We’ve been down this road before. Christmas feels so close and yet we still aren’t sure if celebrations can go ahead as planned. And after the last-minute government U-turns in 2020, it’s hard to feel confident things won’t change.
Since scientists identified the new Covid-19 Omicron variant, one we are still learning about, several Covid measures have been put back in place, including face masks in public places and travel restrictions. No wonder many of us feel wary of taking Christmas for granted.
So, is it time to make contingency plans for the festive period? And if you are already beginning to think about back-up arrangements, in case you aren’t able to travel or feel uncomfortable about large family gatherings or putting vulnerable relatives at risk, how should you discuss this with loved ones?
Well, firstly, it’s important to know what the actual rules are. Currently, the UK government hasn’t put any sanctions on Christmas and health secretary Sajid Javid has so far told the public thatwe can “carry on with Christmas”.
“I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas, I think it’s going to be a great Christmas,” Sajid told Sky’s Trevor Phillips, but not without leaving some wriggle room, adding: “I think it’s fair to say that the nature of this pandemic is it would be irresponsible to make guarantees.”
If nothing changes, there’ll be no need to pre-order a turkey for one in lieu of a big family shindig. However, we’ve checked in with a public health expert on the likelihood of further restrictions being imposed later on during December.
Dr Jyotsna Vohra, director of policy at Royal Society for Public Health, says it might be too early to tell whether Christmas will stay as it is.
She tells HuffPost UK: “We are waiting on three pieces of data before they will be able to tell what effect the new variant might have, including transmissibility, severity of disease especially for vulnerable and old people and vaccine escape.
“We should be able to have a clearer view on how the new variant should impact our Christmas plans in the next few weeks. For the time being, the new Omicron variant is a cause for concern but not a cause for panic.”
Dr Vohra adds that we can still act now to protect our Christmas plans: “Our advice to the public is clear: Get your vaccines and booster when you are eligible, limit social contacts when you can, work from home if possible, wear a mask in crowded public places, take a lateral flow test before meeting loved ones, and follow hygiene principles, including ventilating the room.”
How to have that tricky Christmas chat
If the precariousness of the pandemic has you leaning towards scrapping or changing your initial holiday plans, it can be a difficult conversation to have.
This time of year can already feel fraught for families, as Josh Smith, a counsellor at relationship support organisation Relate, explains.
“Often, more is asked from people than they feel able to give, which can result in feelings of guilt and rejection. Changing circumstances and uncertainty around Covid-19 restrictions may also have an impact on plans,” he says.
“While some people may be comfortable with a big Christmas dinner, others may not and anyone’s feelings around this could change at any point depending on what’s happening in their life and with the pandemic.”
So what do you do? “Before starting the conversation it could be helpful to reflect on your emotions and what you can offer before then thinking about your limits,” says Smith.
Try to be realistic first about what you are comfortable with, Covid-wise, and can cope with in terms of family expectations, he adds. “If it’s going to be a difficult conversation, try and set a time for it when you won’t be disturbed.”
Give everyone involved a chance to say their bit. “It’s helpful if everyone gets an opportunity to speak about how they’re feeling and what their needs are from Christmas. Don’t jump straight into trying to solve the problem,” says Smith.
“Try to listen while this is going on rather than thinking about what you’re going to say in reply. New possibilities for compromise might arise that you might not have prepared before, so be open to these.”
Smith recommends summarising what has been agreed, so everyone is clear, but also preparing for an outcome where you’ve not resolved the plans.
“It might be that you can’t agree – that there is no solution that’s acceptable to everyone,” he says. “The conversation doesn’t necessarily have to be concluded in one go. Sometimes having time to reflect and revisit it later on can be helpful.”
Ultimately if a compromise is not possible, a change of perspective might be called for. But if you’re already having second thoughts, it is sensible to voice your concerns now so you don’t leave friends or family with last minute changes to make to their arrangements – or no company on the big day itself.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.