This year’s Grinch did indeed steal Christmas. He forcibly parted so many people from their families. The legacy of Covid’s devastation and lockdown has provided us with an important reset button.

Why bother about lavish gifts under the tree or perfect meals when we all yearn for the physical presence with the people we love?

Last Christmas was all about small gestures and little kindnesses. Covid took us back to our roots: Health truly is wealth.

Ironically, however, we had to face a worldwide pandemic, unimaginable pain, and other challenges to realize that and break the cycle. It was enough to be alive and protect our loved ones, as well as for the world to return to some degree of normality that we all realized. There was nothing more.

When all that was important was distributing a vaccine quickly, it seemed futile to worry about what to buy. Although protection has no cost, it is the one gift that we all desire.

UK actress Sarah Standing reflects on battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma as Christmastime approaches, appreciating being around family rather than expensive gifts

UK actress Sarah Standing talks about her struggle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. As Christmas approaches, she reflects on how it feels to be around loved ones and not expensive gifts. 

Prior to the pandemic I was the queen of Christmas. For weeks beforehand, I was planning and trying to be uber-organised so the day itself wasn’t spent with me fat-splattered and furiously basting a bird in the oven.

The preparation was delicious. Everything. From filling huge glass bowls with Quality Streets to festooning my youngest grandson’s highchair with fairy lights, not to mention seeking out the most desirable gifts for all the family.

It was never something I considered a chore. That all changed in the last year. Christmas was miserable.

I had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma two days before the second national lockdown in October 2020 and I was withering from chemo.

But I was more upset that I wasn’t able to spend time with my beloved ones.

I missed my sister, Emma, who I hadn’t seen for more than a year as she lives in the U.S. A broken heart and empty stockings for Christmas hung on my mantelpiece were the result of this.

It was not something that I felt the strength to or desire to indulge in retail therapy. My 87-year old mother was all I wanted for Christmas. [actress Nanette Newman]I live over an hour away from my children and two grandchildren. I’m fortunate in that my children, who are 36, 35 and 32, live close by in London, but the vaccine rollout was only just beginning and they were all unvaccinated. It was a danger.

They were there. They were in small batches. On my doorstep. At a distance. Masks worn. With masks on. India, India’s oldest daughter, celebrated Christmas at her home for her siblings.

The baton was handed on — and I pretended not to mind about any of it. They were able to reduce it, but in strict social bubbles and with their grandparents and parents absent.

I’m sure India did it brilliantly, but as I love Christmas more than any other festive occasion, I can’t pretend it didn’t hurt.

This year, I’m determined to make a difference.

Sarah Standing enjoying a Christmas past with husband Johnnie as Santa. Sarah said she is still undergoing treatment for the next 18 months but it is 'nowhere near as savage as chemo'

Sarah Standing, with Johnnie her husband as Santa Claus. Sarah stated that she will continue treatment over the next 18-months, but it’s not nearly as brutal as chemotherapy.

Everyone (bar the grandchildren) is double-jabbed and boostered, and I’ve stopped withering and have been given (if not quite a clean bill of health) the promise of a future. I’m still having treatment for the next 18 months, but it’s nowhere near as savage as chemo. It’s some sort of marvellous thing that kills off rogue cancer cells — I choose not to ask questions and just trust the doctors.

Basically, it’s a belt-and-braces job every two months which enables me to rejoin the land of the living.

Patients with blood cancer, regardless of the fact that I was double-vaxxed or boostered, are extremely vulnerable.

Medical data has recently revealed that being vaccinated while undergoing chemo doesn’t really count, so I am currently trying to have more vaccinations to supplement them. Personally, I have taken a slightly controversial view of the fact that tests showed I have zero antibodies, which doctors say is due to the fact that people with blood cancers haven’t responded to vaccinations as originally imagined. Because I am alive. I am alive!

After being diagnosed I became a hermit for eight months, feeling isolated, lonely, and seeing no one. Once I was vaccinated, it felt like I was fairly safe and I decided to return to society.

And then I found out I wasn’t safe. I was a ticking time bomb — and, in many ways, remain so.

However, I have come to the conclusion that I’m not prepared just to be alive and not to live. I’ve always been a bit of a risk-taker, so I lateral flow test anyone who comes into my house, keep windows open no matter how cold, and wear a mask everywhere. My life is precious and wonderful. I don’t want it to end. However, I wish to live my life and enjoy the company of those I love.

So, despite the scary headlines, I can’t wait for a big family Christmas. She is my eldest daughter, and she will be hosting the celebrations.

It’s bigger, has a garden and, truth be told, I’m not quite strong or energetic enough.

While my mind may be open, my flesh remains a little weak.

It is so wonderful to have a daughter who takes control and doesn’t feel like I am being ostracized. I’m still cooking the turkey and gravy, and ferrying them over to her house wrapped in tinfoil. I’m providing crackers and I’ve decorated my house within an inch of its life.

I am more excited about the day than I’ve ever been. I’ve always regarded Christmas as a benchmark; one that provides a template for my family’s history. ‘That was the first Christmas after Daddy died.’ Or ‘That was the Christmas we found out we were going to be grandparents.’ It marks the passage of time.

Since her diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in October 2020, Sarah Standing has been undergoing chemotherapy treatment and kept track of her hair loss

Sarah Standing was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in October 2020. She has continued chemotherapy and been keeping track of hair loss.

Pre-coronavirus, I’d got hosting Christmas down to a fine art. I’d order a Kelly Bronze organic turkey to be delivered on December 23, make rich gravy from chicken stock and freeze it ahead of time, chop red cabbage and marinate it with apples, brown sugar and vinegar and have it ready to be reheated on Christmas Day. Each year, the table will be prepared well in advance.

In the middle of the table I placed fake snow two years before the pandemic. Between the fairy lights were strings of batteries-operated fairy lamps. To create an enchanting landscape, I used my shiny-red collection of ornaments from mushrooms and mini Christmas trees.

The last year was very different. Johnnie was my husband and he tried his best to make Christmas special, but it was almost impossible. I felt like I was treading through treacle — bald, constantly freezing cold, uncertain and insecure.

A diagnosis of cancer can make one feel grateful for everything, but not life. It’s an odd conundrum. While you would love to have everyone in your life, it is also important to keep them away from reality.

I hated impinging on my children’s happiness. I wanted then to enjoy the 60 years I’d spent on this Earth devoid of fear. I hated the fact that I’d given them the fear for Christmas.

The true meaning of Christmas is now clear to me.

The only thing that having an encounter with death can do is help you to focus your mind.

You see the truth in all of those old sayings that you have ignored and discarded. What really matters is what you know. Your family and friends don’t actually want extravagant gifts to reaffirm what you feel towards them: they just want that friendship and love to continue.

That is what I also want.

Get More Christmas.

Yet I feel so swamped with gratitude still to be here, I can’t allow this opportunity to show how much their support has meant go unobserved.

I will not be rushing out (because I physically shouldn’t, and can’t) to spend, spend, spend on things that don’t really matter in the way I recklessly did before I got ill. Instead, my deep desire is to gift meaningful gifts. The tsunami of kindness and compassion that enveloped my body when I was diagnosed with cancer was overwhelming.

Sarah with her actress mother, Nanette Newman, at The Ivy in London in October 2013. She said: 'I had very little strength or inclination to do any retail therapy. All I wanted for Christmas was to see my 87-year-old mother, who lives alone over an hour away, my three children and my two young grandchildren'

Sarah, with Nanette Newman (her actress mother), at The Ivy London in October 2013. According to her, she said that she had no desire or strength to engage in retail therapy. My mother (87 years old) lives over an hour from me. I was desperate to be able to spend Christmas with my children, three grandchildren, and my grandmother, who is a widower.

It was amazing and touching. A wake up call for me that forced me to evaluate my whole life. One of life’s great lessons. People and not money are what make up our patchwork quilt of fond memories.

So rather than splashing the cash, I have repurposed decorations that I bought to festoon our house for my daughter’s wedding party a decade ago.

Now, large pink and purple tissue globes adorn the mantelpiece. They are interspersed with fairy lights as well as sprigs and pine. We don’t need new ornaments, just memories that are happy.

I’ve made and lovingly decorated brandy-infused Christmas cakes for all the nurses and doctors who have taken such care of me, and for dear friends I’ve filled glass jars with homemade, killer-calorific Rocky Road dusted with sparkling edible glitter.

I’ve needlepointed a couple of cushions (it’s amazing how much one can achieve when socialising and going out is restricted), and I have tried to curtail the click-and-buy culture of shopping on Amazon and consciously tried to support small shops.

I have not just wantonly bought ‘stuff’ for the sake of it; rather, I’ve scoured eBay and have found fabulous pre-loved, wooden Fisher-Price toys for my youngest grandson and an item of vintage clothing for my youngest daughter that I hope she will covet.

I’ve tried to be mindful as opposed to mindless; aware that the severity of climate change is real and immediate.

When something is thrown away, there is no ‘away’. It is still there. It is not going to go away.

To ensure that Christmas is a happy one for all of us, my entire family has made huge sacrifices. Their PCR testing costs them a lot and they are forgoing holiday parties and gatherings in order to have me join them.

Thank you all for your sacrifices.

Last year made me recognise Christmas is not about spending money and becoming obsessed with wrapping the latest must-have items or buying expensive gifts for one’s nearest and dearest.

Christmas shouldn’t be a frenzy of shopping, ticking off a list of presents that need to be produced, somehow thinking they are an expression of love.

They aren’t.

Love doesn’t come in a box with a bow on top. It’s love. It’s priceless and cannot be bought.

It is impossible to think of anything being lost or finite. It’s people who are the real prize. These are the people who give and keep giving.