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COVID-19: Tier 4 film nights and an empty church wedding – how families are spending this Christmas

It’s been a strange and challenging year for us all, and the deviation from normality is set to continue into Christmas.

Normally a time for visiting family, playing games, and wintery walks, for most of us the festive period is going to be rather more subdued than in previous years.

Sky News has spoken to a number of families about how they plan to spend Christmas amid a pandemic.

Film nights and homemade hot cocoa in Tier 4

Katie Gibson, 38, lives in Chertsey, Surrey, with her husband Matt and their daughters, aged five and two.

They are now in a Tier 4 area, with rules much the same as during England’s November lockdown. It means no household mixing over Christmas.

But Kate says: “Christmas isn’t cancelled, just much different!

“We have had all our outings cancelled – visiting Santa, ice skating, Christmas lights, Boxing Day walk with friends – but we’re trying to make the best of it.

“We have lined up lots of activities to keep the little ones entertained and not feeling like they are missing out on anything – Christmas crafts, movie nights, hot cocoa, cookie baking, puzzles, games, and walks.

“My eldest looks forward to ice skating every year, but that was cancelled. And instead of visiting Santa, we had a friend write a letter from him, so they knew what presents she wanted. I think that helped, too.

“I think we will remember this quiet Christmas together as a good one.”

Life at a NATO base with troops who can’t get home

Major Laurence Roche, 44, will be spending Christmas with his partner.

He works at a NATO base near Gloucester – currently in Tier 2.

“We have 21 different countries represented here. A lot of them will be spending Christmas here,” he said.

“They’ve got homes here, but they are not able to get back.

“I was speaking with an Italian friend who was planning to go back, but is now spending Christmas in Gloucester – and heard something similar from a German colleague.

“We’re in Tier 2 here, so we’ve got quite a bit of freedom – the shops and pubs are still open.

“I’ll be spending Christmas day at home with my partner.”

Swapping the beach for the local village

Sheryl Arnold, 53, and husband Bruce, 58, have decided that after the hardships of this year, Christmas should be a time to be thankful for what they have.

Speaking from her home in Tier 3 South Holland, Lincolnshire, Sheryl said: “Like most people, we were looking forward to sharing time and catching up with our family, but it’s not to be. We are Tier 3, they are in Tier 4.

“It’s no problem, though. We would rather be apart for this Christmas than risk being apart for every day.

“Instead, my husband and I are having a quiet, no present, no fuss Christmas in our new home, where we will continue to be thankful for all the things and all the people we have in our lives.

“We are looking forward to walking around our village and getting to know the area, instead of travelling to the beach as it’s in Tier 2. There will be other days to do that.”

Serving food to the most vulnerable on Christmas Day

Andrew Mcleay, 37, who runs Ealing Soup Kitchen in west London – currently in Tier 4 – explains how his shop will be helping some of the most vulnerable celebrate the festive period.

He said: “We have been able to do some things that have shown some Christmas cheer. Every week we’ve been handing out warm clothes, socks, hats, gloves and scarves for anyone in need.

“We’ve also been giving out Oyster cards and mobile phones with credit – basically anything that we can get out that might be useful for the guests.

“On Monday night we had a Christmas party, which had over 190 people attend.

“But they had to stay outside in a queue. And whilst they were still queuing, we went out to them and served mince pies and gave them non-alcoholic mulled wine and presents.

“And so that was a really nice little touch and we also had a jazz saxophonist out in the street, just playing some Christmas songs for them, so whatever we could possibly do just to make it a little bit easier for them.

“On Christmas Day it will be the same with takeaway food.”

Tying the knot in an empty church

Sally Purcell, 57, and her fiancé Craig, also 57, have decided to tie the knot while they still can after their initial date got cancelled because of the pandemic.

“We cancelled our wedding in August due to COVID, then rearranged it for next year,” she said.

“Then one night I had a dream we had got married. The same morning my fiancé messaged me and said: ‘I want to marry you now.’

“So 2pm on New Year’s Eve, we’re getting married in an empty church in the middle of nowhere with just us and the minister and our son and dog!

“We’ve spoken to the minister and it’s the first and only wedding in the church this year.

“We’re just praying we will still be able to go ahead as there is the announcement on 30 December (on any potential changes to the current tier rules), so we literally won’t know until the last minute.

“On Christmas, it’ll just be the four of us having a cosy day.”

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