Christmas turned into a crazed blowout. Covid will change that – Stephen Jardine

We may discover that a more subdued Christmas – forced upon us by the coronavirus outbreak – is better than drinking and spending to excess, writes Stephen Jardine.
It won't be Christmas as usual in Edinburgh this year (Picture: Andrew O'Brien)It won't be Christmas as usual in Edinburgh this year (Picture: Andrew O'Brien)
It won't be Christmas as usual in Edinburgh this year (Picture: Andrew O'Brien)

It was the cruellest irony. After four years of slaughter, the end of the First World War brought national rejoicing. With millions dead and Europe scarred, it was no surprise that crowds took to the streets to kiss, hug and celebrate. But death wasn’t done. The Spanish Influenza pandemic was waning in 1918 but the armistice jubilation sparked a second wave of infection and many who had survived the trenches succumbed to the flu.

As November became December, all the talk was of Christmas being cancelled. How could it go ahead when people gathering together produced a deadly spike? Then, in mid December, the infection rate started to fall and with a great collective national sigh of relief, shops and churches were allowed to open and a version of Christmas did go ahead. By the time it subsided in 1919, Spanish Flu had killed 40 million worldwide. A century on, the death toll for our contemporary version this week passed the one million mark but it’s not finished yet. With the infection rate rising again, we also face the looming issue of the greatest social gathering of the year.

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Normally anyone mentioning Christmas this early faces collective abuse and quite right too. But this year is different, students want to know if they will be home and granny is already worrying how many will be around the table to eat her famous plum duff. Even the turkey farmers have been complaining about the uncertainty of the current situation.

No matter what happens in the coming weeks, Christmas won’t be the same this year. On Thursday, Edinburgh’s Christmas Festivals were cancelled following the latest public health advice. So it won’t be the usual Christmas in Scotland’s capital city, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be worse.

Christmas wasn’t cancelled in 1918 or 1945, it was just different. And it won’t be scrapped this year either, especially not by Matt Hancock, who looks like how Bob Cratchitt would have turned out if the NHS had existed to fix his bad leg.

Every year Christmas seems to move further from what it is supposed to be. For most of November and December, the streets are filled with drunken revellers drowning in party spirit, vodka shots and sage and onion.

We trawl around mobbed shops, buy stuff no one wants and try to keep the receipt so they can take it back in January. All of this carried against the backdrop of packed pavements and buses and a nagging worry about how we are going to pay for it all.

This year instead is going to be the great reset Christmas. The headlong rush into conspicuous consumption has been halted not by Christians trying to reclaim the celebration or non-Christians trying to cancel it. Instead a pandemic has changed everything and you can’t argue with a virus. So instead of the usual crazed blowout, this year will be back to basics.

The big day itself will still go ahead but everything around it is going to be a bit more subdued. Given how many have died this year, that is only right. But for those of us who have survived 2020, we need something to celebrate more than ever this year and you never know, we might just like this version.

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