COVID-19 making for a slightly different Christmas this year

Meandering aimlessly along the glittery, cobbled streets of Cathedral Quatre, Belfast, with a scorching pumpkin spiced latte in one hand and a bag brimming with oversized and overpriced coats in the other should feel like the beginnings of the festive season.

But in the midst of all these dazzling lights, cinnamon scents, and colourful shop displays rests an evil, and we are reminded of it on every street corner.

Yellow tape on outdoor café tables; signs above closed bars cautioning passers-by to “please keep a safe distance”; empty benches outside City Hall where friends once came to exchange stories and laughter; and a sea of masked faces, not a cheerful smile in sight.

These are all signs of the unprecedented times.

Victoria street and St Anne street are plucked bare by late afternoon but come night they fall silent.

There are no bars to unwind in, no sweet scents of fruity cocktails in the air, no music pouring out of restaurant doorways, and no Christmas markets to indulge your tastebuds in, after all, so what reason is there for people to stick around?

Small children stare in awe at the twinkling lights dressing the city, pleading with their parents to stop so they can gawk at them longer.

“Mummy look at the lights!” one warmly clad toddler squeals.

For some it may be the first Christmas that they will remember; too young to understand the full extent of what they are being robbed of.

“We all must do it to get through it,” they tell us through our digital screens. “For how much longer?” we scream back.

But this is not a time for political mudslinging. It is not about silver spoon versus rough childhood. This is a time for science and solidarity.

Neighbours trading food parcels, rainbow tributes to our NHS heroes hanging in shop windows, festive lighting installations beautifying the lawns of City Hall, and colourful messages of hope adorning streetlights and garden trees.

These are the things that help our feet touch the ground again in this modern crisis. Little reminders that beyond the cloak of commercialism and materialism, our society is still human.

Just like the messages in the trees and streetlights, they cry, “we will beat this!”