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Preparing for Christmas


Written by © Mark Freeston

PART 2 of What have we learned from summer?




We have had the opportunity to learn from our experiences of summer; taking holidays, coming out of lockdown and going back into varying degrees of lockdown. The next big deal is the festive season (commonly referred to as Christmas as a season and not just as the day or Christian festival). Will Christmas be cancelled? Can Christmas be saved? Will students get home for Christmas? 

How should we approach the festive season?

In our early summer workshops, one of the key ideas was building safety.  Firstly, building safety in the present to counter the disruptive effects of the pandemic that took away signs of safety.  Secondly, building a bridge to the future; a sense that life is continuing, and we are not stuck forever in a groundhog day present. This is not about creating a ‘back to normal bucket list’ or investing in a future where ‘COVID never happened’ or ‘COVID is over’. It is about creating a resilient future with a realistic acceptance of uncertainty, along with the idea that things could be ok, or even good. Some people would call this hope.

What is a resilient future?

It is a realistic plan of how people will have a value-driven, meaningful and positive experience, even though it may be under difficult and less than ideal circumstances.  It is not about accepting second best, but trying to be pragmatic about what could be a good enough experience and has the potential to be very good, regardless of the conditions during the buildup and on the day.

A resilient future is a plan devised with the following ethos:

This will happen. We can look forward to it. This plan is pandemic proof. It may not be what we hoped for or wanted. It may feel unfair and less than we feel entitled to, but it will be possible even under the highest level of restriction. 

One thing we now know is that things change very rapidly. This may or may not be right, justified or fair. There will always be questions; Who knew this was going to happen? Should we have been told sooner? Who is to blame? The “new normal” is an unfortunate term because it suggests that it will be stable. I see the “new normal” as ongoing uncertainty for the foreseeable future; uncertainty that spreads each time we think one aspect has become known or resolved.

Optimistic or back to normal assumptions are not helpful for festive season 2020. Realistically we may only know whether Christmas could be more or less than expected in the immediate run up to it. It could go either way. 

  • It could be better than expected: Why did they not tell us in advance? We have missed out on things we could have done.

  • It could be worse than expected:  Why did they not tell us this could happen? They have ruined our Christmas.

  • It could be different in different places: Why us and not them? This is unfair.

In these scenarios we would expect disappointment, sadness, frustration, regret, anger, disaffection, betrayal and cynicism.  All understandable of course; but not a great way to spend the festive season, already one of the most stressful periods of the year.  Conversely, some people may feel relieved by not having to engage with large gatherings of colleagues, community and family. Akin to how some found lockdown less stressful than their usual lives.  Using the Uncertainty Distress Model, what might we see in people preparing for Christmas? Some people will have no expectations and be fine with making the best of whatever it turns out to be.  They may find new and unexpected ways to enjoy the festive season. Others will simply give up, decide it is ruined, they cannot plan anything and resign themselves to a miserable festive season. Many people will have degrees of expectation of how they think it should be or how they would like it to be.  These people may fall into three or more broad groups according to their approach to managing the uncertainty; those who underprepare, those who strategically prepare, and those who overprepare. 

A


pproach

We also know that faced with uncertainty, those who are more intolerant, or become more intolerant of uncertainty as life becomes increasingly disrupted, may dither and not fully commit to a strategy or “flip-flop” between different strategies.


Our suggestions:

1. Identify what is important to you for the festive season.  What has meaning?  What has value? Choose one or two important things. For example, if everyone wearing silly hats is something that connects you to times past, other celebrations remembered and updated to the present, then that is fine. Prioritize hats on Zoom.


2. Set a realistic goal and get agreement about it.  For example, everyone will have a silly hat to wear, no matter where they are and who they are with. 


3. Come up with a pandemic-proof plan.  Who will make sure everyone has a silly hat to wear even in total lockdown?  Who is doing what? By when?

4. Put the plan into action in good-enough time for it work. Someone checks (once) that plan is in place.  Outcome: Hats will be where they need to be by a specific date.


5. If as the day approaches there is a high level of restriction, everyone will have hats for the day. An important part of the day will happen.  Make sure this not only happens, but is seen to happen.  Hats are seen, celebrated, complimented or insulted as required.  In the future, 2020 may be known as the “year of the hat”.


6. If as the day approaches or on the day there is less restriction and people can meet more than expected, adjust the plan so it will still work.  In this case, remind people to bring their hat with them (rather than have extra hats “just in case…”). Celebrate the hats, enjoy the extra things that have happened.



You can follow our research on our website or on Research Gate

Email us on intolerance.uncertainty@newcastle.ac.uk

Tweet us @Covid19Study

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