Photo by Karolina Grabowska

A sliver of early morning light broke through the gap between the curtains, illuminating Tim’s bedroom. Tim grew increasingly restless in bed, slowly waking up to the most exciting morning of his year—Christmas Day. He balled up a little fist and reached up from under the warmth of the duvet to rub the grit from his eyes. He began to fantasise about how he would spend the morning. First, he would wolf down pancakes with Mum and Dad, and then they would huddle around the Christmas tree, each taking turns to open presents. They would start with the stocking fillers. Tim always enjoyed pulling edible treats from the red and green stocking and snacking on them whilst he opened his more exciting gifts. He had been thinking about what treats he might be gifted with on Christmas morning for several months now. He wondered if he might get the new Playstation, or even the signed Celtic football shirt he had dreamed about. His mind raced to all the wonderful things that Santa may have delivered him. His favourite part of the day was always setting eyes on the bountiful array of neatly bow-tied gifts that awaited him on Christmas morning.

Tim tossed and turned for a few more minutes as the intensity of his excitement increased. As he opened his eyes, the patch of light darted through the curtains, illuminating a narrow strip of the room. Tim’s eyes naturally followed the band of light until his gaze came to rest on an old photo above his dresser. The picture showed a joyful six-year-old boy with bright green eyes on the broad shoulders of a smiling man as they stood on a Dorset beach. A young woman and two older individuals looking equally cheerful stood on either side of the father and son. Tim reminisced fondly about the family holiday with his parents and grandparents just a few years back. A wave of sadness momentarily came over him as he remembered that this year he would not be able to see Grandma and Grandpa for Christmas. Normally his family would come together for a big Christmas lunch followed by a walk around the local park before the sunset, however this year, Tim knew things were different.

Mum and Dad had told him that no one was allowed to see Grandma and Grandpa for a while because Grandpa was at risk of becoming unwell if he was to catch the virus that everyone was talking about. Tim had not seen his grandparents for several months, and today there would be two more empty chairs at the dinner table. He knew that the virus seemed to have changed everything this year. He had noticed that Dad had increasingly been spending more and more time at home, and Mum less and less. Occasionally, when they thought he was not listening, Tim would eavesdrop on his parents in the evening, and more frequently he heard raised voices. Tim was worried about Mum, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa. He knew the virus had changed things outside of his home, but he didn’t want things inside of his home to change, too.

It was Christmas morning and Tim was determined not to feel defeated today. Stoically, he rose from bed and pulled back the curtains, allowing the winter sun to brighten the dark room. He darted to the bathroom and gave his teeth a customary clean. The smell of pancakes was wafting upstairs, indicating that Mum and Dad were ahead of him this morning. Tim raced down the stairs following the sweet, warming scent of breakfast to the kitchen. Dad, smiling and cheerful, was seated at the dining table and beckoned for Tim to join him. Mum joined them a few minutes later and they ate as a family, sharing a stack of pancakes that Dad had prepared. As soon as the last piece of the pancake had been eaten, Tim bolted for the living room to survey the treasure trove under the Christmas tree. He heard Mum and Dad chuckle in the background as he sprinted from the kitchen.

The pile of presents under the tree was smaller this year. Tim browsed the red and gold packages, all neatly finished with sharply wrapped corners and silver satin ribbon. The Christmas stockings bulged above the fireplace, tightly packed with treats and gifts. Tim carefully retrieved his stocking and laid it next to him on the floor. He was eager to get started and his mind started to speculate on the contents of his gifts, assessing each of them individually for size and shape.

As Tim’s mind began to wander, he remembered Mum taking him to the shopping centre a few weeks previously to shop for Dad. Tim could almost smell the warm cinnamon and sugar-coated pretzels from his favourite mall food stand, as he pictured masked shoppers hurrying around him with small children and shopping bags in tow. Christmas music spilled out into the concourse from stores with bright red sale signs in their windows, eager to entice in customers. An occasional blast of warm air from the store entrance heaters brought welcome relief to Tim from the chill of the mall air as he followed Mum from store to store. Eventually, as Tim grew weary from walking, Mum suggested that they head to Santa’s grotto, an old tradition that Tim had outgrown but could not admit so to Mum. As he approached the grotto, he noticed masked elves cheerfully directing children and parents into a socially-distanced queue. When it was Tim’s turn to enter the brightly decorated hut, he approached the man in the Santa costume and awkwardly posed beside him whilst Mum snapped a few photos. She beamed at him and remarked how cute Tim looked. As Mum returned her phone to her bag, Santa looked down at Tim and asked him what he wanted for Christmas. A thousand thoughts began to formulate within Tim’s brain, percolating into a cohesive answer. However, Tim surprised himself with his answer: “I want things to go back to normal.”

Mum and Dad ambled through to the living room, jolting Tim from his daydream. They sat on the rug next to him, warming their hands on mugs of hot coffee. They chatted as a family as they arranged a pile of gifts next to each other, Tim of course with the biggest pile. As he began revealing chocolate coins and small Lego figures from his stocking, Tim continued to ponder his answer to the Santa in the shopping centre grotto. He thought back to how different things had been this year with the virus that everyone at school and on TV talked about. He suspected that that virus was causing Mum and Dad to be upset with each other, having caught glimpses of his parents’ gloomy expressions when they thought Tim wasn’t looking. He longed to construct his new Lego sets with Grandpa before Christmas lunch like all the past years. Normality is all Tim really wanted for Christmas. As he reached deep into his stocking, his hand fumbled around at the bottom of the sock, finally resting on the smooth, well-defined lines of an envelope. Curious, he retrieved the white envelope from his stocking, surveying it intently. He slid his finger under the envelope’s flap, carefully breaking the seal on the white paper. He looked up at Mum and Dad expectantly, and they smiled and nodded towards the packet. Again, Tim looked down to the envelope, his little fingers tugging at the blue card inside. Confused, he read the card, slowly understanding the significance of the gift. Tim read the card once more to check that he was not mistaken. His eyes rested on the formal text on the card: “Timothy Cratchit, 27th December 2020 at 14:30, COVID-19 Vaccination Appointment”. Tim smiled. It was the perfect Christmas gift.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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