from abroad to spend happy times in our home. And never did we imagine a day when we would be prevented from travelling to see them in theirs. But you know what they say, Man makes plans and God laughs. Not that there has been much to laugh at. But there have been things to celebrate.

Christmas is at the heart of Christianity but so, too, is the adage love thy neighbour. And so many have done just that. You know those who have done so in your community. As I do in mine. On Christmas Eve my friends at the Homeless Street Angels will not only deliver a Christmas dinner to those on the streets, but hundreds of hampers to those we now support in their own homes.

One lady, pregnant with an out-of- work partner, sent us a note saying they thought Christmas would have to be cancelled this year but now they have presents under the tree for their children. And that is what Christmas is all about – helping others less fortunate than we are. May it continue into 2021.

We have lived in a virtual world for so long now. It’s how we have stayed in touch. It’s not the same but think how lucky we are to have the technology to do so. And next year we have the chance to do all those things in person, thanks to the brilliance of science.

Fortunately most people get it. They are the least vocal but the most determined to do the right thing.

I know, dear readers, you are among them. So happy Christmas. To those who plan to see their loved ones for a short time, do so as safely as you can. Because I want us to be able to share one big collective hug this time next year.