Written by Priyankaa Joshi
Tough Covid restrictions last Christmas meant our usual holiday plans with friends and family went out the window. Instead, we were forced to seek joy and comfort in new traditions. From handmade gifts to a Christmas Day run, we spoke to five women about the newfound festive rituals they’re sticking with this year and beyond.
Christmas 2020 was challenging to say the least. For many of us, our usual festive plans were upended as strict lockdown restrictions enveloped much of the country. With Covid cases soaring and concerns over the rise of a new variant, we were forced to stay home and unable to celebrate with our family and friends.
Although stringent measures were necessary, the reality of spending the festive period away from loved ones was incredibly tough. We were sad, disappointed and angry. After all, Christmas is all about tradition, whether that’s spending Christmas Eve in the local pub with old school friends or a Boxing Day walk with the whole family.
As our traditions went out the window, we had to find new ways to make the most of the holiday. While some discovered the joy of homemade gifts, others celebrated the festivities with a ‘friendmas’. Some took the opportunity to get to know their neighbours and many started volunteering with charities or supporting local initiatives. Ultimately, we all did what we could to find small joys in uncertain times.
As difficult as they were, the circumstances provided us with an opportunity to embrace new traditions. We spoke to five women whose 2020 festive rituals brought them so much joy that they’re holding onto them in 2021 and beyond.
“I found joy in making Christmas gifts”
Nelle, 28, Bristol
“Throughout the summer, I’d been gardening and foraging a lot as I found nature was a great remedy for everything that was going on. I thought about what I could do with the petals I’d gathered or the berries I’d foraged and making Christmas gifts came to mind.
It’s something I’d always wanted to do but lockdown gave me the opportunity as I had more time on my hands. I made calendula balm, I brewed sloe gin, I created decorations out of dehydrated oranges and lemons, I started wreath-making, and I made my own Christmas cards, with help from my boyfriend, who’s a printmaker. I found it really therapeutic as it kept me busy and gave me a goal during a difficult time.
As hard as it was not seeing family, because it was the first Christmas we’d spent at home on our own, I had the chance to create my own traditions. These are the things that I’m going to keep doing now for years to come.
This year has been a lot busier, but I’ve carved out time to make gifts and decorations. It brings me so much joy and makes me feel really Christmassy in a way that doesn’t involve going to the shops or spending lots of money. It’s also more personal as I think about what each person would like from the things I’ve gathered. People seem to really enjoy that.”
“I started running on Christmas morning”
Minreet, 40, west London
“I was feeling particularly lonely during lockdown last Christmas as I live with my parents, who are in their 70s, and didn’t see my extended family or friends. It took its toll on my mental health and wellbeing.
As 25 December got closer, I really wanted to see some friendly faces. I had tried to get into running for ages, so I thought to myself there’s no better time to start than Christmas Day. I even took my mum with me. The official parkrun wasn’t on for obvious reasons, but there were a few others there to run too.
Even though it was a difficult time and things weren’t the same, I tried to make the most of the situation by spreading joy. I loved the feeling of saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to people who were there running alone or with family and friends, while also getting fit. It was such a nice start to Christmas Day – the atmosphere was vibrant and I was able to forget about everything that was going on for a short while. It’s a memory I’ll never forget.
This year parkrun is, hopefully, back on properly and there’ll be a bigger crowd. I’ve got lots of friends coming and even my gym mates are joining in. I’m going to make it extra special by dressing up in a festive outfit and I’ll bring chocolates to share around. The Christmas Day parkrun is something I want to do every year from now on – it’s the most joyful thing ever.”
“We spread festive cheer by making Christmas lip-sync videos”
“Last year was my first Christmas with my partner, and although we had planned to spend it with his family, we ended up being at home just the two of us. We were unbelievably disappointed but we wanted to make something positive out of the situation.
We randomly came up with the idea to lip-sync to a popular Christmas song and record it, opting for the live version of All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey and Jimmy Fallon. I dressed up in a festive outfit and we acted really animatedly – it was a lot of fun. We then sent the video to our families, friends and colleagues. No one knew what was hitting them and we all had a good laugh about it.
Because people enjoyed it so much we made a second video. This time, we levelled up our production by using a green screen. We acted out a scene from Pitch Perfect 2 with Anna Kendrick and Snoop Dogg and added all sorts of funny backgrounds as we lip-synced to the song. We loved the positive feedback and it felt good knowing that our videos were cheering people up during a depressing lockdown. Plus, we found filming and editing the videos really enjoyable.
We’re making another video this year and we plan on doing it every Christmas moving forward. We love being creative together and if it puts a smile on the faces of people we love, it’s totally worth it.”
“We got to know our neighbours by toasting marshmallows in the garden”
Anna, 36, Belfast
“On Christmas Adam, the day before Christmas Eve, we invited a family in our local neighbourhood round to toast marshmallows in the garden as a last-minute thing to help with feeling festive. It was a really fun couple of hours. We wrapped up warm and huddled around a small fire in the garden, toasting our marshmallows with skewers in the dark.
My family and I had only moved to Belfast a couple of months before the pandemic so it was a very lonely time for us. We were keen to take every opportunity to meet people and the restrictions allowed us to meet outside so we decided to do something. I also had a strong sense school would be closed in January so I wanted to give my kids a chance to spend time with other children while they could.
We wouldn’t have done anything like this if it weren’t for the pandemic but we’re really excited to make it into a fun yearly tradition. It’s such a simple thing to do but it’s a way of coming together and getting to know new people.
Last year, we only had one family over but this Christmas we’ve got four neighbours coming. We usually just say ‘hello’ when we see them walking past so it’ll be a nice opportunity to connect. With festive music, toasty marshmallows and some loud, excited children, it’s set to be a great success.”
“I started a Christmas toy project”
Lily, 31, London
“I’d been a volunteer with the Dons Local Action Group since March and wanted to do something to bring some Christmas joy to the children in the families we support. For people in poverty, life was tough enough before the pandemic and Covid made their struggles even worse, so I started a Christmas toy project.
We initially set out just to provide children with Christmas treats but things quickly blew up. Teaming up with the AFC Wimbledon Foundation, we were able to provide over 500 toys and presents to children in poverty. Thanks to a separate donation, we also bought coats for the children and gave them festive food including mince pies, Christmas puddings, crackers and advent calendars.
It brought me so much joy to see everything come together. I felt overwhelmed knowing that because of the community, we’d be putting a smile on the faces of 500 kids. As well as becoming a personal tradition for me, it’ll definitely be something the group does every year going forward.
Last year there were just three of us, but this year we’ve already got 15 volunteers wrapping and sorting presents, ready to get them out to people in time for Christmas. Thanks to everyone’s generosity last year, we’re able to do the same and more. I’m so grateful to be part of it all.”
Images: courtesy of interviewees; image of Lily – vivianbirch.com
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