Dear Diary : Christmas in England during a Pandemic

A little bit of a different post but I wanted to record normal family life and our Christmas during the Coronavirus Pandemic in 2020. At this point in time, Steve and I are in our late 30s living in Cramlington, Northumberland with our children Harry (14), Heidi (11) and Jack (9). We have been living with Coronavirus restrictions for 8 months now. 

I am usually super busy from mid-November to mid-December attending various Christmas events, pantos and markets. This year is going to be pretty different for us. I will be updating this post and re-sharing regularly with little snippets of what we've been up to. 

Our 2020 Christmas 

Christmas was divided across the country this year with different regions having to face different restrictions. Here in North East England, we were in Tier 3 which meant we could form an exclusive bubble with up to two other households (so three households in total) on Christmas Day and then usual restrictions applied for the rest of the Christmas period ( mostly - we cannot meet with others indoors). My heart goes out to those mainly in the South who are in Tier 4 and were unable to form a Christmas Day bubble. 

I ended up deleting Social Media from my phone on 23 Dec as it was just making me anxious about the different Tier systems, the cases of COVID increasing and the consequences of this. I don't want to be dismissive at all but it just wasn't good for me and I needed a break. I can still access Social Media via my computer and I will probably keep it this way for the rest of the Christmas period. The break has done me good! Anyway, here is what we got up to.......

Christmas Eve 2020

I didn't take a single photo on Christmas Eve which is unheard of for me. We just had a nice chilled one at home. Steve was working and didn't get home until 5ish but we just watched films, all had baths with our Christmas bath bombs and the kids roped me into lots of games of Among Us and I actually won a couple as the imposter. Then in the evening we had a picky tea and watched Jack who was reading in Cramlington's virtual Christmas Carol Service which was lovely. This was followed by myself, Steve and Harry watching It's A Wonderful Life which is our tradition and then Steve and I watching Jonathan Ross. 

Christmas Day 2020 

We spent Christmas Day morning at home. For the past few years my three have woken up past 8am but not this year! Jack was messaging the family whatsapp groups we have with the grandparents at 6am this year! We dragged ourselves out of bed at around 7:15am. 

We were very lucky this year, Harry opened an Oculus Quest VR headset, Doctor Who magazine subscription and various XBOX/Playstation games and vouchers as well as a few South Park gifts, Heidi opened a new chair for her bedroom, lots of loungewear/joggers, accessories for her bedroom and a crow soft toy which she had asked for! Jack received LEGO Dimensions expansion packs, Doctor Who figures, new Switch controllers and computer games, Steve opened binoculars, a new chopping board and the usual smeellies/tshirts/drinks and my bro had crafted us a new bath tray. I was chuffed to receive some of the much-coveted M&S sparkly Gin, some new proper pans which we asked my mam for and the kids bought me a gorgeous Robin mug which they picked out themselves and I will treasure. Steve and I didn't exchange gifts this year as we are hoping to buy a new Sage coffee machine in the Jan sales. 

After opening our gifts, facetiming Steve's parents and grandad and enjoying our bacon sandwiches, we found ourselves in the weird position of the kids disappearing upstairs into their room which never usually happens on Christmas morning. So Steve and I opened a bottle of Bucks Fizz and watched the Gruffalo just us two. 

At lunchtime we walked over to my mam's house. She only lives up the road. In the end we just formed a Christmas Day bubble with her household. We do mix sometimes anyway due to childcare and my mam is tested for COVID twice weekly due to her job so it felt like we kept the risk of mixing to a minimum. We usually go out for Christmas Day lunch and I wish we had been able to do this as despite ordering a takeaway/cooking a few curries etc.... in advance, my mam still ended up spending most of the time in the kitchen setting everything up/cleaning. She won't take any offers of help! I loved having an Indian feast for Christmas Day Lunch and would highly recommend. 

After lunch we watched the Queen and we spent the rest of the afternoon playing JackBox games together which were really funny. 

Boxing Day 

On Boxing Day the kids were able to meet with Steve's parents at the beach for an hour which I am so grateful for. This would not have been possible if we were in Tier 4! We then exchanged gifts in a car park in Blyth. Not the most glamorous of Christmases and a far cry from our usual Boxing Day buffet at the inlaws with leftovers and games but like I say, I am just grateful the kids got to see both grandparents still this year as I know many are not in this position. 

It was then back home for another Christmas buffet and we watched The Customs House panto on USB. It was actually really good and the kids were still giggling along and shouting 'He's Behind You'. Not the same, but definitely the best alternative. 

I have struggled to feel Christmassy at all this year, we did have a lovely time but I just haven't felt the same at all. It has been very quiet for us but I am thankful for our health, each other and modern technology which has allowed us to keep in touch. 

Sunday 13 December - A lockdown week off & boredom hits 

Steve has had this week off work and it has been my birthday too. Sadly, Wynyard Hall cancelled our spa day due to lack of customers and it was too late for us to find anywhere else who could accommodate what we wanted. Sad times! 

My birthday week has been very chilled and mostly based around food. Steve made it special by writing me a poem and I met up with some friends too which was nice. We enjoyed takeaway food from Fenwick Food Hall on the day of my birthday and I got drunk at home in my PJs after drinking far too much Prosecco. 

I am SO bored right now. I am someone who likes to be busy and after 9 months of staying at home, I am well and truly sick now. After our trips to Holland, the Peak District and France were all cancelled this year, I really did think our January break to Kielder would still go ahead but even now that looks unlikely. 

I feel like I am living in groundhog day. I have zero motivation to work on my blog right now and doubt there will be any work available until late January / February. All I feel like I do is sit at home, read, watch TV, cook and clean with the odd walk thrown in. By now, I feel like I have exhausted all options for at home entertainment and I kind of just want Christmas to be here and over with now which is sad as usually I love the build up. I feel like I need a new lockdown project of some kind but now we are too close to Christmas to start anything new. 

The whole Tier situation is really getting my down now too. Here in the North East, we have been under the tightest of restrictions for so long now and it truly sucks. I am starting to struggle at watching some of my friends in Tier 1&2 areas visit galleries and museums, meet friends in pub beer gardens and enjoy a festive meal and cocktail in a restaurant. It is really hard when you just don't see the reasoning behind this being allowed either. London is in Tier 2 at the moment but some of their rates of infection are so much higher than those in the NE.

Take Havering for example -  an average of 76 cases per day per 100k people and an incidence rate of 535. Compare this to Northumberland who have an average of 23 cases per day per 100k people and an incidence rate of 160. Why are we in Tier 3 yet London is in Tier 2? I know it's not as simple as looking at the basic figures but the North-South divide has never been greater in my mind. They are going to announce new tiers next week and you just know London and the North East will probably stay as they are. It's infuriating! 

This is a super selfish thing to say but we always go to the cinema and see a new release just before Christmas. It is one of my favourite Christmas traditions. We were all SO excited to see Wonder Woman 1984 but now it looks like that won't be allowed where we live yet Londoners can. They have made the decision not to stream it on Pay Per View services until a later date in the UK too. It all feels like there is one rule for some, another for us. 

The kids have one last week at school before they break up. Harry's is filled with end of year assessments which he has been revising for this weekend, Heidi's is pretty much a normal week and Jack has lots of fun planned with his usual Christmas party etc..... The school usually pay for the kids to see the panto at the Theatre Royal on the last Thursday of term but that has been cancelled this year. Instead they have a very special treat arranged which Jack is over the moon about and Harry and Heidi are very jealous. I am so thankful that school has really made Christmas extra special for Jack this year. 

I know some people have been talking about taking their kids out of school to minimise the risk of catching COVID and needing to self-isolate over Christmas before meeting up with relatives. We have been super lucky and no self isolation has been needed for H, H or J since they returned to school. I feel like the odds are in our favour and we will be ok but obviously, there is a risk that the kids may be told they need to self-isolate over Christmas which would be awful. We will cross that bridge if we come to it though and after a lot of thought, I do think my three are better off at school whenever they can be there. A huge thanks to our teachers and school staff - there is no PPE and minimal social distancing in schools so I know you are risking your own Christmas (and health!) for the sake of your students. Thank you. 

I did a doorstep visit to my Grandma this week which technically isn't allowed but I just dropped her gifts off at her door and stood 2m+ back in her garden as we had a quick catch up. She hasn't left the house since March bless her and is usually very sociable with lots of groups etc.... She is staying at home alone on Christmas day as is Steve's grandad. I asked her if she was going to get the vaccine and she is so I am really pleased about that and hope she can start to get her life back soon. 

The Coronavirus figures are on the rise again now and it looks like the Tier system just isn't working. I just wish we could get a grip on it. RIP to everyone who has lost their life and my heart goes out to their families. I expect super strict restrictions to be in place this January and February (I think this would be the case even if we did not have Christmas bubbles) and sadly, a third wave is probably on the cards. I don't feel ready to book a holiday or events yet as there still doesn't really seem to be an end in sight. Fingers crossed for the summer though. Steve turns 40 in July and I would love to be able to plan a big celebration for him and for this to be behind us by then. 

No plans for me next week - I am going to work on some post ideas for January, read more of my book and plan a few after-school treats for the kids. We are going to have a make-your-own pizza night one night and make epic hot chocolates another. I plan on going for a walk to see the lights one night too and we may toast some marshmallows in the garden. I have actually booked a restaurant over the Christmas holidays in the hope that we may be switched to Tier 2 but as the days go on, this seems very, very unlikely. We have to live in hope though. 

Wednesday 2 December - Self Employed Grant, Mud Chambers and Tier 3 Birthday Plans 

So, what's been happening? Well today, we exit the national lockdown and moving back to a regional tier system. Here in the North East we are facing the toughest of restrictions and although shops can all now fully open (Primark is opening for 24 hours straight!), bars, restaurants, pubs and cafes can operate as takeaway only. I work with many hospitality clients and I am so sad for them. Most have done everything they can to keep their customers and staff safe and I really hope this doesn't go on for too much longer. 

It's my birthday next week and Steve has the week off work. Usually we would be busy with a weekend break and kids' Christmas shows etc.... but this year is a little different. I have managed to book a couple of things to look forward to - I have ordered a few cocktails from the Cook House in Ouseburn to enjoy at home, a few cakes from Dreamworld Cakes where I have wanted to try forever, a cook-at-home tapas deal from Fuego and even some time in a spa too. 

I booked Wynyard Hall Spa as they limit their spa to 10 people at one time (which would probably be a maximum of 5 'bubbles' so there will be plenty of space to spread out and stay away from others. Rather than a treatment we have booked a Rasul Mud Chamber which is always fun. It was only £25 pp for 1 hour in the spa, robe hire and a 45 minute mud chamber experience which I think is a bargain. They have a good cancellation policy too. Wynyard Gardens farm shop and garden are open on the day of our visit too so we are going to combine the two. I remember back in the summer there is no way I would have gone to a spa but now I feel confident that as long as we are careful and don't go joining other groups in a sauna etc...., we will be ok. 

One thing I am pleased about moving out of national restrictions is that we can now meet in a group of up to 6 people outdoors in some public spaces and I will be making full use of this and meeting a few friends for a walk and catch up over the coming weeks. 

Steve and Harry have decided we are going to watch 24 Christmas movies in December - one each night. I am writing little reviews on my Instagram Stories if you are interested. We started with The Christmas Chronicles last night and tonight it is The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I don't think I've ever actually watched the original animated version so will be interested to see how it compares to the new one. 

In terms of getting ready for Christmas, I feel like I am pretty much done now which is unusual for me - usually I still have loads to wrap. Sorry to be smug but it is SUCH a relief! 

I was accepted for the third self-employed grant this morning. There is a fair bit of criteria to hit but thankfully, I am eligible to apply. This is mostly as I have been trading for over three years, my profits have been affected by the pandemic and my business is my only source of income. I predict December-March will be VERY quiet business wise but I fully expect to bounce back in Spring. I cannot wait! This time around you need to keep a diary of proof that your business has been affected. Recording every time I am told 'there is no budget'  over the next few months is going to be a thoroughly depressing but needs must! 

The UK is the first country to approve the Pfeizer (sp??) vaccine today and it is starting to be rolled out next week. I am so pleased there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

I have no Christmas events booked at all but yesterday I was asked if I would like press tickets to Ignite at Gibside. Personally, I think the event is expensive and didn't buy tickets myself due to being super skint at the time they were released and all of the uncertainty. I have decided to accept the press tickets though to see what it is like and I will write a blog review to let you all know and share some photos too - my one and only Christmas event of 2020! 

The kids' Christmas plans are shaping up quite nicely thanks to their schools - Jack is actually going to be doing a Christmas performance which will be shared with parents via video which is fab news. He is playing the donkey's lawyer so looking forward to that! Christmas parties, Christmas lunches and fairs are all able to go ahead in some form too which I am pleased about. 

This weekend is our Christmas Lunch. Preparing a decent Christmas lunch does take time and we like to do it on a day other than Christmas Day so Steve isn't in the kitchen all day. I am going to make a chocolate orange trifle for dessert and typing this has just reminded me that I must remember to buy some Christmas crackers! 

Hope you are all doing ok. 

Wednesday 25 November 2020
- Christmas Bubbles, The Christmas Chronicles & Festive Bedding

Yesterday the Government announced their plans for Christmas bubbles - up to three households are able to get together over Christmas for five days over Christmas. The bubbles need to be exclusive and we need to be sensible (and there are some exceptions). 

As I mentioned on my Instagram stories, I already know there is going to be SO much judgement over this and what people choose to do. I can see a third wave being blamed on those who do meet up with families and those who don't called selfish/that they don't love their family/they don't care about mental health. In fact I have already seen a bit of this today. For goodness sake, please remember to be kind. We all face some tough choices but I am sure everyone will make the right choice for their circumstances. 

Today I cleaned the kids' bedrooms out and changed their bedding over to Christmas bedding. They have never had Christmas bedding before but we will be pretty much spending all of December at home so I thought it was a nice tradition to start and it would see them through their teenage years too. It's never too late to start a new tradition. I bought them some new PJs (Asda), a Santa hot water bottle (the type you put in the microwave - £3.99 for Home Bargains), a festive candle (also Home Bargains - 79p) and a new Christmas book, 'The Geordie Santa' by local magician Chris Cross which looks fab (buy here). 

Tonight we are watching The Christmas Chronicles 2 which premieres on Netflix. I love the first film and cannot wait to see the second installment. I have gone a little extra with a red carpet and we are having Bucks Fizz and Pigs in Blankets / canapes too. I am really trying to find the magic where we can this year. 

Tomorrow I am meeting a friend at the beach for a walk and takeaway coffee. Under current rules, you can meet one other person (who is not from your household) outdoors (whilst socially distancing). I have been feeling really lonely at home all day every day with no one to talk to so I am looking forward to actually going out, getting some fresh air and catching up with a friend. 

The rules around meeting others changes back to 'the rule of 6' (with various restrictions depending on your Tier) on 3 December. Before the pandemic I used to catch up with the girls regularly and we would spend mornings at Wetherspoons with unlimited coffee but it has been much harder to meet up this year - a combination of restrictions, lack of time and lack of childcare. I really miss it so at the moment, will take any chance to meet up that I can.  

Monday 23 November 2020 - It's Beginning to look a lot like Christmas, a festive toastie and a Prime Minister's briefing

I have taken this week off work (well as 'off' as I can) to get the house sorted for Christmas. I spent the morning wrapping gifts which is usually my most-hated job but it actually wasn't too bad today. I treated myself to a festive toastie and chocolate orange hot chocolate from Costa for lunch and it was just the best. I ordered via Uber Eats and it was here in 15 minutes. Fab service! I reckon this may be a regular Monday treat for me now. 

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I am organising our house room by room and started with our conservatory. Harry and Heidi went in the loft yesterday and accidentally brought our old Christmas Tree down too so I decided to put this up in the conservatory with a few super old baubles. I added a few festive touches and put our advent calendars out too. Over the next few weeks I will be trying to find a nice table runner to finish the room off. I haven't been able to find one I like so far. 

I have extended our table out for over December so there is more room for decorations and space for our early Christmas dinner which Steve is cooking for us on 6 December. I think it looks much better extended and might just keep it like this permanently. 

So our main Christmas Tree was just in a box on our living room floor staring at me. I couldn't resist so put it up. I love it! I am holding off putting the baubles on until Friday though so we can make it more of a family occasion. Our main Christmas Tree has pre-lit lights and I highly recommend this type of tree. There are also 7 light settings with warm or bright lights available. We have had it for 5 years now and it's still going strong. 

I want to get a Poinsettia for the centre of the fireplace where the mini tree is but that will just have to wait for when I am next at the shops whenever that may be. 

I have just finished listening to the Prime Minister's statement to Parliament. Boris had to speak to the House of Commons via video link as he is currently self-isolating. The Speaker of the House apologised that not all of the TVs in the chamber were working properly and MPs would just have to watch as best they can. Honestly sums up the Government.

He outlined a few of the measures that are going to be in place when we exit this current lockdown on 2 December and mentioned that a lot of the country will be in stricter measures than before and this does have me worried that the North East will be in the toughest tier 3 restrictions. 

Yes, there are bigger things at play here and it is not going to be like this forever but having pubs, restaurants and hospitality venues closed in December just makes me so sad.  All of the venues I have visited when I have been able to have been super careful with everything. Obvs I am not a Scientist but I do question the thinking behind this one.  Even saying they could open and we were only allowed alcohol with a meal, table service only, face coverings when not seated and limited to two drinks would make a huge difference. I don't know what the answer is and it is tough but I can't help but feel so sad for the pubs and restaurants facing yet more restrictions after the toughest of years. 

I also worry about the theatres and indoor entertainment venues that have made plans for December and if placed in tier 3, will no longer be able to go ahead. So many disappointed families and business owners and just another write-off to add to this year. I just hope that these measures actually work and do reducetransmission. I understand the importance behind the decisions but I also think it is ok to feel sad at more restrictions being placed on your life. 

We have booked a lodge at Kielder in early Jan and I pray this can go ahead. Hotels are not able to open in Tier 3 and there is still a bit of time until then (and we may not be in Tier 3) so I guess we just have to wait and see. To me, us staying in a lodge in the middle of Kielder is very minimal risk to us and others - we won't see a soul and will keep ourselves to ourselves. 

The Prime Minister is giving a press conference at 7pm. I probably won't listen tonight. I remember at the start of the pandemic I was glued to the screen but now it's just kind of same old, same old and he often gets his own measures wrong and gives incorrect info anyway. I prefer to go off the guidance published on the Government website. We will find out what tier we are going to be in on Thursday. 

Steve will be home for 5pm this week so I am looking forward to snuggling up on the sofa tonight and watching the next episode of The Undoing and the final episode of this current series of The Crown. Take care. 

Sunday 22 November 2020  - Christmas during a Pandemic

Today is stir up Sunday, I have already made our Christmas cake but did 'feed' it with amaretto today. Lots of people have put their Christmas trees up early this year (and I don't blame them) but I am sticking with the last weekend in November. Steve is actually working next weekend so we are going to do in on Friday night. 

Steve and the kids are heading into the loft today to get our tree and decorations out in preparation. We seem to have accumulated lots of decorations over the years and have three big bags, a suitcase and a tree in a box. I am looking forward to reading through my Christmas recipe books tonight. 

I think most people are preparing for a Christmas at home this year. I have never been one to 'deep clean' our house before Christmas (I usually just give it a quick once over) but next week I am going to do just that before we put the tree and decorations up. As we will be spending most of the build-up to Christmas here and I have time on my hands, it makes sense. We have also put together a home bar as we won't be heading out for festive drinks with friends this year. I love it! 

We have no set plans for Christmas at the moment. At time of typing, England is in a fairly strict lockdown until 2 December with no mixing of households allowed indoors and us only being able to meet one other person in a public outdoor space.

Most non-essential shops and businesses are currently closed including cinemas, attractions, bookshops, hairdressers....... Boris is apparently announcing the Government plans for what we will and won't be allowed to do over Christmas on Monday so we'll wait and see what he says before deciding our plans.

At the moment, we actually have our local Indian restaurant booked with my mam/stepdad/bro who are in our childcare bubble as I occasionally watch Evan for a few hours while Mark works (but that doesn't mean we can mix socially). At the moment, who knows if this can go ahead. I am thinking probably not.  

I also booked lunch at the Dome in Edinburgh for my December birthday ages ago but Scotland have just announced a travel ban from England unless essential so it looks like I will be cancelling that.

This week, Jack's Primary school sent out a letter with details of how the Christmas fayre will work this year. It is an important event in terms of fundraising for the school so we are all being asked to donate a raffle prize, buy raffle tickets and then send £1-£5 into school so the kids can buy some crafts and take part in a special Christmas fair in their own classroom bubble.

I actually much prefer this as it is always so crowded and busy in the school hall. I am gutted that Jack won't be taking part in a Christmas nativity this year. In our school, his year (year 5) take the lead parts in the school performance and Jack was looking forward to being something other than a shepherd and will now never get another chance. Just another side effect of the pandemic I guess. 

On a personal level, I am not religious but have attended the traditional nativity at our local church with the school for over 10 years. I haven't missed one and love singing carols with the children and listening to the readings. It's always really special. Ah it is almost making me cry thinking that it's not going to happen this year as I type this. Here's hoping it will be back to normal and better than ever next year. 

I will be back with an update soon. This week we are planning a film premiere at home for The Christmas Chronicles 2 which is available on Netflix from Wednesday. Hopefully my last post will be a little less gloomy. We do actually have a fair bit to look forward to over the next few weeks and I am still determined to have a magical time. 



  1. I really do love your bar! I'll admit I've really struggled with the concept of 2020 Christmas over the last week, a Christmas song came on the radio a few days ago and I got so upset at the thought of not being able to go out and do all the normal Festive things. I love the build up more than the day itself and it just feels so odd, I know it's only a sacrifice for a year (hopefully!)but it's just rubbish isn't it!

  2. This is such a good idea, Sam to document this. Loving the bar cart. I spied the Delia cookbook too. I think someone bought me that many, many years ago .... that I never used! Actually, I remember it was one of those book club things. Where you got some really expensive books for pennies and then a book a month after that. You’ll be too young to remember ... ask your mam :-)))) xo

    1. I used to work in an office a couple of years ago that still had one of these! I had some brilliant books from there :)

  3. I like the idea of the drinks bar! I actually emptied our drinks cabinet out as part of our deep clean- I got my first (thankfully mild) dose of food poisoning from some old, gone off liquer so I stopped drinking for a good long time after. I've started stocking up again, so will take some inspiration from you and make it look pretty too!

  4. This year is certainly going to be a different sort of Christmas.
    We put our decorations up yesterday and decided we needed a new tree so that's ordered and it's coming tomorrow.
    Your home bar looks amazing! So fancy.
    Oh no! I hadn't thought of all the things that people will be missing in the run up to Christmas to do with school. I used to love the carol service at the church and nativities.
    I can't wait for The Christmas Chronicles 2. x

  5. Childcare bubbles are meant to be used for childcare only - it's a common misconception that it's wider:

    "You can only use a childcare bubble for childcare – that is, where the child’s parent or regular carer is not present. You cannot use a childcare bubble to mix with another household for other reasons."

    1. Yes I know, I did mention that you cannot mix socially with a childcare bubble in the post.

    2. That's fine but you mention the childcare bubble in the context of going for dinner which reads as if the two are linked. People have been talking about going to center parcs with their childcare bubbles and as someone who relies on one I'm paranoid about them being taken away so we all have a responsibility to be really clear

    3. I think you need to read it again. I say we have a restaurant booked for Christmas day (it was booked a year ago) however we can't mix with our childcare bubble socially so I don't think our Christmas lunch will be going ahead. I don't think I can be clearer about our situation and nowhere do I mention going away to center parcs - perhaps you need to take your issues up with those who have said they are.

  6. I really feel for all the parents with children in nursery and Reception, who are going to miss out on their children's first Nativity play this year. I will miss them, as they always put me in a festive mood. Can't say I'm going to miss the school Christmas fair though, as I'm usually the one that has to run it! Feel a bit bad I haven't even organised a raffle though 😬 Absolutely love your new bar...we're all going to save a fortune on Christmas nights out this year!

    1. Ah yeah, that's such a big milestone! Yep, we usually book a fancy hotel for my Dec birthday. Next year's will just have to be double fancy x

  7. My y3 son is so excited today because they are doing a nativity! They are going to film it for parents to watch and are performing it outside so they can sing. At least watching home alone the crying will be less embarrassing!


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