After years of regimented family gatherings, I’m doing Christmas my way

I only regret that Britain’s poor and homeless do not have the luxury of choice

Kuba Shand-Baptiste
Wednesday 25 December 2019 12:10
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Kevin Spacey posts another Christmas video as Frank Underwood

For all the glitz and sparkle we associate with Christmas, it can be one of the most stressful periods of the year – and after one of the most divisive election campaigns in years, perhaps particularly so.

You cook until your clothes are dripping with sweat and grease, splurge on gifts you can’t afford, spend time with people you loathe but are forced to tolerate – all under the guise of togetherness.

You suppress the burning urge to sack it off, kick back and pretend it’s not happening in an effort to keep tradition alive. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I can’t remember the last time I had a cookie-cutter Christmas. After years of family gatherings with a strict schedule of breakfast-eating, present-opening and feasting on meat and macaroni pie, I’m now less wedded to the idea of routine dictating whether or not I have a good time.

It was a revelation that came to me about eight or nine years ago when, after years of shuffling back and forth between my separated parents, my mother and I opted to spend Christmas alone in her flat. We cooked what we wanted to eat, when we wanted to. We opened our one or two presents without fanfare. We watched whatever, and basked in the lack of forced conversation.

There were no hyperactive children to cater to, no reruns of The Gruffalo to suffer through, no arguing at all.

In the years following, we’ve spent Christmas with family in hotels, rather than at home. For anyone who can do the same, I’d highly recommend it. Nothing screams peace like not having to worry about whether or not you bought that goose fat to make the potatoes crispy, or purchased the right size jumper for that in-law you only ever see once a year.

It’s been a while since I’ve even thought about our lack of a Christmas tree, never mind a wreath or fairy lights. I no longer care what I eat on the day, either – last year, an Indian restaurant in Birmingham provided the best dinner I’d had in a long while. We have scaled back gifts for more meaningful gestures and have, for the most part, been happier as a result.

I’m lucky in that respect, I know. Britain’s hundreds of thousands of homeless people, its rising numbers of children living in poverty, will have little choice about how they celebrate Christmas. For those who don’t celebrate, the country’s grinding to a standstill will be devastating.

But I do wonder what this time of year would look like if more of us who do have a choice opted to celebrate in exactly the way we want to deep down: without fuss, with the people we want to be around and most importantly, without guilt.

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