Dream trip to Santa turns into nightmare: Covid disrupts festivities for families

From Covid-only gatherings to postponing celebrations, readers share their stories

A mother isolating in a hotel room while her family flies home to Ireland, a teenager sent to his bedroom for the whole of Christmas, a festive season pushed into the new year and an impromptu gathering of positive friends for a very virusy Christmas were just some of the Covid-interrupted Christmas stories shared by readers in recent days.

With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly across Ireland over the past week, the Christmas plans of tens of thousands were ruined or hastily rearranged.

Susan Haddon’s Christmas plans were in tatters when she tested positive on December 21st just before the rest of her family flew home after a “dream holiday in Lapland”.

“Unfortunately I tested positive for Covid on December 21st ... I had an isolation order placed on me until December 31st. Her husband and children travelled home on Wednesday 22nd and Susan had to stay in her hotel room, alone, over the Christmas period, “which was frankly horrific”.


“The hotel in Finland did their best to help me and some wonderful friends sent gifts and support, but nothing could change the fact that I was thousands of miles from home, and separated from my husband and little girls.

“I was lucky not to be very ill, as I was vaccinated and had my booster too, and I’m thinking of those who are very sick at this time. At least I will get home to my family, some people never will.

Christmas in western Canada

Amy Moody and her partner were planning to spend Christmas and the holidays with their Irish family. Omicron and the rising numbers put paid to that and they cancelled their holiday.

“Our idea was to spend a few days with each family household, eat a great feast, and drink a lot of wine. About four days before flying out, we heard that two of the young college students were at a party where there was Covid.

“Instead we stayed in Western Canada where the temperature was -30 degrees and found [our own] adventures. We went cross-country skiing and try to find some outdoor activities to entertain us. There’s only two of us here, so it was quiet. I try to make the best of things with what we had and enjoy each other’s company. Thank goodness for zoom and being able to visit on video conferencing. Having said that, it’s not the same, but honestly I’d rather be healthy.

Christmas dinner in his bedroom

John Quinn and his family's Christmas was turned on its head after his 18-year-old son took an antigen test on Christmas morning and saw the dreaded second line appearing, suggesting he was a positive case.

“He had his Christmas dinner in his room and he has been there since then,” Quinn wrote. “The earliest PCR test I could get for him was on December 27th, having stayed up until 1am on the 26th trying to navigate a fairly cumbersome system.”

An appointment was found but he had to drive his son (with masks on and windows down) more than 50km to a test centre, a journey he understatedly described as “not ideal”. At the time of writing, the family was waiting for the PCR test results to come back.

Unopened presents

Jean Cox-Kearns, like most people, was looking forward to Christmas with her family when her son came home from work on December 20th complaining of feeling “dizzy [with] flu-like symptoms”. An antigen test came back as negative but he went to bed feeling a bit ropey.

“We assumed the worst and by Tuesday he had a positive antigen test and was feeling nauseous,” Cox-Kearns said.

He booked a PCR test for last Wednesday and had to drive a distance to get it.

“By Wednesday evening he was feeling well again. The PCR came back positive so my son stayed in his room. He used the family bathroom and his bedroom and we delivered every meal to a table outside his bedroom door.”

Christmas was suddenly off the table, she said.

“Our daughter stayed up in Dublin and did not come home. She spent Christmas with good friends. Our presents are still all unopened under the tree. We officially cancelled Christmas.”

Cox-Kearns said the plan now is to mark Christmas morning on new year’s night “and we will then have Christmas dinner on January 2nd”.

Conor McDonald was due to get his booster jab two days before Christmas and decided to do an antigen test beforehand.

“To my shock, after having Covid in the last year, being double vaxxed and showing no symptoms, it came back as a positive result,” he said.

In hindsight, he admitted, he “shouldn’t have been so surprised as I had stayed in London the previous week, where it was rampant”.

The positive antigen test was followed by a positive PCR test and self-isolation over Christmas as nobody else in his house had tested positive.

“As you can imagine the idea of spending the Christmas period in my room didn’t fill me with joy, especially when the only symptoms I experienced over the next few days were a slight runny nose and mild sore throat,” he continued.

‘Sense of normalcy’

Then things took a turn for the better.

“A friend messaged me saying her and her housemate had both tested positive also, and were unable to go home. They invited me to a Covid-only Christmas Day which was brilliant and brought a sense of normalcy to the whole thing. I have since done two negative antigen tests within six days of my first positive, so only a few days left now.”

Liz Dillon got her booster jab on December 22nd and started to feel unwell – with a temperature, a sore throat and a dry cough – the following day.

“Within 24 hours I still had symptoms and after 48 hours I was still feeling unwell and took an antigen test. The line was really faint so I took another more expensive pharmacy test and the two pink lines were glowing,” she said.

So on Christmas Eve she went into isolation and “decamped to the living room and everyone one else avoided me like the plague. I had Christmas dinner with some of the family with doors open. Dinner tasted great [and I was] relieved that the taste buds were still working.”

She tried and failed to book a PCR test on Christmas Day and on shortly after midnight on St Stephen’s Day she managed to book a slot for a test centre in Swords.

“All the tests were booked within minutes. It was like booking concert tickets on Ticketmaster. My symptoms started to wane and I was becoming less reliant on paracetamol,” she added.

When she was writing to us her husband was the one sleeping on the couch after a positive antigen test of his own. For her part, Dillon is starting to feel better and hopeful she is now “Omicron resistant for the future and triple vaccinated”.

She is now waiting to see if any of her other family members contract Covid “to see if I am a super spreader”.

‘Make the most of it’

Siobhan McKenna had a hip replaced on December 18th and figured it was the “perfect excuse to recuse myself from all the usual stress and hard work”.

A combination of pandemic times and high rents have meant her two adult daughters are living at home with her and she decided she “was going to make the most of it”.

The surgery went well and she was out of hospital within three days. “Everything was going according to plan until one by one my daughter’s friends were testing positive for Covid – many had returned from overseas. But she hadn’t seen anyone for days now, and had done numerous antigen tests, which were all negative.”

At least until they weren’t. One test showed a “very faint pink line appeared at the T”.

Her daughter then developed symptoms and isolated in her room. “I was now on crutches, with two dogs and tried to care for the person who was meant to be my carer. She got a PCR. We got our ‘Happy Christmas’ texts of positive and close contact on Christmas morning.

“This being Christmas 2021, her dad also tested positive a few days ago and was alone – we decided it was best if she went to stay with him and they could isolate together. My other daughter is a frontline worker and wasn’t due home until later Christmas Day. So I spent much of the day alone trying to figure out how I could manage to salvage Christmas. Thank god for the Christmas box of Tayto and the tub of Roses, which ended up being my food source.”

She and her other daughter “eventually ate around 9pm and afterwards did a video call to open presents with Dad and my other daughter. All the months of planning squashed by Covid yet again. Was it a ‘bad’ Christmas . . . no. Different, yes, but if we’ve learned anything it’s that much of life is outside our control but we can control our responses and reactions.

“I was a little heart broken to see my daughter leave Christmas morning, presents left unopened, food untouched but I have a great mantra I’ve been using a lot lately, ‘and so this too shall pass’, I repeat it as I breath and then with the click-clack of crutches search for the remote control and my Christmas buddy 2021 – sugar.”

These were responses to a call for reader comments by The Irish Times

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast