With COVID cases rising and social restrictions tightening, it's starting to look increasingly unlikely that anyone’s Christmas plans will go ahead as usual. For those who celebrate Christmas and spend it with family, the anxiety of going home to elderly or immunocompromised relatives means that they are now, for the first time, considering spending it with their flatmates or support bubble. After all, it's only for this year, hopefully. Nan can wait a few months.
Plus, it could be fun. No more of your dad snort-laughing as you unwrap coffee table book full of cartoons of different types of poo. No possibility of your little cousins forcing you to join in with their TikTok and then, half an hour into practice, asking you to leave because your hip rolling is far too stiff and they actually have quite a lot of followers now. Now, you can get drunk without your mum repeatedly saying “You’re drunk”, as though that wasn’t entirely the point of drinking prosecco at 10:30AM.
Problem is, you don’t know what’s in “stuffing”, do you? You think a block of Cathedral City will do for the cheeseboard. You forgot that the only people more annoying than your parents are your flatmates, and now you have to cook a high stress three-course meal before stewing next to them for hours and hours in front of Doctor Who.
Fear not, because I, a behavioural psychologist and familial councillor (that’s not my job, I’m just a media person with an inflated sense of self-importance) am here to make sure this weird COVID Christmas runs smoothly. Here are a few important Dos and Don'ts for the big day.
DO: AIM FOR AVERAGE
You might get three different types of potato in your family Christmas dinner. Dauphinois, mash, roasties. Your mum might brine her turkey for days on end. It probably tastes delicious.
You are not the same.
Chances are you’re under the age of 30, so I can safely assume you live in a shithole. Achieving “average” will be difficult enough. Try roasting a turkey in that oven of yours and it will take so long to heat up that by 10PM you’ll give up, start slicing off bits of meat and frying them in a pan. By the time you’re ready to plate up, the weird guy who never leaves his room will have munched his way through three-quarters of the pigs in blankets. The fire alarm will go off at least three times, even though everything is hard and crunchy and undercooked. So yeah, just make a simple roast.
DON'T: BOTHER WITH PRESENTS
When has anyone ever bought you a present that you liked? Never. So don’t do a Secret Santa. Don’t buy anything. You’ll just offend each other. We all know what presents mean. If you get booze, you clearly have no personality; the 250g bar of Galaxy Cookie Crumble even more so; the Lush bath bomb even more so. Maybe someone will think it’s funny to buy you a Lynx Africa multipack. A shit present that knows it’s a shit present. How meta, they think. How ironic.
No, it’s just a shit present.
DO: ENGAGE IN CONVERSATION
When it comes to Christmas with the family, the only time any of you actually agree on anything is during the first five minutes of the meal, when everyone’s shovelling down their first few mouthfuls and someone goes, “It tastes so good none of us have anything to say.” After that, someone always makes the mistake of trying to talk, of trying to get to know each other. And then come the sentences which end with, “Well, we were all thinking it!”
This year, you’ll be among people you have actually chosen, rather than those you are forever connected to via genes and shared Spotify accounts. So you won’t be debating “free speech”, but actually enjoying the freedom to speak without being branded the “fun police” for saying you can’t sing that line in “Fairytale of New York”. Enjoy it, because next year it'll be Uncle Barry leering at “Holly Willaboobie” on The Chase Christmas Special, asking whether you’d prefer your goose with a side of avocado.
DO: MAKE UP YOUR OWN RULES
Christmas with family often involves answering dreadful open-ended questions – “How’s work?” “You still dating that nice girl?” “It’s expensive down in London, isn’t it?”– while you have to sit there and actually answer this shit. This year, however, you can do what you want. Make the most of it. Go upstairs while the roasties are cooking to catch up on Made in Chelsea without your mum making cutting comments like, “No, it’s fine, just go, you never call me anymore but it’s fine, just go.”
DON'T: ENGAGE IN ANY FAMILY TRADITIONS
“You hold this ball of wool, and as we pass it around you have to say something you’re grateful for. It all started back in 2006, when I was wearing an itchy Christmas jumper that our cruel Granny Sally knit me. That year she was particularly mean, so we decided we would just start doing Christmas on our own, just the four of us. We began unravelling this jumper of mine as a symbol of us moving away and discovering our own journey. We’ve been doing it every year since.”
That’s actually a scene in the sentimental Amazon Prime drama This is Us, but I can imagine some dickhead in a shared flat thinking it’s a good way to get to know their flatmates on some deeper level. The person who always has Vaseline and those little packets of tissues in their bag. But it’s also a bit like showing people pictures of your dog: no one else is interested.
The whole ordeal will stink of workplace orientation at a global food chain. “Say your name and then tell us one thing about yourself!” No thanks, I’d rather just look at everyone’s Instagram stories and see whether Daniel “Yeah I’m well working class it was really hard going to a state school” Walker knows you can see the Cheshire manor in the background of his uploads.
Some people are fundamentally useless. But you can’t just have the mum of the group doing all the hard graft. They need help to prevent them from talking in those incredibly high pitched squeals that your actual mum communicates in when you move the sofa cushions.
Make the useless guy in the house peel the sprouts, get the couple who have all those line drawings of women’s naked bodies and scented candles get the decorations. But don’t let the guy whose personality is telling you to watch films he knows you won’t ever watch do the quiz. All his questions will be shit, i.e., “What 1930s film is credited by Jean-Paul Sartre as inspiring his ideas around existentialism?”
DON'T: GET DRUNK AND HAVE SEX WITH YOUR FLATMATE
It is not the office Christmas party. Keep the chaotic end-of-year-energy at arm’s length. This year has been an absolute dumpster fire, but there’s no need to lob what semblance of civilisation we have left into the flames. Otherwise, you’ll be back to the Spareroom homepage looking at damp-walled grey rooms, persuading people that you’re clean, “but not, like, really anal clean”, that you’re social, “but, like, I won’t keep you up when I get in from the pub”.
No one wants to spend the new year trying to convince people to let you pay £670 for a room with radiators which don’t work, that everyone has to walk through on the way to the living room.