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Cold comfort: Your plans for a sociable, Covid-safe winter

A couple walking with their dog during autumn weather at the park of Gaasbeek Castle
22:00 30/11/2020
From The Bulletin's digital magazine: Bulletin readers share their plans and hopes for the coming winter

Now that colder, shorter days are here, and semi-confinement and curfew rules are restricting daily life again, how do Bulletin readers plan to socialise safely this autumn and winter? And what happens to those Christmas travel plans?

‘It’s impossible to plan anything social’

Sarah Morris

“Now that the weather is not so good, I have picked up pilates lessons on YouTube or Instagram and generally do 20-30 minutes before I start work. We find it impossible to plan anything social. With my father and sister living in the south of France, my daughter studying in the UK and my son studying in Czechia, who knows where we will spend Christmas? I would hate to put my father’s health at risk, but at the same time he really needs a bit of human contact. I think we will quarantine for seven days before driving down to see him so that we can all meet up safely.” Sarah Morris, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre

‘The cousins can at least play together’

Ronan Healy

“We live in the small village of Mignault between Brussels and Mons. Out in the countryside, with young kids, our social life pretty much revolves around the primary school fundraising events and local carnivals, and visiting each other’s houses at the weekend. The Covid measures have scuppered all that now, so we see my wife’s family to have some drinks together and the cousins can at least play together. The local cultural centre in Le Rœulx was still putting on enjoyable events, but that’s pretty much it. It’s such a pity, but it’s just so hard to organise any social events right now.” Ronan Healy, Mignault, Wallonia

‘I still hope that I can go to Sweden for Christmas’

Hans Grunberg

“When it all started in March it was new and therefore also interesting, which made the situation easier to live with. Now the situation is not so new and interesting and the weather in Brussels not unusually agreeable and sunny – quite the opposite. My choir has taken up rehearsals again, which is nice, but we have to sing with face masks on, keep social distancing and therefore no social get-together over a drink after practice. It’s very annoying and I’m not sure how we’ll be able to practise like this. I still hope that I can go to Sweden for Christmas, mostly to see family, but one advantage there is also the absence of compulsory mask wearing and strict lockdown of any kind.” Hans Grundberg, Uccle

‘At Toastmasters you can develop yourself in a friendly environment’

Marta Lopez

“One of the initiatives I’ve been using to keep safe from Covid-19 and at the same time improve my public speaking skills is my Toastmasters club. I started in 2019 but since the beginning of the pandemic, most of the Toastmasters clubs are keeping virtual meetings. In Brussels there are plenty of bilingual clubs where you can practise public speaking, though I do mainly English because that will help me professionally. I like that you can develop yourself in a super friendly and fun environment. I’m addicted!” Marta Lopez, Ixelles

‘This winter will be very strange’

Noreen Donovan

“My plans have definitely changed this winter. Every winter I go home to Ireland to spend Christmas with my mother (87) and my family. We won’t be going to Ireland this year and this makes me very sad and very homesick. This winter will be very strange and we will probably not see as many people in the festive season. I plan to go to the outdoor light events – De Grote Schijn in the Rivierenhof in Antwerp; the Dinolights Festival at Plankendael and the Alice in Wonderland Light Festival at Antwerp Zoo. Anything outdoors where the number of visitors is controlled is on my ‘go to’ list.” Noreen Donovan, Duffel, Flanders

‘It’ll be the first Christmas ever that I don’t see my family’

Terese Van Oel

“‘Walk and talk’ is my main survival strategy for maintaining some kind of human contact that’s not via a screen. I have a few local friends that I walk with regularly in the Forêt de Soignes. We were meeting friends in the garden and hoped to extend the season by having a fire and grilling hotdogs, serving hot drinks and letting the kids make s’mores. We used to do online pub quizzes during the lockdown and I’m hoping they’ll start up again. We usually go to Sweden for Christmas but probably won’t now – not enough time to quarantine. Even though quarantine isn’t required there we would want to because my parents are in a risk group. It’ll be the first Christmas ever that I don’t see my family – it’ll be very sad.”  Terese Van Oel, Watermael-Boitsfort

‘I plan to keep up with my workout routine’

Ivan Mannino

“Despite the uncertainty that comes with it, I’m optimistic about the opportunities that we can leverage from this new environment. I very much look forward to visiting my family in Sicily this winter if Covid-19 allows. I also plan to keep up with my workout routine, whether that’s at home or going for a jog in the park. This is my way of staying true to my motto: Mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body). And finally, I am committed to sticking to my daily dose of Dutch lessons on Duolingo. It’s a fantastic way of connecting with an online community of learners who share your passion and enthusiasm!” Ivan Mannino, Brussels

‘I prefer meeting face to face but we have no choice’

Juliya Maslenko

During the confinement my husband and I had parties with our friends over Skype and we will do that again this winter. Normally we choose one family. We prepare aperitifs, cheese, small treats and we speak with our friends, as if we are together in a house. I prefer meeting face to face but we have no choice. Outside it’s not easy, people are afraid, so I walk by myself. This winter I prefer to do something different – painting and learning more about art on the internet, and studying more online. I miss my language classes and I think I’ll continue them online. Juliya Maslenko, Mons

  • How are you hoping to stay in touch with friends and family while public health restrictions are in place? Comment below or email us at

Photo: Thierry Roge/Belga. This article is part of The Bulletin's digital magazine

About the author

Karen McHugh is a regular contributor to The Bulletin, as well as to the Irish Times and the Irish Independent in her home country. She also provides news articles in English for Brussels Invest and Export’s website. A keen musician in her spare time, Karen writes mostly on culture, music, public transport and life in Belgium.

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Great ideas!!

Martha is a dear member of Armada Toastmasters Club.

Come and join the online meetings :)

Nov 4, 2020 18:27
Frank Lee

I get that most people miss their friends and family and seem to enjoy the holidays.
I am, however, antisocial. I envy people who find delight in others. Every year, December is a nightmare for me. I find no joy in meeting family for Christmas, just dread. So, at least for me and people like me, 2020 will prove to offer the best holiday season ever.

Dec 1, 2020 10:25