This year I will be spending Christmas Day with Steve.
You might not think this would need to be commented on, but it’s a bit of a change to my routine; out of the last five Christmases, I’ve spent four of them alone.
When I tell people this, they generally react with either anger, disbelief or pity. The anger always takes me by surprise – they take the way I spend my day so personally, as though it’s a direct criticism of their own. The disbelief frustrates me – someone can repeat, “You don’t mean that!” over and over again without making my statement any less true. But the pity I understand because the first year I realised I’d be spending Christmas on my own, I fully expected to spend the day in tears.
But you know what? I didn’t.
In fact… I quite enjoyed it.
I ended up spending Christmas on my own because I was single, my family were all living overseas, my friends all went home for Christmas and, besides, I worked in retail – I had to be in Aberdeen dishing out last minute gift sets until late on Christmas Eve and processing disgruntled refunds from nine on Boxing Day morning; heading out of town to see loved ones simply wasn’t an option.
So, I expected to spend Christmas Day feeling resentful and deserted.
Instead, I found the whole thing incredibly relaxing.
This was the one day all year when I had no option but to take it easy. I didn’t have to cook a fancy dinner, feign enthusiasm or fake belief in somebody else’s joy about unsuitable gifts. I couldn’t go to the shops or the cinema or round to see a friend if I wanted to. There was no possibility of being called in to work. And there were great films on TV. I had no option but to spend the day relaxing, enjoying some peace, feeling no guilt about a lack of productivity. It was bliss.
The following year, I went a little bit further: I stated that I wasn’t taking part in Christmas at all.
I had always felt a little uncomfortable, as an aetheist, tagging along with somebody else’s religious celebration in return for presents. I could barely afford to give gifts and didn’t need any more clutter in my home. I realised I could not only spend the day relaxing, I could opt out of all the stress and expense which has become such an integral part of the day for so many. This was even better.
Now I’ve been foregoing Christmas for so long that my friends have stopped questioning it or guiltily asking if I want to spend the day with their grandparents. A few will even admit to a little bit of envy.
But this year Steve wants to spend Christmas with me. And, after giving the matter a little thought, I realised that – in the same way that I don’t refuse to attend Christmas parties or take part in my work’s Secret Santa or hang out with my friends on Boxing Day – I have absolutely no objection to this.
It helps that he’s from a tiny family and expects the day to be quiet and relaxed, minimal fuss or friction, spent in pyjamas in the comfort of our own home. Steve’s company on my annual day of peace and relaxation is absolutely an enhancement.
What I’ve come to realise is that the day itself has no significance for me. I never have and likely never will subscribe to the religious aspects of Christmas; I wouldn’t care if – as unlikely as this is – the date in December was changed; I don’t feel the need to entangle myself in tradition. But I do appreciate the chance, at the end of a busy year, to take a day out of life, to recuperate, to let go, to prepare myself for the months ahead. I enjoy enjoy rounding out another twelve months by spending Boxing Day with my friends, by celebrating the parts we play in each other’s lives, by helping one another unwind, not in the boisterous last hurrah way of Hogmanay, but quietly, over mugs of tea and cupcakes.
I don’t need to give the most or the best presents to hyperactive children. I don’t need to make drunken passes at the HR guy. I definitely don’t need to eat Brussel’s Sprouts. But I do still embrace the end of the year, the new beginnings, the people who matter the most to me, and the chance for some time to reflect. For me, it’s enough that that’s what my festive season is about.
Happy holidays to you all. I hope you enjoy yourselves in whichever way you choose to spend your time.