What will a coronavirus Christmas look like? Family gatherings and office parties set to be very different in 2020

Christmas 2020 may look very different. Credit: PA
  • By ITV News Multimedia Producer Suzanne Elliott

With the rule of six putting a limit on the number of friends and family you can see, a curfew on pubs, bars and restaurants, households facing financial pressures in an uncertain economic climate, social distancing and face coverings, Christmas 2020 is likely to look very different to last year’s festive season. 

As we head into autumn, with less than 100 days until Christmas (to put that in context, it’s been over 100 days since the UK went into lockdown on March 23), there are some big festive questions left unanswered. 

But with the latest restrictions announced by Boris Johnson likely being in place for the next six months, it looks unlikely we'll be celebrating the sort of Christmas we're all used to.

Will there be work Christmas parties? Can the family gather for a turkey lunch? Will grandpa and grandma be allowed to give presents to the grandkids in person?

As the pigs-in-blanket flavoured crisps hit the supermarket shelves, here's how Christmas could be looking amid a coronavirus pandemic. 

Will the family be able to gather for Christmas dinner?

The rule of six could be this year's Scrooge 

Gatherings are currently limited to six people indoors and outdoors in England and Scotland.

Groups of any more than six, both in private homes and hospitality venues (with a few exceptions including funerals and weddings) are breaking the law.

People in Wales can only meet in groups of six indoors or outdoors with the same extended household group.

While in Northern Ireland people from different households are currently not allowed to mix indoors.

As it stands, legislation in England includes children of all ages, so a newborn niece or nephew could steal your place at the family Christmas table should their arrival coincide with the festive period. Under-12s are exempt under the rule of six laws in Wales and Scotland.

They'll be no Auld Lang Syne this New Year with people outside of your household or bubble. Credit: PA

A single household or support bubble larger than six can still gather, but a couple with four children will simply not be able to “mingle” at all.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the government was not considering backing down over the small print despite calls from Tory MPs to exempt children from the new restrictions in England.

Mr Gove attempted to galvanise the nation by saying if we maintain “a degree of restraint and self-discipline and co-operation” we’ll all be able to have a “proper Christmas”.

Socially distanced Santas. Credit: PA

Will there be a work Christmas party?

The rule of six puts another dampener (or throws a lifeline depending on your point of view) on the annual office party.

With only six people allowed to socialise together and from no more than two households, even in pubs or restaurants, the workplace Christmas do might be a more intimate affair this year. 

Perhaps with only one in 10 people in the UK having returned to the office full time, 2020 could be the year of the Zoom Christmas party. 

Or, with workplaces exempt, will 2020 mark the return of (socially distanced) parties by the photocopier?

Will a coronavirus vaccine be found before Christmas? Credit: PA

Stay apart this Christmas 

Whether you gather as a (small) family or enjoy a mulled wine with five friends, you will have to do it at a distance. 

Two metres remains the preferred distance that you must stand from people who are not in your household or bubble.

This means you should not be hugging friends or family you do not live with or who are not in your bubble.

While you can eat and drink, and even stay over (apart from in Northern Ireland and under any local lockdown rules), together, you should socially distance from anyone not in your household or bubble.

It can also be difficult to stand the at prescribed distance, in which case you should stand and take precautions, including standing side-by-side and wearing a face covering.

Could testing save Christmas? 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hopes people can have “a happy and loving Christmas that people yearn for”, if a vaccine becomes available or if the mass testing idea is realised.

But if we look at the government’s form on delivering on testing targets, just how likely is it that they can deliver millions of daily tests in time for the festive season, or even next spring?

The Moonshot proposals come as the current testing programme faces considerable criticism for struggling to meet demand.

But with ramped up promises to increase capacity, can the government deliver on testing in time to save Christmas? 

Several UK Christmas markets have been cancelled.

Christmas shopping 

With the furlough scheme winding down in October and further mass job losses on the horizon, many households are finding their income squeezed. 

In response, many people have already started Christmas shopping in a bid to keep costs down. 

Research carried out in August found just under a third (32%) of people have already started their Christmas shopping, citing the need to save money as the reason for getting cracking early.  

More than a quarter (28%) said they would be spending less, although 12% said they expect to splash out more this year.

But they won't be able to spend it at many of the now-traditional Christmas markets across the UK.

Leeds and Birmingham are among several towns and cities to announce their festive markets have been cancelled due to coronavirus.

While other cities have yet to pull their annual events, including Manchester and Edinburgh, debate rages as to whether these popular attractions should be ahead as infections continue to rise.

Christmas pantomimes are under threat due to covid 19. Those in the industry are asking for better clarity from the government. Credit: Hackney Empire

Will we get to go to the pantomime? 

While much of the government’s efforts regarding the pandemic could be described as one, we might have to forego the traditional local pantomime this year.

With the government's coronavirus performing arts measures in place, panto season currently looks like being more of a fairytale with theatres and performing arts venues largely still closed. 

Theatres that can reopen with Covid-safe measures, such as social distancing, one-person shows or outdoor performances, have done.

But ‘he’s behind you’ would be difficult to pull off with only one actor, and December weather is rarely conducive to al fresco performances. 

Asked in early September about people getting back into theatres to go to pantomimes, Mr Hancock told LBC that he hoped new testing technology would “allow us to have a merry Christmas.”

Many households are tightening their belts as the economy falters. Credit: PA

What about New Year's Eve?

2020 looks set to end with more of a whimper than a bang. 

Tickets for the UK’s biggest New Years party, Edinburgh's Hogmanay, were withdrawn from sale back in July. 

An announcement into how the celebrations will look was expected at the end of August, but organisers have yet to make a public statement. 

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced that the capital's iconic display would not go ahead as "we simply cannot afford" to have people gathering as they normally would.

As things stand, it looks like many of us will be celebrating at home with small parties. But, remember, come midnight, no Auld Lang Syne hand-holding or kissing those outside your household or bubble no matter how pleased you will be to slam the door on 2020.

There are unlikely to be large crowds allowed to gather to celebrate New Years Eve in London in 2020.

Will Christmas deliver the best present of them all?

Sadly, we are unlikely to find a vaccine under the Christmas tree this year. 

But with the leading-Oxford coronavirus vaccine potentially ready to be put before regulators by the end of the year, next year's festive season could be looking a lot more like Christmas.