Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

A Christmas oasis
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What is it that makes me so sad about Christmas? And why do I hate it so much? One simple answer: it's a true affliction upon my soul. It actually hurts me.

Last week my Mum said to me: "Tray, it's strange the way you dislike Christmas as much as me. I often wonder if it's hereditary." I looked at her in a kind of shock. "Mum, for fuck's sake, my first memory of Christmas is from when I was about three. You sat by the tree alone, tears ran down your face, and with every sound, with each twig, your heart missed a beat and you wiped the tears away from your eyes. But he never showed up, and in the end you sat Paul and I on your knee and sang 'Daddy doesn't love us any more'."

Throughout our childhood my Mum worked almost every Christmas. In fact she worked all year round, to give us what we needed. But most Christmas Days we were left sitting there watching TV while she worked her guts out waitressing from 6am till night. Christmas did come eventually. But always four or five days out, like we were living in some strange timewarp. We rarely had Christmas decorations. My Mum believed them to be a waste of time and money.

When I was around nine, I cut a flat tree out of green wrapping paper and pinned it to my bedroom wall, next to my poster of Marc Bolan, and wet bed chart. I covered all three in glitter.

I always plan to spend Christmas alone. Then friends will always come and kidnap me. You see, I give all year round. I resent being pushed and pulled into some insane, resented act of generosity. And I don't need to be rolled around every office party under the sun. I want to curl up and be quiet. I want to contemplate. I want my brains fucked out. Ooh! Oh! Oh! NO! No! no! no! I didn't even think that!

Christmas is for Jesus. And yeah, I have thought about making love with Jesus - we all have. Jesus, Mary Magdalene, driving through the desert on their way to some great oasis, drinking cans of Stella, Mary casually tossing the cans out the windows. (Their minions collecting their debris on the way.) The man had an army. Shall we celebrate this? No seriously, my two favourite Jesus stories, the first one going back to my Mum.

When she was little, her Mum made her go to Sunday school. It was during the Blitz. After a terrible raid, my Mum and her little chums were told not to worry, because Jesus was everywhere. My Mum said: "I don't want some strange man following me!" and on arriving home checked that he wasn't in the teapot. She has been agnostic ever since.

Rebel, rebel

Of course, at the age of nine I had to rebel. Much to my Mum's dismay, I loved Sunday school. Anything from "Kumbaya, My Lord" to "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands".

After every session (can I just say the Sunday school was next to the library, and I'd hang out there too) we would be asked to give a donation. And of course, every kid had their Sunday school money. But as I kept the whole big deal a secret, it was sherbet dabs, flying saucers, hundreds and thousands, or a donation to Jesus. I would just sit there and keep my head down as low as possible. And then came the story of a lifetime.

The Sunday school teacher stood there. An amazing smile crossed her face. She said:

"I'm going to tell you a story about a little boy. He used to come to Sunday school every week. And every week after scripture, and after prayers, and after songs, a collection plate would be taken round. Anything could be donated: tuppence, a shilling, a penny, thruppence. But this little boy just put his head down. He never had any money to give. One week when the collection plate came near to him, he held his head up and asked 'Can you lower the plate a little bit please? A little lower. A little lower. A little lower'. The curate then got on his hands and knees and put the plate on the floor. The boy stood on the plate and said 'I give myself to Jesus'."

Give me oxygen

I believe that is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever heard in the whole of my life. And I'm not religious. But I really care about things. This time of year, I care about my friends who may be alone. I care about my friends who are grieving.

But what I really want to do is care about myself. Forgive me if I have said this before. That thing on aeroplanes - when the oxygen mask drops down - we're told to look after ourselves first, then others who are less able. Christmas is a very difficult time to do this. I rarely ever have sex anymore. I believe in making love. When it's really good and I am somehow taken outside of myself, I feel like I am being crucified. And then I remember, I come back, knowing that I am the cross.

If you want to give anybody anything this Christmas, anything, I think forgiving and understanding would be a really good start.