“My mother-in-law has come round to our house at Christmas seven years running. This year we’re having a change. We’re going to let her in.”Les Dawson
It’s creeping up again: that final month of the year when we round up our families like sheep in a pen. Expectations are high as we arrange for mothers and sisters and brothers and grandparents to descend upon us. We make food lists, present lists, organisational lists, cleaning lists and heave down 300 storage boxes of decorations from the loft sending shiny gold baubles crashing down the stairs while various parts of the realistic yet fake tree plummet terrifyingly towards our face up the ladder and the air is blue with blasphemous screams of “We’re not decorating ***king Harrods Grotto here!!”
The above scene is familiar to many. However, often the reality of pre-Christmas planning crashes into our lives like a huge 10-tonne truck smashing into a wall! And so it starts: who’s going where for christmas? Why are you going there and not here? Why are you inviting her/him? We can’t invite him/her, we don’t have the room. You’ll have to share with your sister so Uncle Bob can have your bed IT’S ONLY FOR ONE NIGHT!! My cousin Kelly is coming and she’s lactose / glucose / fructose / comatose intolerant, vegan / vegetarian / pescatarian / presbyterian etc etc etc so we need to do her a separate meal. Did you buy the turkey? It’s YOUR job!! Ok the boiler’s broken! We’ll all eat in our coats! Who’s in charge of hiding Elf on the Shelf this year?…No not you again Dad. Last year Sam kept asking me what Elf was doing to the donkey. The dog’s throwing up in the hall! WHO left the chocolate liqueurs OUT?! goddamn it people!!!!!!
Sounds fairly manageable right? However, on the flip side there are issues we mustn’t forget that some people endure daily, weekly, monthly. Verbal, physical, emotional abuse from relatives and other mental health issues too that damage families. Tensions are high, demands are high, deadlines are high, medication is high. We walk on eggshells, unspoken words exchanged across the room, all on our best behaviour, lack of sleep, hangovers, our OCD way of doing things. We storm out swearing “YOU ***king do it then!!”, we shout at the children, we bite our lip when mothers or grandparents criticise, mock, tut. We clench our teeth as we watch Uncle Nick’s Christmas whiskey starting to turn him argumentative, we retreat into the kitchen for safety when we’re terrified that the back of his hand is coming our way. We’re whispering in the kitchen to our husband “Your brother HAS to go!!! Or I’m going to roast HIS bastard Turkey balls!!!”
It’s all too much. Christmas is just all too much. For me.
“Seasonal depression hits for me, like clockwork, the day after Halloween… Thanksgiving is my first warning; Christmas is my second; and New Year’s Eve is not a beginning but an end.”— Dayna Evans, Winter Is a Black Hole: How I Deal With Seasonal Depression
I think in all honesty I’ve probably had about 10 absolutely wonderful Christmas’ in my life. I’m now 48. I grew up in a violent, alcoholic, fractured family where we walked on eggshells, where negativity and criticisms came forth repeatedly. Christmas was exciting as a child with stockings and magic and Santa coming down the chimney but there was always an undercurrent of fear and unhappiness rippling under the carpet like an impending tsunami. My parents exchanging looks, my mother a nervous wreck and my father ready to blow his fuse at her at any moment. Those 10 approximate happy Christmas’ were spent mostly with boyfriends I was seeing at the time, my ex husband and a few family members. But Christmas magic died in the tensions and tears. I dread and loathe December now.
I hear it from friends about the stress they see coming, the chores they have to do, the people they’d rather not spend time with but have to because of family commitments. Sadly, now, we live in an era of separated families. Relatives living overseas or miles away who can’t make it home, elderly parents in care homes or hospitals, family members not talking to each other. I watch American sickly sweet sitcoms over and over where families all joyfully come together carrying overwhelming hoards of presents wearing silly hats and everyone acts the fool and laughs and sings and plays games and it’s a beautiful yet total fantasy of American Christmas bliss. But I watch and wish I could jump into the tv and just be part of that family for one day.
So, what is the point of this blog post? Well to ask you one question: is it ok to be selfish at Christmas? This year I will be alone. My son will be with his father (my ex and I alternate). My father is no longer alive, my mother is in a dementia care home and my family is fractured across the miles of the UK or overseas. Everyone has their own families. I no longer have any grandparents alive and it’s my 6th year of being single! I have been invited to two family members houses for Christmas which is lovely. Three of my friends have also invited me over with their families which is also lovely! Don’t get me wrong: when my son is with me I decorate the house like a Winter Wonderland, still give him a stocking at 11 even though he no longer believes and we play games, watch tv, open presents and eat loads of delicious food and snacks – it’s all wonderful. I do it for him only though to make his memories magical. Additionally, I also always arrange Christmas drinks with my friends and it’s always hilarious fun! I’m not a total Festive Misery Miser! haha
But, again, is it ok to be selfish at Christmas? and just do what WE want to do for our own happiness and self-preservation? Is it ok to just say Thank you so much but No?
My friend’s sister always went off to Barbados every single Christmas and never spent it with her family. She got on ok with them but she said “I hate Christmas and spending it with them is my idea of Hell” so she’d jet off to the hot weather and spa Hotel all by herself and indulge for a week. I always admired her balls to do that.
To be honest, not being a huge fan of Christmas (or being a Christmas Grinch as one family member called me) the idea of just staying in my pyjamas all day and eating my little Christmas dinner alone with my cat and watching ALL the tv I want to on the sofa, indulging in chocolate and Gin, lighting all my candles but most importantly NOT having any pressure, stress, arguments, sounds like an idyllic Christmas to me. That’s not to say that I don’t want the Christmas invites from certain family and friends – I will have fun….I guess….but Christmas died in my childhood.
Why do we feel so much pressure to HAVE to be with family members who might dislike us or who don’t respect us? Just because they’re family?! Would we endure such negativity and stress from our friends?! I’m not generally a very selfish person. I donate monthly to a charity, give to food banks, tip buskers, I love my family and friends, I’m generous, loyal, will always try to help someone out and I’m a total Empath!! But I hold my hand up high: I can be selfish at times, but not to intentionally hurt anyone.
I’d love to know your thoughts on “is it ok to be selfish at Christmas?” What are the consequences if you don’t “tag along” and do what YOU want. Can you live with those consequences? Let me know. Hope you all manage to stay calm and have a wonderful festive season xx
Lovely piece, (Comatose and Presbyterian both brilliantly funny!)
Christmas and new year we’re shite last year and are set to be again. As soon as I’m able, I’m doing 10 nights alone in the Canaries. Fly out the day before Christmas Eve, return 2 January when all the Christmas bollocks has been taken down, your vitamin D levels nicely topped up for the few more dark weeks ahead. A nice sea view, warm weather that’s not stupidly hot, a couple of trashy novels and some music magazines, a pair of walking boots and perhaps hire a pushbike Heaven.