Growing up in New Zealand with its mid summer Christmas, meant that celebrations tended to be a low key.
When I was very young, the family generally were in transit at that time of the year so many Christmas’ were spent eating in the restaurants my father worked in. This was a good thing I suspect, as my mother was a woman for whom cooking was a traumatic experience generally accompanied by some sort of high drama incident and followed by tears.
My mother loved the present giving though, a tradition that my sister and myself have continued with gusto, and even when my father had been on a losing gambling jag, we always were laden with a pillow case of gifts of some sort.
Attending Catholic schools meant that the religious aspects of Christmas were writ large in my life, so I was exposed to the intense beauty and imagery that are associative with the feast day, which I never emotionally affiliated with, but did appreciate.
When my mother remarried I was eleven or so, and we spent our first Christmas together, celebrating in traditional British style, with my stepfather’s Scottish family
Truth to tell it blew my sister’s and my, childish minds.
Three days of women bustling in the kitchen, men reclining with newspapers in front of the television, and all of us wearing elastic waisted clothing at the dinner table.
My sister and I had never seen that amount of food crammed into such a small space. There are photographs of us with huge eyes staring across laden tables, unable to understand the contrast between the mega turkey with mega trimmings (only part of the grand proceedings), and our usual more austere approach.
These memories are interspersed with images of me wearing a red velvet hat belting out carols in the school choir, attending midnight mass in small town New Zealand, and in later years finding that bulimia and Christmas are uncomfortable bed fellows.
Christmas in Asia was highly glamorous and revolved around drunken bar crawls, and Christmas in England was more of the same, but on much reduced budget.
Eventually I spent three consecutive Christmas in detox units then rehab, and if I remember rightly my first Christmas ‘out in the world’, I spent attending a lunchtime AA meeting, which whilst a bit tragic, did serve its purpose of keeping me safe and sober.
People seemed to take pity on me for being alone at Christmas, so I would be invited to the celebrations of other families which at best was uncomfortable, and at worst miserable.
I attended festivities in Cornwall with a partner’s family for many years. They were lovely people who never seemed to get the fact that I didn’t eat meat, or drink. Due to the heavy alcohol consumption on these occasions and consequent bickering and disputes, every year would see a drop on attendance of family members and what once was gatherings of up to 20 people, eventually became just became 6-8 ‘survivors’.
Eventually I seized my power back, so to speak, and made sure that I was on a plane to warmer climes, on either Christmas day or Christmas Eve.
The thing is, I’m not Christian, and whilst I celebrate Yule and Winter Solstice, Christmas for me is more about material glamour. To a point I am willing to buy into this as I do love my bling; however working in retail for many years has made me very, very jaded about the season in general.
This year, I’m staying alone at home on Christmas day. I’m keeping quiet about it, as I realise that people are aware of the lonely and neglected at this time of the year (as they should be), and I’m wary of compassionate invites and pitying glances. However I am very much looking forward to a day of rest and consolidating energy for the start of a new year.