John wasn’t coming home for Christmas. Stupid Premier Palace-Chuck had slammed shut the Queensland border mid-flight in her ongoing toddler tantrum because NSW had one-and-a-half new Covid cases. John had no choice but to go into hotel quarantine for two weeks up there.

And without John, our Christmas light was snuffed. Literally and figuratively – he loved a good Christmas decoration, even more than the kids. As soon as all the Christmas warehouse shops began opening up, around August, he would start scoping out the best quality light up decorations and deals, driving for miles – which, no one has ever pointed out, cost more in petrol than money saved on a good deal… He loved it and that’s all that mattered.

His whole demeanor lifted the closer Christmas crept, and our spirits with his. His spine would straighten, his eyes would sparkle and his dad jokes increased. Like yesterday’s one on Facetime, reserved only for the tweenager who questioned Santa’s validity in front of the youngest believer:

‘You know what I call you if you say you don’t believe in Santa? A rebel without a claus!’ I could imagine him slapping his leg off screen, as we watched his head thrown back in mirth at his own joke. Of course, the joke was totally lost on the tween given Rebel Without A Cause has never featured on Instagram, but we all laughed at him laughing at himself anyway.

Before he’d left, John got all the decorations down out of the loft and stacked them neatly on the landing. ‘These babies are going up as soon as I get back!’

The only place they’ll be going now is back in the loft because Christmas will be over by the time he’s allowed to come home.

Our littlest asked me this morning: ‘Is Dad going to be home for Christmas?’ His sad little face made me tear up. Covid sure did love a bully like Palace-Chuk. This pandemic seemed to bring them out of the woodwork. Like everyone, our 2020 had been a shocker, but keeping John away from us for his favourite time of year, was unspeakable.

A blanket of darkness drew in on our family. The sparkle left John’s eyes on Facetime, and the kids became muted and sullen. I couldn’t cheer anyone up as I felt the very same.

There was a small glimmer of hope things could change, until we got to Christmas Eve and he was still trapped up there. Usually we would be watching the Carols in the Domain, with John and the teens whingeing it was boring and me and the little ones singing louder the more they protested. In John’s absence we had dragged ourselves to put the Christmas tree up, but it had no lights, and the rest of John’s happy LED purchases remained in the boxes where he’d left them, the outside of the house bleak and barren. We didn’t turn on the Carols and all went to bed at 7.30pm.

I slept fitfully, as I always did when John was away, hearing noises all night and waiting for kids to come creeping into my room. At 4am I gave up and got out of bed.

I crept down the stairs, tip toeing over the creaky spots. The kids would be up soon enough – in fact it was a miracle they were still asleep.

Or maybe they weren’t. I could hear noise downstairs and see a light shining under the door. John usually locked the downstairs door so the little creepers didn’t get up all hours to see if Santa had been – I’d forgotten. Oh well, let this strange day begin. I squinted in anticipation of the harsh, glaring living room lights as I opened the door.

But the miracle wasn’t that they were still asleep at all…

A soft red and white glow outlining a huge Santa in a sleigh with five prancing reindeer in front greeted me; our Christmas tree was lit up like an Aussie bushfire, and there was an excited voice saying: ‘I bought it at the airport’.

The miracle was John – our true Christmas light.