FEW who heard Scotland’s national clinical director Jason Leitch utter the words “digital Christmas” on BBC Radio Scotland could have failed to feel a winter chill.

Picture the scene: it’s Christmas Day 2020 and you’ve just guzzled your sixth mince pie in a row. A half-eaten Chocolate Orange lies to your side, melting into the couch.

On a laptop in front of you, rosy-cheeked relatives in skew-whiff party hats shout over each other on Zoom. One gesticulates silently at the screen, stuck on mute.

Somebody suggests a festive quiz at the very moment when, mercifully, the video freezes and your internet conks out. 

To be fair to Mr Leitch, he was clear it’s too early to say exactly how Christmas will look, and he was specifically referring to the likelihood of large, multi-household family gatherings.

But his comments on Thursday morning were a sobering moment and immediately made the headlines.

“Christmas is not going to be normal, there’s absolute no question about that,” he said. “We’re not going to be in large family groupings with multiple families coming around. That is fiction for this year.

“I’m hopeful that if we can get the numbers down to a certain level, we may be able to get some form of normality. But people should get their digital Christmas ready.”

He was just saying what we all already knew, of course. How can Christmas be normal in the middle of a deadly pandemic?

But sometimes you need to hear things out loud before they really sink in. 

And the reference to a “digital Christmas” was perhaps unwise. As Age Scotland pointed out, many older people live without access to a smartphone, tablet or the internet. 

The radio interview later led to the slightly unedifying sight of Mr Leitch arguing with Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard on Twitter, while interim chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith accused media outlets of twisting and misreporting the national clinical director’s words. 

It’s not clear which outlets he was referring to, and examples were not forthcoming.

It all contributed to a week in which the winter loomed darker than ever.

“I have to level with you,” wrote Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at Edinburgh University, in a newspaper article.

“The next four months are going to be rough and might be one of the hardest periods in your life.”

On social media, she pointed to March before governments “have another chance” – hopefully with a vaccine and rapid testing – to form a strategy based on the latest data.

It’s a tough message to hear.

Nicola Sturgeon’s five-tier system, outlined yesterday, shows what we can expect over the coming months. 

It runs from “level zero”, which is as close to normal as it is possible to get without effective treatment or a vaccine, to level four, which is approaching a full lockdown, and can apply to specific council areas or nationwide if necessary. 

Of course, this throws up the prospect of different parts of Scotland being in different stages of lockdown over the festive period.

Ms Sturgeon wouldn’t be drawn on Christmas during her briefing yesterday. 

But the five-tier strategic framework document says that under levels two, three and four, all “in-home” socialising will be banned. 

Scots living under level one can meet inside in groups of up to six from two households, although the small print warns that “at times, depending on circumstances, we may need to stop indoor socialising in level one in an area”.

It’s not until level zero - which remember, is as close to normal as we can currently get - that groups of up to eight people from three households can meet indoors. 

That offers the best chance of any kind of normality over Christmas.

But while remote areas might be at that stage by late December, how likely is it that central Scotland will be?

And then there’s all the other problems winter brings, such as seasonal flu coinciding with the virus and the strain on the NHS.

Universities have been an ongoing headache, and the framework document highlights “particular challenges” around the festive break this year. 

Based on previous years' data, it says, up to 150,000 students could be leaving their term-time addresses, throwing up obvious risks as many head home to multi-generational households.

Christmas is also a crucial time of year for pubs, restaurants and shops, and the impact of restrictions will be potentially devastating. Many fear they won’t reopen if forced to close.

The news that five hospitality industry bodies have now launched a legal challenge against the Scottish Government’s ongoing restrictions illustrates how fraught things have become.

In a statement, they said they are fighting for survival.

It’s going to be a long, hard winter.

But when all this is over, surely we can all agree on one thing: let’s ban Zoom and never mention it again.