Just six days out from Christmas, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, declared it cancelled for the near nine million people living in England’s capital city. Off, done, finito.
Despite rapidly growing COVID numbers in the country and a struggling NHS, no one predicted that Johnson would put his foot down – for once – on such a significant day, leaving millions to spend the holiday alone and significantly impacting not only the moral of his people, but the future of his own leadership. After all, the UK’s response to the pandemic has been flailing at best with lockdowns imposed, then lifted, then quickly reinstated, tiers introduced and then taken away, leaving those trying to follow the rules constantly confused as to what they actually are.
Citing a ‘new strain’ of COVID, one that’s potentially more transmissible than previous variants, Johnson reignited fear, panic and chaos in the country, as supermarkets once again were filled with people stockpiling for the end of the world and anyone who even looked like they might sneeze was shot death stares.
In the hours following the announcement, Twitter was ablaze with fury directed at the government, something which only heightened when, the next day, over 40 countries cut off the UK completely. It turns out that Johnson had not only scared his people, but other world leaders, too, who, seeing the shitshow happening here, quickly worked to prevent anyone bringing the mess into their own backyard.
At home in New Zealand and Australia, people are preparing their barbeques, long lunches in the backyard and trips to the beach on Christmas Day. The fact that both countries are on the other side of the world, available to reach only by plane or boat, and with leadership who not only responded better (top points to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern), but who had months longer than those in the UK and Europe to figure out a solid plan, helped to steer both countries to relative freedom this festive season.
Though we love a good Christmas Down Under, the way it’s celebrated is completely different to that of the UK. Over here, Christmas is a reprise to the bone-chilling winter and grey, gloomy days. Meeting up with friends to toast to the season in the pub is an almost nightly occurrence, seeing Oxford Circus lit up with lights (this year, they’ve even turned those off), drinking mulled wine and bunkering down to open presents by the fire is tradition. If you’re lucky, some years it’ll snow.
To cancel Christmas in London isn’t just cancelling a day, it’s cancelling the spirit of the nation. It’s telling us that after all of the months spent in lockdown, it wasn’t enough. You still can’t see your family, you can’t say goodbye to the chaotic, traumatic year that was 2020 with a happy respite. It’s almost certain that this news will result in suicide rates and calls to mental health hotlines spiking and it’s almost certain that, if the virus was handled correctly by the country’s leaders, this could have been avoided.
Of course, right now the most important thing is the safety of others. We’ll complain, but we’ll also do as we’re told. We’ll get back on that dreaded Zoom app and pop our Christmas crackers through screens. This time next year, when we’re planning our big lunch with friends and family, we’ll know how lucky we are to have human contact and connection, and hopefully we’ll all stop to slow down and realise that community, family and friends really are the most important things. If we’ve learnt anything this year, let it be that (oh, and to not vote Tory).