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We explore the responses to our Christmas campaign competition; the highs and lows of a very different Christmas.  
With what’s been a challenging and uncertain year, we’re now heading towards a very different sort of Christmas. For many the most prevalent reason being the obvious global pandemic and the necessary rules and restrictions needed to prevent the spreading of Coronavirus. Time with family will be short lived; for a short while instead of the whole holiday period. Time may be spent differently with friends; on a socially distanced stroll around the park rather than down the pub. For some, seeing loved ones simply won’t be possible. 
We launched our Christmas campaign competition with this unsettled state in mind – and with the aim of reassuring our local Nottinghamshire community that we’re all in this together. We did this by encouraging you on both Facebook and Instagram to share your ideas, stories and experiences on how this year would be different for you. We received some eye opening; heartwarming entries and we thank each person for sharing their honest anecdotes. 
There were those that were familiar and true for many, Leala said “It’s been very hard to get into the festive spirit with everything being closed and spirits pretty low after the most recent lockdown.” and another from Carita, reads: “I think that's going to be the most noticeable change for us over December and the New Year, not getting together with friends and celebrating the festivities and new year together.” 
People are also feeling the pressure on making decisions on who to spend their Christmas time ‘allowance’ with. With the tier system presenting regulations we must adhere to, there’s the difficult choices to make around who to see and when. Carita goes on to say “It has been difficult to choose which family members to visit and it's confusing to understand exactly what we can and can't do and hard to pick one family member over the other whilst being mindful of keeping others safe. We don't live close to my husband’s family and friends so we've gone a very long time now without any face-to-face contact with loved ones or close friends.” 
The reality is, that with or without restrictions, Covid-19 still exists and many of our entries spoke of how they were looking to protect the vulnerable this Christmas. Laura, usually spends the holidays with her husband’s family in Wales, and Christmas would have been the first time the family would have been together for some time. However, there are elderly relatives to think about so the decision was made for this not to go ahead. Gemma says “Sadly, we haven’t been able to see my Grandma who is in a care home since March and I’m not sure, even with the vaccine, that we will see her before Christmas. We are sharing Christmas with other family (sticking to strict guidelines) and I know this will be amazing and we’ll have a lovely day - but I can’t help feel guilty knowing my Grandma won’t see any of us” 
Some stories presented very unique situations, like Fran, who is currently living in Melbourne, Australia. She told us “This Christmas my partner and I were meant to have moved to England, and spent our first Christmas with my niece and nephew. We didn’t make it to England and not sure when we’ll be able to come and see family and friends again, which is devastating.” And she wasn’t the only one with an experience of dealing with overseas family ties during Covid-19 times. Melissa’s parents live in Spain and she hasn’t been able to see them for a whole year. “I’m praying I’ll be able to see them again soon as usually I see them four or five times a year.” Like Melissa, Rebecca also has family members living abroad; her sister is residing in Malaysia and she also hasn’t seen her for a year. “On the upside, this has spurred me on to save up so that I can go and visit her once the country reopens to tourists and we’re able to do so." 
Encouragingly, spirits are strong and a lot of you will be looking to make the most of a bad situation, like one of our competition entrants, Charlene “My husband and I have treated ourself to a home garden bar, outside heater and a fire pit so looking forward to toasting marshmallows with mulled wine”. And of course, technology will play its ever more vital role in maintaining relationships, allowing us to share time digitally. "There will likely be a lot more virtual meet ups with extended family and friends and while I'd love to be able to give them all a big hug, I'm glad that at least I get to see their faces.” says Rebecca. Fran also remains positive and grateful for the things she does have “our health, the ability to video chat and do silly quizzes, cook-a-longs, and send gifts from overseas. It’ll make the time we do get to spend with people (in real life) that much more special.” 
Being grateful was something that was repeatedly expressed, showing the ability to appreciate fortunate positions and recognise when things could be worse as well as the reality that there could be much worse situations. Charlene says “This year has been so difficult for so many but I am so grateful to have my health and home”. Similarly, Laura is feeling grateful to have her husband to share Christmas with this year and says they will “do a more alternative Christmas dinner this year and try and make it a special one.” Carita sums things up nicely, when she says “We're lucky we're healthy and we're fortunate we've been able to continue working. Fingers crossed we'll all get a happier 2021!” 
Of course, there are those of you whose thoughts have wandered further, to those in need or seeking support and help this time of year, no matter what the year, this would be the case. But sadly, many supporting charities and organisations have suffered in terms of funding and additional help. But for people like Vassoula, assisting to improve those lives less fortunate is her main priority. “This year we are giving money to the homeless instead of sending Christmas cards out to family and friends. Our secret Santa is shopping in our local charity shop. I can’t deal with the struggle others have had to make this year. It’s heartbreaking. I am mindful of those who go without and that’s why I always become so emotional this time of year, for humans and animals. My beady left eye is on a lookout for a family in need this Christmas, so many are suffering.” Melissa has to work Christmas day, but says “Instead of staying sad I’ll be working Xmas day as I am a support worker so my aim is to out a smile on my service users faces” To you both, and those like you, we say a big thank you. 
We received positive news, exciting prospects and surprising tales. Some experiences were of worry, of feeling overwhelmed and upset. It was our aim to explore both the highs and lows of 2020’s different Christmas and we can see we did just that. We also learned that although the pandemic is very much the reason for a lot of anxiousness and uncertainty this year, there still remains our everyday difficulties. Death, relationship break down, unemployment and loneliness to name a few of these issues which are being faced with added pressures and complexities that this year brings. You may be a single person, or someone who suffers from anxiety or depression. Perhaps your relationship has hit the rocks and you’re struggling with the thoughts of how to make it through. Whatever you face, whatever your problem, we’re here for you. You can be there for each other too, speak to a neighbour, call a friend or send a gift to a family member. Let them know you’re thinking of them and no-one has to face the festive season this alone. 
A special thanks to all our entries, it was a joy to read your experiences and a special congratulations to Melissa Westbury, winner of our fantastic prize of a Christmas hamper made up of kind contributions from generous local small businesses. We hope you enjoy Melissa! 
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