Christmas saved but many ask if it’s worth it

Magical: Snow, reindeer and a white-bearded Father Christmas, imagined by Edward Ardizzone.

Do people really want a lockdown break? The UK is to announce a five-day Christmas amnesty tomorrow. Many other governments plan similar moves. But will they live to regret the consequences?

The family stared at the feast before them in amazement, their heads adorned with lopsided paper crowns.

In front of them, the table was overflowing with bowls of crisp roast potatoes, golden parsnips and scarlet cranberry sauce. And in the middle sat a gigantic turkey, the most enormous bird any of them had ever seen, plump enough to feed a dozen people.

Meanwhile, piles of beautifully wrapped presents waited under the Christmas tree.

That is how it is supposed to be. But many studies have shown that the reality of 25 December is rarely how it is supposed to be. All too often, the parents are exhausted, the children have not slept a wink, Uncle Fred has fallen asleep after a row about football and the plum brandy has disappeared.

This year, above all, with families worried about Covid-19 and shopping prevented by lockdown, things may be very different. Even the turkey is set to be a disappointment.

The commercial pressure on political leaders remains intense. Retailers are desperately counting on a shopping bonanza this Friday, otherwise known by some as “Black Friday”.

As a result, all across Europe, politicians are racing to reassure people. “It’s official: Christmas is saved!” says the Daily Express this morning, adding that families will be able to meet for “five days of festive cheer”.

French President Emmanuel Macron has promised that his government will “see whether we can hope to celebrate the festive season en famille”.

And in Italy, where Christmas markets are banned, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has reassured children that Babbo Natale will not be subject to any travel restrictions.

But Britons could have to pay for a family Christmas with tougher coronavirus restrictions on either side of the festive break, government scientists have said.

Public Health England warned that every day of relaxation would require five days of tighter restrictions afterwards, to get transmission rates back down.

“Saying to families, you can have a reasonably normal family Christmas, but then putting restrictions in place which may impact their livelihoods, I don't think is going to be a very welcome Christmas present,” said Mark Harper, a British member of parliament.

So, will we really be thanking our leaders for “saving Christmas”?

Festive joy?

Yes, say some. People have suffered massive loneliness during lockdowns all over the world. Everyone deserves a break. The illnesses caused by social isolation are often worse than the effects of Covid-19. It is well-established by social scientists that Christmas can be a terribly bleak time for those who are separated from friends and family. And to cap it off, the weather looks set to be bitterly cold across Europe.

No, say others. Politicians have fallen for the hype – encouraged by the marketing budgets of many giant corporations. What people most enjoy about Christmas is the anticipation – the last weeks of December with their simple pleasures such as advent carols, concerts, nativity plays and parties. We will now have a grim December and January for the sake of a five-day super-spreader holiday.

You Decide

  1. Which is better – to open presents, or to anticipate opening presents?
  2. Do you usually imagine things to be better or worse than they turn out to be?

Activities

  1. Think of the biggest festival celebrated by your family or friends each year. Do you think this day is the best day of the year? Write a letter to a newspaper explaining your point of view.
  2. Split into two teams for a class debate on the motion: religious festivals today are too commercialised.

Some People Say...

“Expectation is the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (circa 4 BCE - 65 AD), Roman philosopher, statesman and dramatist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed by many wise people that it is better to travel than to arrive. The novelist Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”. And more recently, Apple founder Steve Jobs gave his book the title The Journey is the Reward.
What do we not know?
One area of debate is precisely why this is so. Is it because humans have imaginations that create unrealistic hopes and desires? Or is that we are wired always to hope – a basic requirement of the will to survive. One study published in 2007 found that students felt happier while anticipating a holiday than while reminiscing about the same event.

Word Watch

Disappointment
Anticipating bans on mass Christmas gatherings, some British farmers have put their turkeys on diets so that they will be smaller this year.
Bonanza
An event or situation that suddenly creates large wealth or profits. Bonanza was originally a Spanish word meaning “calm sea”, which was good news for fishermen.
Black Friday
Black Friday is an informal name for the day after Thanksgiving, and traditionally marks the start of the US Christmas shopping season. Today, Black Friday sales are common worldwide.
En famille
To be with one’s family. It is a phrase used in English but comes from the French, where it means literally “in family”.
Babbo Natale
The Italian name for Father Christmas. It is only recently that he began to deliver gifts in Italy. Traditionally, children were told that their presents came from Jesus or their parents.

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