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Christmas and coronavirus

Explains difficult feelings about Christmas during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Provides tips to help you cope, including if you're spending Christmas alone.

Difficult feelings about Christmas during coronavirus

Many of us may find Christmas difficult this year, for lots of reasons.

It might be that you were looking forward to this Christmas after having a different experience last year, only to have to change plans again this year.

Or you may have found Christmas tough in the past. This year might feel no different, or it may still feel harder than previous years.

If you often struggle with your wellbeing around Christmas, our information on why Christmas is hard may help.

These are some common feelings you might experience about Christmas during the pandemic. You may also have many other difficult emotions that aren't recognised here. And you may feel different to the people around you – this is ok.

  • Frustrated if your Christmas plans are disrupted, for example if you have coronavirus and need to self-isolate.
  • Worried about catching coronavirus or spreading it to others.
  • Overwhelmed by having to make new arrangements, particularly if you had already arranged things like childcare or respite care.
  • Unsure or confused about what you should be doing and what alternative arrangements you should make. This may be especially hard if people around you have different opinions or live in places with different rules.
  • Uncertain if you are planning to travel abroad, or about whether people you are close to can travel to the U.K.
  • Pressure if people around you have different priorities over Christmas. This may be stressful or upsetting, especially if you're asked to do things which make you uncomfortable.
  • Angry about coronavirus news and how the government is responding to the pandemic.
  • Tired and unwell if you have tested positive for coronavirus and are experiencing symptoms. This might make the idea of planning or finding ways to celebrate Christmas feel overwhelming.
  • Bereaved if you have lost loved ones to coronavirus.
  • Grief or disappointment for lost experiences, particularly if you were looking forward to Christmas this year to make up for other cancelled plans.
  • Feeling overlooked or ignored by news stories or social media posts about the 'perfect' Christmas, and how that might differ this year. This might include assumptions about what Christmas is usually like, such as spending time with family. This may feel difficult if it's different from your experiences.
  • Stressed or worried about money if you have unexpected costs due to changed plans, or if you have already spent a lot on Christmas plans you now need to change or cancel.
  • Wishing you could skip Christmas. You may feel like the pandemic gives you permission not to bother with Christmas. This might feel like a positive thing. But you may also feel guilty or ashamed, for example if it means not seeing friends or family.

If you're experiencing any of these feelings, it is ok to feel this way. And there are lots of things you can do to take care of your mental wellbeing.

“I feel confused with Christmas as we have two families we need to see but can't, and if we don't see them that's a drama.”

Ideas for celebrating Christmas during coronavirus

You might feel disappointed if your Christmas plans have changed this year. This might be frustrating if you were looking forward to this Christmas after missing out on your usual celebrations last year.

If you feel this way, the tips below may help you to enjoy Christmas during the pandemic.

If you find Christmas difficult or prefer not to celebrate it, our tips for coping during Christmas may help.

Take a break if you need to

Many of us may have had plans, spent money, or arranged travel for celebrations that have had to change or be cancelled. It is okay if you need to take some time to adjust to this, or just need a break. You could:

  • turn off the news for a while
  • take some time away from social media or your phone
  • spend some time alone
  • have a chat with a friend or family member, in a way that feels safe and supportive
  • do something to distract you like watch a movie, read a book, or listen to music
  • practise some mindfulness or relaxation techniques.

Taking this time to adjust might make you feel more prepared to handle changing your plans.

Make a plan for your Christmas

It might help to make a new plan for how you'd like to spend Christmas this year. This can include:

  • when you want your Christmas to start and finish
  • whether to switch off TV adverts or social media, to avoid stories or messages about any parts of Christmas that you miss
  • any traditions or celebrations you'd like to preserve this year, and anything you may want to postpone or part ways with
  • any catch-ups you want to have with those close to you, such as a phone call or video call
  • anything that has helped you cope this year which may help you get through Christmas
  • any new ideas you want to try to support your wellbeing.

“Christmas has been a bit of a dark time for me, even in previous years before the pandemic. The best way for me to cope is to try and have structured schedules in my day, and include self-care things like working out and creative writing.”

Try festive wellbeing activities

If you want to mark the festive season and support your own wellbeing, these are some Christmas-friendly activities that you could try.

Some of these ideas may work for you, but not others. Try not to put pressure on yourself to do anything you're uncomfortable with:

  • Enjoy nature. If you can't get outside into nature, there are things you can do to bring it into your home. For example, you could watch a nature documentary about winter. Or you could find a live stream from a zoo's website of some penguins or polar bears.
  • Get active. You could take a walk to see if there are any Christmas lights or window displays in your local area.
  • Connect with people. You could try writing down your reflections on this year and sending it as a letter to people in your life, and ask others to do the same. This is sometimes known as a 'round robin' letter. You could send it out with Christmas cards, or share it over email.
  • Learn something new. Try to learn a new recipe or craft, or teach yourself about another religious holiday.
  • Find purpose and community. You may be able to support a local charity or Covid-19 mutual aid group with a Christmas project.

Our page on coronavirus and your wellbeing has lots more tips for taking care of yourself during the pandemic.

Preserve and adapt traditions

If you have festive traditions which you enjoy, you may be able to adapt them for this Christmas. For example:

  • Instead of going to a Christmas carol concert or service, you could watch one on TV or join in with a virtual choir.
  • If you'd usually share a meal with certain people, such as friends or co-workers, you could plan to order delivery or cook and eat a meal at the same time.
  • If you have children and you usually take them to a Christmas fair or to visit Father Christmas, you could help them write a letter to Santa instead.

You might also want to introduce new traditions. This could be dedicating some time to remember a loved one. Or it could be taking some time for yourself, such as by meditating or writing in a journal.

Lynn standing next to trees

Why I'm hosting a virtual Christmas Crafternoon

“This year has been incredibly tough. Without having access to my regular support network, I have felt myself struggling more.”

Pause or postpone events

If there are events or traditions that you can't do this Christmas, it may help to think of them as paused rather than cancelled. You could make plans to postpone them until next year, even if they happen in the summer.

For example, if you were due to have a work Christmas party, you could suggest holding a summer solstice party instead. This could give you things to look forward to next year.

Part ways with things you don't enjoy

You might feel relieved that some parts of your usual Christmas may not happen this year. This may be a good reason to decide whether to stop these traditions in future. This could include where you spend your time, or who you spend it with.

For example, if you enjoy having a quieter, simpler Christmas than usual, you could give yourself permission to do the same next year.

This might feel difficult to do, especially if your Christmas usually involves other people. But making changes doesn't mean you've stopped caring about Christmas or your relationships. It's ok to find new ways to enjoy the festive period.

“I am looking forward to spending Christmas indoors with just my immediate family as I am finding exposure to others difficult because of the virus. So not travelling around to see everyone and spending it on our own – suits me!”

Be mindful of other people

You may plan to celebrate Christmas with other people in your life. If you are planning this, you could ask them whether they wish to celebrate Christmas, and how. And be aware of different people's experiences, and what they may be comfortable with.

These tips may help:

  • Try not to assume others will be comfortable or uncomfortable with your plans or ideas.
  • Be supportive of others who may not celebrate Christmas. Or those who do mark Christmas but also celebrate other festivals and holidays. They may have lost important moments this year too, for example religious festivals or events that they couldn't mark because of the pandemic. Or they may prefer not to celebrate Christmas for many other reasons, including bad experiences in the past.
  • You can also talk to others about anything you may find difficult this Christmas, to help them understand how they can support you. For example, you could let them know any activities you would or wouldn't like to be involved in. And you could tell them any topics you'd prefer not to discuss.

Our page on being supportive to others at Christmas has more suggestions which may help.

Spending Christmas alone during coronavirus

Not all of us will get to spend Christmas with the people we want to. This may feel tough if it's not how we would choose to spend the day, whether it's because of the pandemic or for other reasons.

If you are spending Christmas on your own this year, the tips below may help to make the day a little easier.

Some of them might work for you, but not others. Try not to put pressure on yourself to do anything you're uncomfortable with:

Focus on what you enjoy

  • Take some time to make where you live feel like a nice environment. This could be putting up Christmas decorations or photographs, or setting some time aside to tidy up. If you are spending Christmas in a care home or in hospital, you could talk to the staff if there are some changes you would like to make.
  • Plan to enjoy your favourite food or drink on Christmas day. This could be a special breakfast or some interesting soft drinks. It could be a good excuse not to eat traditional Christmas food.
  • Spend the day doing things you enjoy. For example, this could be taking a morning walk, playing games or doing puzzles. Or it could be enjoying your favourite book or TV show, or treating yourself to a lie-in.

“I'm going to be on my own at Xmas. I have plans for a walk in the morning, followed by roast chicken dinner, followed by tapestry and rest, then either a film or bath. I'm determined to enjoy the day despite being alone.

Connect with others

  • Connect with people. If there are people you'd like to speak to, you could arrange to talk over the phone or via video call. If you're worried about what to talk about, you could organise an activity to do at the same time. For example, this could be watching a film together or doing a quiz.
  • Go online. There are lots of ways to talk to people online, including with others who may be spending Christmas alone. Mind's online community Side by Side is a welcoming place to speak with others and share your experiences. And British comedian Sarah Millican hosts a Christmas day chat on Twitter each year, which anyone can join.
  • Engage with your local community. Some local events, like Christmas dinner meet-ups for people who are usually alone, might not be able to happen. But you may be able to find digital events organised for where you live. For example, this may be a live stream of a church service or virtual pub quiz.

“I'm not sure if I'm going to be alone for Christmas or not this year. If I am, I'll probably Skype with my mum, watch Christmas movies and just try to not think too much about it.

Choose whether to celebrate

You may decide not to mark Christmas this year, and just treat it as if it's any other day. This may feel easier than trying to celebrate alone.

It's completely understandable if you feel this way. These are some ideas which may help:

  • Let others know your plan. It might help to say that you're happy to hear from them on Christmas day. But they can also support you by treating it like any other day and not mentioning Christmas.
  • If you are planning to give any gifts, you could exchange your gifts in advance or after Christmas, so you don't have to worry about it on the day.
  • Limit social media and try to avoid adverts on TV or online. If you have any phone apps which might show Christmas content, you could turn off notifications for the day.
  • Eat foods you'd usually eat on a weekday, rather than traditional Christmas food.
  • Watch a TV series or film that isn't Christmas-related.
  • Do your usual housework and chores.
  • Go to bed at your usual time.

“My biggest tip I tell everyone is don't be afraid not to celebrate Christmas, don't feel obligated to do things you don't enjoy. You can make your own traditions.”

More information

If you're finding things hard during the coronavirus pandemic or struggling with your mental wellbeing, these pages may help:

This information was published in December 2021. 

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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