Christmas is nearly upon us again. Last year was such a different Christmas. After weeks of Boris Johnson’s denial about infection rates, the mess of the Tiers system gave way to blanket restrictions and ultimately a full lockdown in the New Year. I held my office get-together over zoom; there was no carolling, no Christmas markets, no Christmas fayres or pensioners’ parties.

Like so many, I couldn’t see my own family (up North in Sunderland) for months. Our vulnerable in-laws were able to join us from Derbyshire for Christmas lunch, but cautiously, masked and on the other side of our conservatory door! We know we were none the less extremely lucky as so many people ended up spending it alone, from students isolating in halls of residents, to care home residents unable to see their loved ones, to couples separated by being stranded abroad.

Christmas is about the greatest gift, a little boy born to a vulnerable young mum in a humble stable, bringing hope, love and salvation. 2021’s greatest gift has doubtless been the Covid-19 vaccine, the rollout of which has saved millions of lives across the world. I nipped for my own booster vaccine this week and want to take this opportunity to thank every single person who has staffed or volunteered on the local vaccine rollout- an amazing effort of human determination.

We all hope that the emergence of the Omicron variant will not spoil another Christmas. Let’s therefore take all the low cost, sensible steps we can in order to make that happen, by making your booster appointment (or visiting Tameside’s pop up vaccine van), popping on a mask, and reducing our risk with distance where possible.

Because culturally, Christmas is all about coming together. And we do that brilliantly here.

Last month’s Northern Lights Lantern Parade through Hyde was glorious, as it has been in previous years in Stalybridge and Ashton. Despite a damp day, hundreds turned out, with a parade of wonderful puppetry from Global Grooves, children’s self-made lanterns, and wonderful performances from local music and dance groups.

My kids’ excitement when Father Christmas appeared was magical. My 6 year old was jumping for joy. Our eldest, who has autism, may be 18 but he’s very literal and his belief in, and love of, Santa has never waned. Every Santa we have ever met has taken this bigger believer’s questions about reindeers and sleighs in his stride total acceptance, which in turn fills me with the magic myself.

They are also delighted when the Rotary Santa Sleigh comes down our road, another lovely Tameside tradition (again, run by warm hearted volunteers- thank you all!). Likewise, we have really enjoyed the family New Year Parties at Stalybridge Labour Club- a brilliant night which makes the dilemma of family night versus parent’s night out a thing of the past.

And some of our best free entertainment comes from “a Christmas lights adventure” where we go on a teatime walk to enjoy other people’s Christmas lights and garden decorations- so all of you with glowing snowmen or a bay window with a fabulous tree, thank you!

Our ultimate favourite local family tradition is Christingle at Mottram Church (booking only this year for safety’s sake). Despite a couple of singed eyebrows in the past (!) there’s nothing more festive and special than a candle lit church filled with bright eyed children singing Away in a Manger. After the inevitable hectic preparations, that moment for me is when Christmas truly begins.

I hope whatever challenges the pandemic throws us, that your Christmas is full of love, joy and community spirit.

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