One thing’s for sure, Christmas isn’t going to be the same as usual, this year.
Not least because rather than facing the standard questions from curious kids – such as how Santa can possibly visit every child in the world in one night, what happened to the large glass of sherry we left for him and why does mummy have a hangover on Christmas morning – children are wondering, rightly, about how Covid will affect the most wonderful time of the year.
Here are nine questions you might find yourself fielding in the run-up to December 25 – and some handy tips on how to answer them.
Is Christmas cancelled?
Kids – they get straight to the point, the little heartbreakers. The answer to this is... no, Christmas isn’t cancelled. Not completely, anyway. When children ask whether the big day is cancelled, just like trick or treating has been axed for Halloween, it’s best to tell it’s going to be a little different this year.
Kids like routine, so it stands to reason that preparing them for what to expect might alleviate anxiety over the unknown. Draw a mental (or physical, if you’ve got the skills) picture of what Christmas might be like, even though we can’t be 100% sure yet.
At the moment, outside of local lockdowns, the ‘rule of six’ still applies, so it’s worth telling your children to expect something substantially smaller – with fewer people, but full of love. It’s likely there may be a few family members they may not see this year, too – perhaps because they are vulnerable, or live in a different tier. Make sure your kids know this in advance. Preparing them is key.
Will Santa have to wear a mask?
It seems as good a time as any to hit home the importance of good hygiene, including wearing masks, so I’ll be telling my kids a firm “yes” to this one. I might even use it as an opportunity to get them to do something creative – like “let’s design a mask for Santa”.
After all, I need something to occupy them at half-term, and if you buy a pack of ten disposable masks, you can decorate the hell out of a couple and still have loads to spare.
Will Santa be allowed into our house?
In tiers 2 and 3, people aren’t able to mix indoors – so if your kids are old enough, they might question whether Santa can even come down the chimney to drop off their presents.
There are a few ways you could answer this. The government has made exemptions to the rules associated with local lockdowns for support bubbles and childcare bubbles, and as far as Santa is concerned? He’s exempt, too. Well, that’s what you could tell them anyway.
If your kids really want to quibble, you can tell them the rules only apply to socialising with regular human people inside your household – and Santa is, arguably, a magical being who can fly. So. He doesn’t count. Neither do his reindeer (a good thing, seeing as there are nine of them).
If they still aren’t happy? Tell them Santa is dropping the presents outside, and you’ll be getting up in the early hours to bring them all inside.
Will I be able to visit Santa’s grotto?
A number of Christmas markets across the UK have been cancelled, including some of Santa’s grottos. Those that choose to stay open will have to change the rules a little, which means no sitting on Santa’s knee, this year. It’s worth checking your local area to see if there is one you can visit before answering.
James Lovell, founder of Ministry of Fun, which runs “Santa School” in London, told Reuters they’ve created red velvet masks for Santa with white fur trim, and presents will be piled onto a small sleigh, which children can pull towards them.
Lovell insists social distancing won’t take anything away from the grotto experience. “It’s very easy to do and to make a child two metres away from Santa does not in any way take away from the magic,” he said.
What about the Christmas lights?
Your kids can still see the twinkly lights, for sure. But can they visit any light switch-ons? In Leeds, the traditional Christmas light switch-on is going online, with Leeds City Council asking people to submit video clips and images of their Christmas light displays at home so they can feature in an hour-long virtual event at 4pm on November 15.
Meanwhile, London’s Oxford Street famous switch-on will be happening quietly on November 2, earlier than usual to let people allow them for longer, and without an official event to mark the moment. It looks likely that there won’t be any grand displays during the pandemic – but you can tell your kids you’ll be bringing the magic to your home, instead.
Have a “light switch-on” in your living room. I’ll be making a special effort to light up my window this year, so that kids have a local light display to look at. We’ve done rainbows and teddy bears, could this Christmas herald the start of the collective Christmas window display?
Can we go to the pantomime?
A family Christmas tradition for many is going to the panto every year. Unfortunately, it looks set to be more like “oh no, he isn’t” in 2020, amidst ongoing theatre closures.
However, while many venues and production companies have cancelled their shows altogether, some venues – such as London’s Palladium, Blackpool’s Grand and Nottingham’s Playhouse, and others according to the listings – are staging socially-distanced productions, so it’s worth checking to see what’s on where you are. If not, can you watch a virtual one in the living room, with festive snacks and cosy blankets?
Will I get to be the sheep in the school nativity, again?
School nativity plays and Christmas concerts might not be happening this year, but some enterprising teachers are planning on putting their video editing skills to the test.
I *think* we are going to film separate sections and cut it together to send out to parents... 😬 When I say ‘we’, I mean I will organise this and become a video cutting pro 😂 we just need to make sure we have all the permissions sorted before we go for it.
— Shannen Doherty (@MissSDoherty) October 16, 2020
One teacher said her school is planning to live-stream a version of carols around the tree, and another said they would be going ahead with a nativity as usual – but filming it and putting it on a password-protected page on the school website for parents to access.
One teacher said they would be attempting to Zoom the entire thing for parents and carers. What’s that old adage about never working with children or animals, again?
Yes - we're hoping to live stream via Zoom to our Eyfs and Ks1 parents. As it's going to take place under our outdoor shelter I've even found some live sheep and a donkey. What could possibly go wrong?! 😂
— David Metcalf (@davidmetcalf30) October 16, 2020
It’s worth asking your school what they’re doing (but prepare yourself – and your kids – if the answer is, “not very much”). Take heart: you can still make that sheep, wise man or lobster costume at home, and entertain the family with a special Zoom nativity.
Can I cuddle Granny on Christmas Day?
If you live with Granny, your kids can cuddle her because she’s part of your household. If you don’t live together but you’re in a support or childcare bubble with Granny, hugs are probably okay – but be careful if Granny is vulnerable.
At the moment, if you’re in a tier 1 area, you can still mix indoors with up to six people, but family members or friends should not hug or kiss each other. This is because the rules on social distancing still apply, and members of different households should take care to keep two metres apart from each other.
Will we still have Christmas dinner?
There are no rules on social distancing from a turkey. Rejoice!
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.