It breaks my heart, but I can’t justify going home this Christmas

There’s a particular type of sadness reserved for those who feel down at Christmas. For the past few years, my mental health has always been at its worst in December. As everyone else’s palette turns to red and green, illuminated by blinking string lights and candle glow, I can only see several shades of dull. 

The one thing that pulls me out of this distinctly un-festive feeling is simply being at home. Eschewing any notions of it being the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas is a low-stakes affair at our house, and that suits me perfectly. There’s no pressure for it to be greetings-card perfect. Just getting through the day, which I usually spend entirely in my pyjamas, is enough. I can feel serenely at peace, if not exactly happy, given the aforementioned seasonal gloom. 

But for the first time ever I’m not going to be at home in Manchester this Christmas. I’ll be in London, in my flatshare, having decided not to travel home because of the coronavirus. 

There has been a particular focus on getting university students home for Christmas, and rightly so. Many have faced self-isolating in their accommodation blocks with inadequate food and even more inadequate mental health support instead of what should have been an exciting first term. 

Under the Government’s plans for a ‘student travel window’, students will be able to travel from Dec 3 to 9 on staggered departure dates set by their universities to spend time at home. 

But what about those not long out of university? Those of us in our early twenties, living in slightly grubby shared housing miles away from our families?

The Government’s rules on forming a Christmas bubble make sense for those with relatives who live nearby. Meanwhile, those who are further afield are advised to consider other ways to celebrate, “without bringing households together or travelling between different parts of the country”, according to Government guidance. This is especially true if one of those household members is particularly vulnerable. 

Due to his age, my dad is considered vulnerable. I haven’t been home since the pandemic began. The only time I’ve seen my parents is when they drove over 200 miles to come and sit in my garden, two metres apart from me, for an afternoon in the summer.

Despite the tempting prospect of a Christmas bubble, I can’t justify potentially bringing the virus with me to the one place where I feel truly content at this time of year. Especially given the dire consequences it could have for my dad who, along with my mum, has thankfully avoided contracting Covid thus far. 

The fact that I won’t be able to hug my dad, who I speak to every single morning on the phone, at a time when I’ll need his hugs the most, is gut-wrenching. But, as Professor Chris Whitty said, just because we can hug our relatives, doesn’t mean that we should. With a vaccine on the way, and with it many future Covid-free Christmases, I’ve decided to stay put.

Not everyone has come to the same conclusion. I have friends who have chosen to visit their elderly relatives in case this is the last Christmas they can spend together. Others simply want to be with their families after a tremendously difficult year. “You can’t not go home for Christmas”, one said, when I told them about my decision to stay.  

I won’t be entirely on my own. One of my flatmates, who I didn’t know prior to them moving in, is spending the holiday at our flat with her boyfriend who we have formed a support bubble with. While I might be at risk of cramping their style, and greedily scoffing their roast potatoes, I’m grateful that I won’t be truly alone – as many people will be this Christmas. 

It will be a strange sort of Christmas all the same. A Christmas spent on Zoom, with presents sent through the post and a festive dinner for one. It certainly won’t be the perfect Christmas, whatever that means. But I’ll get through the day all the same. Hoping for a time I can celebrate in the usual blissfully underwhelming way, just how I like it, with the people I love the most.

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