I haven’t always hated Christmas; I think I enjoyed it as a kid. Not so much since. It is a little about the food (if turkey and sprouts are such good news, why don’t we eat them on any other day, eh?). It has a little more to do with rampant consumerism. Gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath … funny how a festival that is supposed to be about the birth of Christ has come to encompass so many Christian sins. But this isn’t about him; it’s about me, my own family and my own insecurities.
I think things turned sour in my 30s, when my siblings selfishly started having families of their own. Suddenly there were new people and generations involved; it became more complicated logistically, as what had been a simple family gathering exploded. This lot went here, that lot there … oh, God, what about Sam? Where’s he going to go? Whose turn is it? I wasn’t involved in these conversations, but I’m sure they happened. They did in my mind, anyway. I had become the grumpy grandad no one wanted, before even being a dad.
I could – and should – have just spent Christmas alone, for everyone’s sake. But that would have made them feel bad, and I didn’t want that or to be felt sorry for. So I went along, to wherever there was room or I was least unwelcome, to whoever’s turn it was. I ate my sprouts – mmm – and I tried to be the fun uncle, and not to disapprove so obviously of the mountains of presents being ripped open (while also, hypocritically, feeling sorry for myself as I strung out the unwrapping of my own pitiful molehill of hastily thrown-together afterthoughts). I don’t think I fooled anyone.
And then one year I did fool them – everyone. Uncharacteristically, and improbably, I found myself in the situation known as having a girlfriend (I had had them before, just not for Christmas). She came with a family of her own, and they asked me if I would like to spend Christmas with them. No, of course I bloody wouldn’t, but it gave me an idea. That’s very kind, I said, but I’m spending it with my family. They’d be devastated if I wasn’t there. (Ha!)
See where this is going? I then told my family that I would be spending Christmas with my girlfriend’s family – I was keen to get to know them better. And my family concealed any relief they may have been feeling. At least they didn’t need to feel sorry for me because I wouldn’t be alone at home …
I may have felt a little sorry for myself, but I thoroughly enjoyed doing so
Which is exactly what and where I was, of course. By myself, as myself. I had a steak – with chips, no sprouts – and a nice bottle of rioja. (I don’t really remember that it was rioja, but in my mind it was a grade or two above the usual. It could have even broken the £10 barrier.) I toasted absent friends and family. Yeah, maybe there was a bit of gluttony involved, but it’s hard to remain sin-free at Christmas. I went for a walk; London is beautiful on Christmas Day. There were no arguments about what to watch; I caught up on some of the films I had missed in the year just gone. I may have felt a little sorry for myself, but I thoroughly enjoyed doing so. It was perfect – best Christmas ever. But impossible to repeat.
It turns out the girlfriend wasn’t just for Christmas, but for life (so far). We did some new-generation-creating of our own, and since then, as you can imagine, it has been impossible to sneak off. But that’s OK.
I still hate Christmas because of the turkey, sprouts and all of that sinning. Also wrapping – I really don’t like wrapping. But now I don’t have to pretend not to hate it: I’m the Grinch, but out and proud. Which is liberating, even amusing – for me. And I’ll always have the memories of the year I went free solo.