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.