I’ve been with my husband for 12 years and we never spend Christmas together

When you just can’t bear the thought of spending Christmas away from your family, spend it away from your husband instead, says Cathy Adams

At 18.07 on the 23 December, I’ll be at London Liverpool Street station boarding the train to north Essex, where my parents live.

The next day, my husband David will jump on the 18.12 from London Waterloo to a dormitory town in Surrey, where he grew up. And we won’t see each other again until 28 December when I’ll make the pilgrimage through London – during a South Western Railway train strike, no less – to his family home in Epsom.

So no, we’re not spending the season to be jolly together, just like we haven’t spent it together for the past 12 years – even though we’ve been married for almost four. Oh, and I’m 28 weeks pregnant.

We have begrudgingly spent a few Boxing Days together, which usually involve the most miserable three-word phrase that exists in the English language – rail replacement bus – or asking an ageing parent to drop us off at the nearest Tube station. Ho ho ho and three hours stuck in traffic on the M11!

We did spend Christmas together once: in Western Australia in 2016, the year we got married, aka the Christmas That Shall Not Be Named. I have since decided it doesn’t really count when the mercury is tipping 30 degrees and the only sign of Christmas is the garishly dressed Norwegian spruce in the hotel casino. I did it, more than anything, to prove to myself I could spend a Christmas outside of Essex and while we were living in Hong Kong (just an eight-hour flight away) it seemed like a good enough excuse. “Avoid the family drama!!!” I’d say loftily to people that were aghast I was spending my favourite day of the year on the other side of the world.

But then… I sobbed after Skyping my family, eight hours’ behind in the UK, who appeared to have forgotten my non-existence entirely. Why was I sat in a dim-lit, velour-covered hotel bar when I should be arguing with my dad about the thermostat? Who were all these people who choose to spend Christmas Day in a faceless hotel rather than with family – did people think we had nowhere else to go? (Things improved immeasurably on Boxing Day, where our “Christmas holiday in the sun” became just an ordinary boozy trip. Which is how it will stay in my memory.

That miserable experience of weeping into my whisky sour was not one to be repeated and the following year we voicelessly resumed our normal Christmas routine of going back to our respective family homes.

The benefits: I get to spend Christmas Eve in the local Wetherspoon's (which until I was about 28 remained the Biggest Night Out of the whole year) and David gets to get boozed up with his school friends in the confusingly named Leg of Mutton and Cauliflower pub. We wake up hungover in our childhood bedrooms and don’t have to make excuses to our in-laws when we spend the morning driving the porcelain bus.

Plus, I’m stubborn and refuse to desert the Christmas traditions I’ve had with my family for 33 years. Everybody thinks they do Christmas best, but… sorry, we actually do. I couldn’t imagine swapping the annual frosty morning walk and game of Cluedo for sitting doing God-knows-what with my husband’s family. Although he did say that last year my brother- and sister-in-law cooked a Christmas buffet from scratch, including a dessert table, which almost made me reconsider.

Besides, my family have better stories. One year my brother got so drunk on Christmas Eve he tucked into the chicken casserole that had been left on the stove ready for Christmas Day (yeah, we don’t always have a proper dinner either). My mum first became suspicious when she found a chicken gravy handprint on his door, followed by the sight of her son legging it up the stairs, trailed by chicken bits. Our Christmas dinner was chicken casserole sauce on toast, the only thing salvageable from the pilfered royal blue Le Creuset. Which explained why, when my sister and I returned squiffy from the pub later on Christmas Eve, we found it wrapped up with angry spools of parcel tape around it.

Of course, David is always welcome to spend Christmas with my family, but to nobody’s surprise but my own he has always opted not to.

By next Christmas, we’ll have a baby son, which I think might mean we have to spend at least part of “the Day” together. At 33 it’s probably time to accept that my family will have evolved from me being the eldest, most difficult sibling in a family of five to being a parent myself. It’ll mean no more Christmas Eve pub visits, no drunken chicken casserole anecdotes and no blathering about who really wants to watch the Queen’s Speech. I’m hoping it’ll still be just as magical… but in an entirely different way.

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