Elizabeth Day: What I’ve learnt from this topsy-turvy year

As we approach Christmas, I’ve been reflecting on a year of upside-down normality. Our usual anxieties have been overwhelmed by life-or-death situations. It has felt as if we are in a post-apocalyptic drama, albeit one with more plot lines about antibacterial hand gel than your average disaster movie.

Dan Kennedy

Corona is no longer just a light Mexican beer. Face masks have transitioned from beauty products to health necessities. Frontline workers have rightly received the accolades usually reserved for beloved heads of state.

Celebrations were inverted, too. In any average year, birthdays, anniversaries and weddings would be marked with parties and unthinking displays of tactile emotion. Instead, we have turned inwards, finding inventive ways to make merry within the confines of our homes. Restaurants evolved into food delivery services. Exercise – so frequently something we try to get out of – became a necessary daily ritual. A bag of flour or a roll of toilet paper became luxuries. We noticed, for the first time, how lucky we had been to hold our loved ones without thinking of the consequences.

In short, the big things became smaller and the previously inconsequential attained a far higher level of importance. In the midst of existential uncertainty, we found delight in simple pleasures. We baked sourdough and banana bread. We nurtured obsessions with box-sets, measuring out our lockdowns in episodes of Tiger King or Normal People.

My most memorable moments of 2020 have therefore been modest. The split-second appreciation of the way early evening light fell on a wall. The luck of a sunny day. The friendship forged with neighbours I’d never previously spoken to. The sound of a street clapping in unison at 8pm on a Thursday.

The doctor who took a blood test from me in the early weeks of a lockdown pregnancy and made me laugh. The kindness of the sonographer who told us our baby’s heartbeat was strong. The same kindness of that sonographer who told us, a week later, the beating heart had stopped and no one knew why. The love shown by friends who left shopping bags on my doorstep filled with my favourite groceries. The reverberating thrum of my cat purring reliably on the bed next to me during those days filled with pain. The readers of this column who wrote to me in that time.

The discovery of a good pre-made margarita. The moment my partner and I realised a local newsagent would deliver bars of chocolate if we placed a minimum order. The point at which a café opened for cups of tea and coffee to take away. The conscientious labour done by workmen in the park at the end of our road to restore a fountain and a playground. They planted new lavender bushes with such care that it felt like an act of great generosity.

The video calls with my parents, who I have not seen since March. The missing of them, which in itself is a signifier of love. The birthday in lockdown which might be my favourite ever because there was no pressure and yet I had cards to open and texts to read and I felt so cherished because of it. The Saturday night Zoom games with my best friend and her husband. The conversations we had about things that mattered.

Christmas is five days away. In a normal year, we’re encouraged to think of it as a Big Day, requiring conspicuous celebration. For me, this year, it’s different. It will be a day of small beauty, of marking the previously unacknowledged moments; the gaps between the noise. In those pauses, if we listen hard enough, we hear our own humanity.

This week I’m…


Glossier Matte Lid Tint. It comes in seven shades and is so easy to apply.


My neck with this 18-carat gold-plated necklace from Orelia.


Fabulous in this long silk satin robe from Eloise Jephson.