If only some of my friends and relatives would get the memo:
Try to imagine a house that’s not a home,” sighed Mud on their 1974 No 1 single, Lonely This Christmas. “Try to imagine a Christmas all alone.” A Christmas all alone? What’s the problem? I’ve spent Christmas all alone for years, and I can’t think of anything better.
By “alone”, I really mean alone: without family, friends or, usually, neighbours (the woman next door did once bring me a slice of Christmas cake wrapped in a napkin because she was worried about me). And it’s glorious – 24 hours when I don’t have to talk to anyone or do anything I don’t want to. I look forward to it like other people look forward to a week in the Maldives. That’s what it’s like: a week in the Maldives, compressed into one day, in a terraced house in south London.
I get impatient when friends tell me they “admire” my way of celebrating Christmas, and that they wish they could do the same. So why don’t they? Obviously, it wouldn’t work for everyone, but happily single people with no kids could find it a revelation. For those tempted to give it a whirl, I suggest getting in ample food and whatever your poison happens to be, and the new book, DVD or music you’ve been yearning to get around to. Having said that, the most important thing is attitude. Being alone is only lonely if you want it to be.
Somehow, the image of a family happily unwrapping Christmas gifts is greeted with joy, yet a solitary figure sitting by the fire, sipping a glass of wine, and reading or contemplating her past, present and future is less than palatable. Why? And why do those of us who choose to spend Christmas alone have to endure unending condescension and pity from the likes of those who think that being together is the worst fate that could befall someone, especially towards the end of the year?
This makes Christmas very hard for those who have no family or friends descending on them this festive season. We may not actually like our family – in fact, we probably remind ourselves annually that there are more family arguments and even homicides at Christmas than any other time of the year – but if we’re on our own, we feel their absence acutely. I know I have. And endless repeats of Love Actually and the Fezziwig scene in A Christmas Carol only make this worse.
But the fact is that more and more people are spending Christmas on their own or with one other person, or just with the cat. We live further from our families. We remain single longer. We have children later. We get divorced more often. So there are fewer and fewer teeming households out there for Uncle Jamie to arrive at with his pile of presents. In any case, he has probably ordered you something from Amazon that will be delivered ready-wrapped by post, or bought you shares in a goat. Yet those of us without a house full of guests guffawing under the plastic mistletoe tend to feel bad about this, as if we are the only ones left on our own this Christmas.
There is also the matter, this time of year, of mass behavior. Everyone is expected to participate. Annoying as this may be for cultures that do not include Christmas as part of their traditions, it is also annoying for those of us raised in the culture but wishing to have some control over how we pass through these days. Every year, it feels like all the secular autonomy we have so desperately struggled for over the years passes out of our hands when we are dealt the annual trump card of Christmas. Sure, play your hand the rest of the year as you see fit. Pretend to be independent the rest of the year. That’s all very cute. But this is Christmas, damn it! Resume your family role!
I celebrate your independence as I celebrate the independence of this nation from all superstitious tyranny.
The crowd is a tyrant, and you must resist. By resisting the tyranny of Christmas, you save your own soul.
Great quote, ‘By resisting the tyranny of Christmas, you save your own soul.’ Thanks for sharing all these articles.
wordpress is acting up again. i will repost because i think it is worth repeating. “If only some of my friends and relatives would get the memo.” So you want to be left alone? Because it seems like you are frustrated when you don’t hear from your friends. Which is it? Do you want to be part of the wider world, which includes the Christmas runaround for all kinds of people and situations, or only when it fits and validates you? You seem to want to invalidate anything you once wish you were part of (not too long ago you were desperate to be a wife and mother). If you want to be alone, just be alone. Resist the tyranny of companionship, by all means. But don’t expect friends on the other end. It doesn’t work that way.
In the past I only had one day off work from Christmas, so yes, I would have preferred to have spent it alone, resting and catching my breath. In the future I would like to be able to spend it as I see fit– alone, or on a trip, or with other single friends. I never get the chance to do so because of relatives or pitying friends who invite me to situations in which I feel like the fifth wheel.
I don’t think it works quite like that, does it? When my best friend invited me to spend a lot of time with her and her small children around Christmas I found a way to explain to her that that’s quite painful for me just at this time of year – that it reminds me of everything I don’t have, and so right now visits are better short and sweet, but it’s only because it’s a tough time for me, and once it’s over I’ll be back to my usual self.
She seemed surprised (I don’t think she’d realised quite how I feel) but really understanding and kind. We met up yesterday, briefly, and it was lovely, but only for the hour I could take (and I planned in an activity immediately afterwards that stopped me dwelling).
I haven’t lost a friend, indeed I think maybe our friendship has strengthened a tiny amount as a result of my being honest and explaining myself.
And speaking only for myself – yes, at this time of year I absolutely have to reject anything to do with being a wife and mother, because I’m still hurting, and grieving, and incredibly sad I’ve never been able to be those things. This week is so painful.
It’s the nature of the invitations, isn’t it, and where we are with our grieving.
I have done Christmas solo twice, and loved it.
Alas, my mother did not love it. Christmas matters far more to her than it does to me, and she is (I guess understandably) hurt when I choose to spend it alone rather than with her. Even though spending it with her and my stepdad, as I am about to do, magnifies my loneliness and upset at the way my life has turned out far more than spending it on my own in my flat would ever do.
So whilst I’m all for the choice and think that spending Christmas alone can be glorious, I also have to accept that I am part of a family, even if it’s not one I’ve made myself, and that brings obligations and sometimes the need to put others before myself.
My compromise – three days at home, then another week off work spent doing my own thing. Reading, museums, walks, a spa visit, all of it without my customary Christmas sadness, and with more of a flavour of New Year optimism.
Whatever people are doing this Christmas – if it’s not what you want to be doing, I’m sorry, and I share that feeling. But it’s only a day, or two, or three. Thanks goodness.
Your week off work sounds lovely.
Typically my mother demands we spend Christmas together, and it magnifies my loneliness in the way you just mentioned.