How will Covid-19 affect Christmas 2020?

With the coronavirus pandemic having already led to so many of 2020’s planned events and celebrations being shelved, there’s now concern that it could also ruin Christmas, amid fresh restrictions being imposed on gatherings in England.

New rules banning gatherings of more than six people are set to come into force from September 14, with Chris Whitty warning that the rules won’t be changing in the next few weeks – which could potentially impact those festive family get-togethers and parties.

Although Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he ‘hopes’ they can turn things around before Christmas, Dr Hilary Jones has warned that this year’s festive season will ‘not happen unless we change what we are doing’.

So could Christmas really be cancelled courtesy of Covid this year – and just how much of an impact will the virus have on the festivities?

How will Covid-19 impact Christmas 2020?

Like most of the other festivals which have taken place in the shadow of the pandemic – including Ramadan, Eid and Passover – Christmas will of course happen on December 25 this year as usual.

And while Covid might not stop you from putting up your tree, tucking into your turkey dinner, watching those festive movies or listening to Merry Christmas Everybody on a never-ending loop, there are other aspects of the festive season which will almost certainly feel the impact.

Here’s what a Covid-19 Christmas might look like this year.

Festive shopping and Christmas post

As it stands your Christmas shopping should go ahead as planned unless non-essential retail is forced to close once again – but don’t forget your face covering and be prepared to socially distance from other shoppers. Ordering online this year could be the best alternative to ensure your Christmas is sorted.

When it comes to your your Christmas cards – Royal Mail told metro.co.uk it’s ‘too early to speculate’ over whether or not deliveries could be impacted by the pandemic. So our advice would be to get your cards and gifts sent out as early as possible to ensure nobody misses out on your Christmas cheer.

Christmas parties

Festive celebrations in December are as big a part of Christmas as the big day itself – but these are likely to be under threat this year unless the rules on gatherings of more than six people are lifted before the festive season rolls around.

On the one hand, this may save many people the embarrassment of having one too many at the office shindig and insulting their boss in eminently sackable fashion – but it’s also a potential disaster for the hospitality industry with no big festive parties or nights out to throw.

Kobir Ahmed from Indian restaurant Prana told metro.co.uk: ‘Work and office parties for sure are now cancelled especially with the announcement of the recent six people rule.

‘Christmas for hospitality is the most important part of the year and any chance of recovery or green shoots of recovery are now washed away. With rules ever changing it will be hard to plan for Christmas  as we don’t know what things will be like.’

Beke Igwe, who runs Beke’s Caterers, added: ‘Usually for Christmas we have around 10-15 parties, but the ones that we have booked have been moved due to the change in numbers. With that in mind, people are not keen to have parties – people are still working from home, so the whole Covid situation is affecting the catering business badly.

‘Mostly, we are not taking bookings, however we have started doing delivery. Right now, my diary is completely empty as I have had to move everything, so unless things change, which is unlikely, it will stay that way.’

Of course gatherings of six people will still be allowed – and it’s just possible you’ll have to celebrate in a lower-key fashion this year – but there could also be a rise in ‘virtual’ Christmas get-togethers, as people once again turn to Zoom and other apps which kept them connected during lockdown.

‘I think the focus will now remain on focusing on family dining and perhaps focus on providing more takeaway to virtual office parties and Zoom parties,’ Ahmed suggested. Christmas this year will be remembered for all the wrong reasons but perhaps hospitality can still play a part by using technology and put some joy on peoples dining tables  in offices and homes.’

Dr Daniel Atkinson, clinical lead for Treated.com, agrees, telling metro.co.uk: ‘I would think that many offices and workplaces will be adjusting team building events to be Covid safe. So this may be quizzes or games over video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, or events held outside (if the restrictions being implemented next week limiting gatherings to six are lifted by then).

If restrictions are still in place, it may be that some companies assign employees to bubbles or pods of six for people or less for their festive get-together, to limit the chance of wider virus exposure.’

So you may yet get a Christmas bash – albeit a very different one.

Christmas pantomimes and entertainment

Have pantomimes been cancelled? Oh yes they have. Theatres across the UK have shelved plans for their usual festive pantos this year – you can see a full list here of all those that won’t be taking place.

If your local theatre is not listed among them, your best bet is to contact them directly to see whether they still have plans to stage a pantomime this year – and if they do you can expect strict safety measures to be in place.

‘We’ve seen that theatres have reopened to some extent, running at reduced capacity with gaps between audience members,’ said Dr Atkinson.

‘So pantomimes may go ahead, but run a different performance schedule than normal to accommodate this. And it’s likely audiences will have to wear facemasks to limit the spread of infection.’

Anna Fiorentini from the Anna Fiorentini Film and Theatre School told metro.co.uk: ‘[We} would normally be using this term to work towards Christmas showcases and entertainment. We have had to take the decision to cancel these shows or else face costings. This, along with social distancing regulations and the general nervousness of the public returning to activities, has contributed to the demise of our students. Normally at this time of year we would have around 750 students, (both kids and adults). Now we only have 150 in total. Very frightening. We would normally be able to attract students with the prospect of being able to entertain friends at the end of term with a Christmas celebration.’

Christmas markets

So pantos might be out, but for some it’s just not the festive season without a trip to a Christmas market – although your seasonal shopping and cheeky glass of mulled wine might be compromised this year too.

As well as the cancellation of Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park – which features a big festive market at its core, as well as fairground attractions – in the wake of the pandemic, Birmingham has pulled the plug on its German Christmas Market, while festive markets in Bristol, Rochester and Bath have also been cancelled.

In Newcastle, local press have reported that the city’s travelling Christmas market won’t go ahead – although a smaller street market might – while a decision is expected this month on whether Manchester’s will still happen.

One festive market which is reportedly going ahead this year is in Edinburgh – although the plans have already drawn an angry response from locals, with one person calling them ‘a disaster waiting to happen’.

Dr Atkinson said that in theory outdoor Christmas markets could still go ahead – but could face some obstacles.

‘I would think that outdoor Christmas markets would still be feasible, provided the number of people admitted was limited and social distancing was effectively monitored, as we’re confident that the virus doesn’t transmit as easily outside,’ he said.

‘The people that staff Christmas markets are sometimes from abroad and national travel restrictions and quarantine rules might have implications on staffing, or the decision to bring a stall from overseas – so this might affect the number of outlets present.’

Santa’s Grotto

What about a trip to Santa’s grotto? Well that might be off the cards too – Harrods have said on their website, for example, that their traditional grotto won’t be happening this year (but that they will be announcing Covid-safe festive plans very soon)

That doesn’t mean grottos are off the cards completely – even if your little ones have to keep their distance and Santa has to don a face mask.

Dr Atkinson explained: ‘Santa’s Grotto will be a socially distanced affair. So sitting on Santa’s lap isn’t likely, because it is likely to put children, but moreover Santa, at increased risk of transmission.

Matthew Wise of Great Grottos told us that plans were still afoot for grottos to happen, albeit with precautions in place.

‘Great Grottos Ltd. hire over 500 Santas and Elves each year,’ he said. ‘Santa is at the centre of our Covid precautions. Families will need to maintain 1.5m distance from Santa and choose their own gift.

‘Grotto installations will need to either increase in size to afford social distancing, or move to an open format display where Santa is no longer in a Santa chamber.’

Christmas skating

Popping your skates on for a twirl round the rink at Christmas time is a bit of a festive treat, and with skating rinks having reopened in the UK hopes are of course high that you’ll be able to have your usual skating outing.

At the moment it’s not clear whether the usual skating rinks will be open this year – so your best bet is to keep an eye out for details of whether your local one will be up and running in a Covid-safe way.

Christmas family time

The day itself dawns, and you’re normally looking forward to a big family gathering with everybody round the table for lunch before curling up in front of festive telly. But with gatherings restricted to six people – and the possibility that could extend beyond Christmas – could that trip to see the folks be out this year?

Obviously that depends on how many people are in your family and whether or not any of you are in a support bubble – if your usual Christmas table consists of six people or less then you’re unlikely to be affected – and if your household or support bubble has more than six people then you’re also sorted (although you won’t be able to invite any guests round).

Elsewhere though others could face some tough decisions over who they can and can’t share Christmas with – adding to an already stressful year which has taken its toll on the nation’s mental health.

Helen Pinnock of The Wellbeing Clinic told metro.co.uk: ‘Many people are already struggling not being able to see family and friends in the way that they would like, many family events have had to be paired down or postponed. This is leading to increased levels of anxiety, loneliness and uncertainty.

‘Christmas can be a stressful time for many people who struggle with their mental health, these new restrictions around socialising and meeting with family and friends could exacerbate conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression. It is important to remember to be kind to yourself and prioritise what is best for you over the Christmas period.’

Christmas films and TV

Festive films and TV are as much a part of Christmas as turkey and crackers – and there is some good news on this front at least, in that we will at least have plenty to watch on the box.

With all the soaps now once again filming, we can look forward to EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale’s festive specials as usual – with Danny Dyer promising us we can expect a ‘dark Christmas’ in Albert Square this year.

The Call The Midwife Christmas special is also safe, after filming on that resumed in mid-August – and as per usual you’ll have the Queen’s speech and a whole host of festive films to enjoy – not to mention the John Lewis Christmas ad which we’ve heard nothing about yet but we would expect will be along as planned.

One show that will look a little different however is Strictly Come Dancing – which won’t be airing its usual festive special this year, but will be treating us to Strictly Come Dancing: The Christmas Countdown, featuring the 25 most memorable dances voted for by the viewers.

If you fancy a festive trip to the flicks, cinemas have reopened with Covid-safe measures in place – and at the moment a number of big films are slated for release over the festive season – including Peter Rabbit 2, the remake of cult sci-fi movie Dune and Steven Spielberg’s reboot of West Side Story.

The new version of Blithe Spirit – starring Emilia Fox, Leslie Mann, Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher and Dame Judi Dench – is also due out for Christmas, although again all this could change depending on events over the next few months, so keep an eye on those schedules.

Christmas travel

Train travel continued throughout lockdown – albeit with a reduced service – and there’s no reason to suggest trains won’t be running over the festive period, so your trip back home to see the fam should still happen (as long as there are only six of you of course).

However those of you who might be planning to get away from it all for Christmas might not be quite so lucky – with quarantine measures still applying to many countries across the world, anyone who wants a festive vacay may find themselves facing two weeks of quarantine upon their return.

That could also mean that if your family lives abroad you might have to miss out on seeing them this year.

Neil Baines of Flitestar said: ‘One of the most tragic aspects of Covid that we have encountered is that of families who live in different parts of the world, particularly when a close family member has fallen seriously ill or passed away. The inability of families to climb on a scheduled flight has resulted in some travellers flying privately but, in most of these  cases, the consequences of travel bans and lack of flights have been heart-breaking to watch.’

If you still want a Christmas getaway a staycation could be your best bet – but again you would have to limit numbers, as Mat Filewood of Scotts Castle Holidays pointed out.

‘Scotts Castle Holidays lets large holiday homes throughout the UK in properties that can accommodate ten or more people,’ he said. ‘The recent announcement that only six people can get together, means that few people are likely to book these larger properties for their holidays or special occasions in the coming months.

‘Government assistance minimised the financial damage caused by lockdown. None of this support is available to us going forward, yet the impact will be just as great, and much more so if it carries on through Christmas and New Year. 

‘Whilst it has been difficult to this point, we’ve somehow kept the wolves from the door. With this latest restriction on party size, it’s going to be a challenge to get through the winter.’

New Year’s Eve

2021 may seem like a long way off still, but no sooner is Christmas done and dusted than New Year celebrations come along – but we can expect them to be a bit more muted than usual this year.

As well as Edinburgh shelving its usual Hogmanay street party, the rules on gatherings could also mean no crowds in London to watch the fireworks either – with Mayor Sadiq Khan saying officials are ‘working through the available options’ when it comes to whether the usual midnight display will light up the skies.

So it looks like all those Happy New Year hugs and renditions of Auld Lang Syne might have to be done in the comfort of your own living-room this year too…

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