All is calm, all is bright.
If only this beloved hymn, which echoed from the trenches during the Christmas truce of 1914, could be said of 2020.
We have all experienced a year of great turmoil and sadness, and the thought of pushing reality to one side in time for Christmas may prove difficult for many.
From dramatic headlines stating “Christmas is cancelled” to hot debate surrounding households mixing, only one thing is certain this festive season – we are facing a very different Noel.
Christmas is a time of coming together, the very thing which we have avoided since the first lockdown in March.
What would normally be a jam-packed month full of parties, pantomimes and pigs in blankets has been replaced with, well, we’re not quite sure.
The relief of not enduring Christmas burnout and dinner with difficult relatives might be reason enough to raise a toast for some, while other people are mourning the loss of a traditional December 25.
From Christmas trees raised early to a major push to shop local, a Covid Christmas is not all doom and gloom.
Is the magic still alive, and could a socially distanced celebration reveal a more simple festive season from times gone by?
We take a look at the elements which normally make up the big day, and discover that hope and joy is still very much alive – if only you know where to look.
A virtual Christmas Day, with the Rev Shuna Dicks
The Rev Shuna Dicks is used to delivering a sermon on Christmas Eve to a packed congregation, with standing room only at Cults Parish Church just outside Aberdeen.
She believes it may be the most popular service of the year, with many people there who would not normally visit church.
But the decision has been made to hold the family-friendly event via Zoom, before the watchnight service goes ahead as normal.
When the clock chimes midnight, Mrs Dicks will not be returning home in eager anticipation for Christmas morning.
She will instead be sanitising the church with her husband and fellow volunteers, in order to meet with guidelines so the church can remain open for December 25.
While the sight of a minister swapping the Bible for disinfectant may be a sign of changed times, Mrs Dicks believes there is still hope to be found.
“The watchnight service has to be one of my favourite of the entire year,” she said.
“It’s that moment when midnight is approaching before the crossover into Christmas Day.
“From my perspective, my faith has strengthened this year. I’ve never lost hope that better things are coming.
“Christmas is about hope, peace, love and joy.
“People are crying out for Christmas to be special, and we are doing our very best to ensure that it will be possible.
“There will be a limited number of people for the watchnight service, although it will be live-streamed on YouTube.
“After watchnight, a small group of us will stay on to clean, to enable the Christmas Day service to go ahead.
“There will, and always has been, people on their own on Christmas Day. We want to be able to offer something they can attend.”
Alongside a big change to services, Mrs Dicks was determined that a nativity would still go ahead.
Cults Parish Church will eventually become part of what she calls “a mega parish” with five churches merging together to the west of Aberdeen.
“There will eventually become a time when there is only one minister,” said Mrs Dicks.
“But for the time being, there’s five of us, and we all contribute to the YouTube channel.
“For the nativity, children from all five churches were involved over Zoom and it was recorded for our service on the 20th.
“I was involved with editing it, and it was still a traditional nativity in the sense that children needed prompted.
“It wasn’t slick and professional, and that in itself made it normal.
“The headlines warned that Christmas was cancelled, but Christmas was always here. It was never going anywhere.
“It’s needed now more than ever, we’ve just had to rethink how we do things.
“How could we make it creative and meaningful?
“The concept that Christmas is only Christmas with lots of people simply isn’t true.
“The run-up is a time of watching, waiting and anticipating.
“That doesn’t finish on Christmas Day, as the 12 days of Christmas are from the 25th until January 5.
“I hope we can keep the sparkle alive.”
Santa and his sanitiser
There has quite rightly been some concern that Father Christmas may not be able to deliver presents this year, what with various restrictions and the risk of contamination from home to home.
But fear not, the man in the red suit has ways and means which only the elves are privy too.
In the meantime, charities across the region have been doing their best to help him out on the delivery front.
Offshore worker Liam Wilson was determined to spread some Christmas cheer, with some special drive-by visits via motorbike.
The father-of-two, who lives at Countesswells, Aberdeen, is a rider for North East Riders Volunteers (Nervs).
The charity, which is Aberdeen’s local blood bank group, provides free transportation to Grampian Health Services – with the speedy delivery of medication and equipment.
Christmas is a particularly special time of year for Liam, who even delivered his second daughter on Christmas Eve.
“Ariah is four and Laila is two, she was due on Christmas Day,” he said.
“Chelsey was in labour for 36 hours first time round, so when the midwife briefly left the room there didn’t seem much to panic about. We even got the exact same midwife from first time round.
“But the birth happened so quickly, I actually delivered Laila myself.
“So Christmas is very special to us as a family.”
Liam rides a Speed Triple RS Triumph, and previously delivered Easter eggs with Nervs.
“It really touched me because we saw so many disadvantaged young kids,” he said.
“We will put our lights on and sirens, and leave the parcels at the front door this Christmas.
“It’s a way of putting back to the community, because community will always be there for you.”
Organiser Gillian Innes has had her work cut out organising the routes, with the bikers making deliveries from Aberdeen to Laurencekirk.
“We wanted to make an effort for the little ones, but the demand means we have actually sold out,” said Gillian.
“We have been able to raise more than £3,000 for Nervs, and we are so happy that people still want to support our cause in these tough times.
“One lady told us we had saved Christmas, because her son had been poorly and couldn’t get out to Santa’s grotto.
“We have obviously made sure all the correct procedures are in place, and our festive riders really are a sight to behold.”
Christmas dinner done differently
Christmas is always a big occasion for Ann-Elyse Finnie, who lives in Peterhead with her husband and three children.
Ann-Elyse, who is a senior sales adviser, has become something of an online sensation – after setting up a Facebook page to help others.
Cooking Through The Corona started off as a means of swapping recipes and using cupboard staples, but the group now has more than 30,000 members.
“I love cooking, it relaxes me,” said Ann-Elyse.
“This has been an anxious time for most people.
“I never expected the page to take off, it all started with simple suppers.
“2020 is the year that anything goes, but it’s also a time when people are on a budget.
“Both me and my husband are big on cooking, so we tried out a dummy run for Christmas dinner.”
Ann-Elyse believes that the big event is made over-complicated, and doesn’t require a huge budget.
“The food itself is just a roast, so we tried out a frozen turkey,” she said.
“It cost £8 and we had leftovers for our elderly neighbour, and we were able to make a curry.
“There’s always special offers on vegetables, the key is prepping them the night before.
“Food brings people together, and that’s why everyone was crying out for restrictions to be eased up.
“There has been a lot of community spirit this year, and people are budget-conscious yet still sharing what they have.
“I think people are clinging on to Christmas, with the hope that next year will be better.”
Community spirit revived
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that community spirit is alive and well.
Numerous initiatives have sprung up this December, with many people in desperate need of support.
Kincardine and Deeside Befriending (KDB) has been running for almost 25 years, and volunteers normally work with people over the age of 55 who are at risk of social isolation while still living at home.
The charity has replaced face-to-face support with telephone calls, which many recipients have found to be a lifeline.
Not content with a weekly chat, KDB is also delivering 100 Christmas gift bags with the support of local businesses.
“Christmas is a difficult time for many, and this year due to the pandemic, the festive season will bring a different set of challenges,” said Liz Treasure, senior coordinator at KDB.
“A Christmas gift bag delivered by one of our volunteers will hopefully provide comfort and cheer to those living on their own, especially at this time of year.”
The younger generation has also become involved, as each gift bag will contain hand-made Christmas cards from local primary schools – including Dunnottar in Stonehaven, Hill of Banchory, Laurencekirk and St Cyrus.
KDB has recently been awarded a community spirit award by Aberdeen Voluntary Action, and is always on the lookout for befriending volunteers.
If you think you can help, visit kdbefriending.org.uk or contact Liz Treasure on 01569 765714.