Gay Alcorn sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Below is an extract, you can sign up to receive her Note from the Editor here.

This will be my last newsletter for the year. I looked back at newsletters from the beginning of 2021. On February 14, I wrote: “I am writing this with my heart in my throat. These are some thoughts racing through my head. Here we go again. No, we’re all OK. It’s only five days. We are a resilient community and we can do this. We have learned from the more than 100-day harsh lockdown last year. Our health professionals are first-rate. Keep things in perspective. It’s a new UK strain of the virus that is extremely infectious – up to 70% more than earlier variants – and it is inevitable it will escape from hotel quarantine.”

By the end of the year, that anxiety, that not-knowing what will happen, that trying to keep things in perspective, is still with us. In February, we did not know that Melbourne would face a long lockdown of more than 70 days this year, six in all. We had never heard of Omicron or contemplated the scramble for boosters.

These swirling emotions have been with us since March 2020 and there’s a sense that our emotional flexibility is worn out. For many small businesses, their financial flexibility is nearing the end, too. We’re tired of not knowing when this will finish, if it ever will, weary of changing rules and obsessively watching what is happening overseas.

The human mind – mine, anyway – craves certainty, predictability, having some control. We have gone in and out of lockdown. Hopefully, that era is behind us, but we can’t be certain. We have queued for tests, donned masks, checked in, watched our city streets taken over by sometimes violent protests and worried about our children and all they have missed.

I keep reminding myself that there is nothing wrong with these emotions. They are human. At year’s end, we crave some semblance of “normality” and for many of us, the focus is Christmas. What is Christmas in Australia, 2021? If you are Christian, it is a deep spiritual time of hope, a celebration of God’s love for the world through the birth of his son, Jesus. But Christmas has meaning beyond that message, whether you are Christian or follow another religion, or have no religious faith.

Those testing queues are full of people wanting to travel interstate to see family and friends for Christmas and for summer holidays. Some of us have welcomed family members from overseas who we haven’t seen for years. The hunkering at home is for fear that we will contract COVID-19 before Christmas and have to “isolate” – a horrible word – and spend the day alone in a sterile hotel room. The preparations this year have a sense of urgency because we can’t take for granted being with friends and family like we used to do, even if we all complain about our family sometimes.

For children, Christmas is exciting, and we want them to have that sense of giddy anticipation. For adults, too, it is something to look forward to, especially this year. We need to be together and, this year, Christmas symbolises that need whatever your religion.

My Christmas Day will be tiny – just my husband and adult daughter, eating lunch in the garden. We’ll catch up with extended family and friends in coming days. My husband has planned the main courses, and my daughter is doing dessert (I am working over Christmas, so that’s my excuse). I have, though, put up a bush Christmas tree in the front yard, a branch decorated with baubles and tinsel – I can see my daughter rolling her eyes at it already.

We have cleaned like never before, just for Christmas. Last weekend, we cleaned the windows, pruned the garden, and my husband watched the vegetable patch, willing the greens to be perfect for Christmas.

I know that every year, there are lonely people at Christmas, their sadness underlined by the season’s jollity. And I know that all that alcohol and overeating can be a tinderbox for arguments and worse. But for many of us this year, it will be about being with people we care about most after a draining year. We need people. We are not solitary beings.

The Age does not publish a newspaper on Christmas day – a long tradition, I don’t really know why. We do, of course, publish our website every day. If I watch what you are reading and watching, you still want to know about COVID-19 and how it might impact you and those close to you. But you are also turning to stories that give you joy, or celebrate the goodness of people, or just offer something else to think about.

What’s summer without a quiz? We have a regular bumper Sunday one starting on Boxing Day. We will cover the Boxing Day Test with gusto, and hopefully for a few days, the pandemic will fade from our thoughts.

If you are travelling interstate over summer, here’s a guide to what you need to know.

On December 31, we will start sending our new Culture Fix newsletter, a guide to going out in Melbourne over summer. Sign up here.

If you are searching for a holiday read, Books editor Jason Steger asked authors including Jonathan Franzen, Helen Garner and Kazuo Ishiguro for their favourite books of 2021. And look out this week for Age staff picking their best reads and best TV views of the year, and naming the book they are most looking forward to reading over summer.

If we have learned from this awful pandemic, perhaps it was about things that were true all along. We cannot predict the future. There is much that is outside our control. That we are self-interested, but also a community with responsibilities to each other.

And that without other people, life is not worth living. Merry Christmas to you all.

Gay Alcorn sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive her Note from the Editor here.

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