Bah humbug! Is Christmas really going to be cancelled?
That was the question on Wednesday, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a new “rule of six” in England, restricting gatherings to a maximum of six people from Monday.
Scotland later announced it was following suit. Wales and Northern Ireland have also tightened restrictions.
Mr Johnson said it was “too early to say” if big parties could be held over Christmas. And when asked whether families would be able to celebrate together during the winter break, Health Secretary Matt Hancock replied: “Not necessarily.”
So if the latest restrictions stay in place, how could Christmas be different this year?
1. The big day – and the big dinner
Under the new guidance, there will be a limit of six people from multiple households at social gatherings in England, and six people from two households in Scotland. There are some exceptions, but a family of five, for example, could be left with an awkward decision: do we invite grandma or granddad?
Either way, the rules mean there will be fewer places at the table for the all-important Christmas dinner – though there might be more turkey to go around.
But then it’s a guessing game for turkey farmers. Nick and Maria Davis, from Usk Vale Poultry in south Wales, normally raise 70,000 turkeys for Christmas, but have cut back by about 20% for 2020 due to the uncertainty.
“The run-up to Christmas is going to be a nightmare,” said Nick, adding: “It’s no fun for a turkey farmer at the best of times but this year we really are on tenterhooks – it’s a lucky turkey producer that gets this Christmas right rather than a clever one.”
2. The Christmas ‘do’
Annual office Christmas parties, Boxing Day turkey curry buffets, and pre-Christmas dinners with friends will also be subject to the “rule of six” – both in private homes and hospitality venues.
Venues following the government’s Covid-secure guidelines will be allowed to host more than six people in total, but no one should visit in a group of greater than six.
So, it will be strict guest lists only for Christmas 2020 parties. Of course, not everyone will be disappointed by the thought they may be excluded from the work Christmas bash…
Another pre-Christmas staple, for parents of young children at least, is the school nativity play. They could be on the calendar in England, provided the events can be put on in line with the government’s rules for performing arts.
3. Christmas Eve in the pub
The annual Christmas Eve trip to the pub to catch up with old friends and family also hangs in the balance.
Industry experts have warned of decreased trading levels in pubs after the latest restrictions, so it seems unlikely large crowds will be spilling out of the local pub, like they usually do during the party season.
Pubs will continue to implement guidelines “to guarantee their customers can safely enjoy the unique and warm atmosphere that only a pub can offer”, said Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association.
But “inevitably the announcement [on Wednesday] will cool public confidence to go and visit the pub, which will hit trading levels”.
4. Midnight Mass
Elsewhere, places of worship may remain open – but with a limit of six people attending per group, according to the new guidelines for England. There are also exceptions for places of worship in Scotland.
That means midnight Mass, Christmas Day Mass and Christingle services should be able to go ahead, but without the congregation singing.
At the service, the current rules say people should avoid social interaction with anyone outside the group they are with, even if they see other people they know.
“I welcome confirmation from the prime minister that places of worship can still hold more than six people in total,” the bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said.
“We will continue to work with the government on specific areas relating to our churches and church-based activities.”
Sadly, it might be more a case of “oh no, he isn’t”, when it comes to the Christmas panto this year.
Ongoing uncertainty over when theatres can fully reopen to audiences has already prompted many venues and production companies to cancel their 2020 shows.
People are allowed to attend indoor and outdoor performances in England, but theatres are still subject to social distancing guidelines. Theatres have yet to reopen in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Richard Hughes, chief executive of the Awen Cultural Trust, which runs venues in Wales including the Grand Pavilion in Porthcawl, has said while it was a “sad time” for theatre, “we understand why this has got to happen”.
“Going forward it is the uncertainty that is difficult to deal with. There is still no light at the end of the tunnel as to when theatres might return, let alone return without social distancing.”
Coronavirus restrictions will change the way we do our Christmas shopping. In short, there is sure to be more clicking and less charging around shops this year.
“It’s going to be a very digital Christmas,” said Natalie Berg, retail analyst at NBK Retail. She said how, when and what people buy this year would be “fundamentally different”.
Retailers like Amazon would continue to “scoop up” trade this Christmas, she said. Their biggest challenge would be ensuring they have enough capacity to fulfil the “tsunami” of online orders.
In terms of shopping in store, the general expectation was that footfall would be down year on year, she said. But when shoppers do go out they are “definitely spending”.
“Consumer demands haven’t disappeared, they’ve just shifted. Skipping the turkey but splashing out on Christmas decorations for the home would be a very 2020 thing to do.”
7. New Year’s Eve
And, after all that Christmas cheer, what about New Year’s Eve?
Well, some events have already been impacted by the restrictions. Tickets for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party were withdrawn from sale in July, with organisers saying the event could not go ahead in the usual way.
But parties at homes and venues could still be enjoyed – but only in groups of six, should the restrictions still be in place in England and Scotland.