ARE you dreaming of a byte Christmas? Anyone with an eye to the event has already been slowly grinding gears in their mind, as the Covid constrictions wax and wane.

If we’re five in a family, does that mean Grannie’s here, but Granda has to be on Zoom? Does it mean I have to give more of my present money to Jeff Bezos? Is it an opportunity for us to mute that offensive uncle, when necessary?

Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government’s national clinical director, brought all this to a head – in his usual punchy way – on Thursday.

“We’re not going to be in large family groupings with multiple families coming round. That is fiction for this year, but I’m hopeful if we can get the numbers down to a certain level we may be able to get some form of normality ... but people should get their digital Christmas ready.”

Phew. Can we be honest? The idea of a “digital Christmas” either appals or attracts based on your prevailing mood about the celebration itself.

If Xmas is the one time in the year when extended families scattered by work (or ambition) can come together, slumping into each other with relief, united by riding an avalanche of food and drink, refreshing their sense of the shape and feel of their loved ones ... then to you, the virtualisation of Christmas is a dreaded prospect.

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However, if Xmas is the forcing together of people who didn’t choose to be related to each other, performing a specious show of unity, generating criminal amounts of wasted material, in order to serve some outdated gift ceremony ... then, y’know, cyber-Santa might have his advantages.

Another truth would be that many of us have already been building a “digital” family life throughout the pandemic. And although nothing is as good as a long hug, the long blether part can be as good as ever it was.

My own experience is of two beloved daughters at either end of the country, pursuing their missions and vocations, in whose liveliness I can immerse myself every other weekend on a multi-framed Zoom call, for hours if need be.

I’ve attended birthdays and weddings, all of them gigglier than usual because of the amateur cinematics going on. People don’t quite get it right – but that’s often the very joyful point of it.

So we have been “getting ready for a digital Christmas” for quite a while, in many ways, under the horizon of Covid. However, if we are in one of the higher “tiers” or “levels”, as the second wave makes its Xmas/New Year peak, then I don’t want to minimise people’s feelings of unfairness or injustice.

For all of us – and for some much worse than others – it’s been a tough, demanding, disorienting year. We may have imagined that 10 months of this – non-work (or dangerous work), disrupted schooling, collapsed business plans, communal estrangement and relentless government measures – would surely be over by Xmas. That the season would be our social reward.

But if we accept that Covid’s worst pathway is expectorated droplets flying through the air, some cruelty is inevitable. Laughing, blethering, coughing, singing and canoodling at close quarters, between previously separated individuals and groups – basically, Christmas – turns out to be the very worst of contagious circumstances.

I really have zero time for the clockwork politicians who leapt all over Jason Leitch’s lines the other day, demanding better performance from the Scottish Government. We’re in a second wave because the pressure from the streets to return to a somewhat normal and sociable existence, after a dip in rates and deaths, was so overwhelming.

Part of that is because of the economic model we were locked into – requiring feet on the streets and high consumption, served by elaborate supply chains that need working on the move for them to function. How else are we supposed to live, to make a living? (Many answers to that, but not now).

So beyond our concerns about family and friends, Christmas is of course an acute economic problem. As Marketing Week recently noted, “for many brands Christmas is also the crucial sales period, with between 50% and 80% of total revenues often generated in these last few weeks of the year”.

Will we click-click away instead, compensating for not being co-present by sending ever more boxes of barely required, expensively delivered excess? There are many responses to a situation which has been generated by our human disruption of nature and habitat. But going gonzo on carbon-heavy Xmas gifts hardly seems like the right one.

I wonder if a “digital Christmas” might be an opportunity for something more thoughtful and meaningful (I’m speaking as a secular person here – of course, for Christians it’s already aglow with significance).

ONE thing that has really worked in my own 2020 of virtual communing has been the “watch party”. This is where people use a platform like Zoom or Teams to gather together before a film, then watch it, then share the experience afterwards. My context has been an activist one – someone sharing their documentary or recorded interview – but it needn’t be.

For those with access to a cable or satellite archive of movies, you could agree a selection of five “big” movies – big-hearted and big-picture – and decide to watch the movie on a chosen date and time in the seasonal fortnight.

The point of it can just be the chat. But it could also be tied to a charity, relevant to the movie’s topic, that you might want to donate to online, at the end of the experience (for me, the showstopper would have to be that classic of stakeholderism and community resilience, It’s A Wonderful Life).

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Another act of “digital Christmas” might be helping those excluded and isolated by coronavirus to have one. I know that there’s a Connecting Scotland programme from the Scottish Government, which early on in the pandemic tried to get 9000 people online that were considered to be clinically high risk.

But it strikes me that this is also an ideal “mutual aid” project, with the possibility of love and support expressed across the generations.

Many households will have underused network devices, not to mention underused teenagers with the expertise to set them up. In online responses to this piece, I’d appreciate links to charities and organisations that are already making this happen.

But isn’t this also something that can be started in any community, deploying its usual radar sweep of “who’s behind that door? And do they need help?” Perhaps some of Connected Scotland’s £43 million could be devoted to gifting 4G accounts to those trying to bring the elderly and lonely online.

Pelters don’t cease much for any ceremonial occasion these days. But a “digital Christmas” should appeal to our ingenuity and our desire for connection, as much as remind us of how rubbish this Covid moment is. Jason Leitch isn’t the Grinch. But we should try not to be as well.