There it is again. The cocked head. The furrowed brow. The concern.
I’ve experienced this more than a handful of times lately, prompted by my response to a question you will have been asked and will, no doubt, ask others over the coming weeks: “What are you doing for Christmas?”
A simple enough enquiry – but my answer of “spending it by myself” doesn’t seem to be palatable to a lot of those who hear it. I know the concern comes from a good place, but I think it says more about the person asking it than it does about me. You should see how the look intensifies when I tell them I don’t even have a workable oven at the moment. The horror!
I’ve done Christmas solo three times in the past – by default, initially.
The first was when I dumped my sorry ass of a boyfriend three days before the big day. We’d been together for four and a half years, which was three years too many, so the split was coming for a l-o-n-g time, I just hadn’t planned on it happening at that point. At first all I could think was ‘Oh shit, I’m going to be alone at Christmas’. Or to quote Mud’s festive classic, I was going to be lonely this Christmas.
“Once I’d made the decision to go it alone, I’ll admit some low-level anxiety set in...”
With immediate family scattered all over the globe, it had been many a year since we’d all gathered under the same roof to exchange gifts and insults, so the offers from friends came flooding in.
But, still smarting from the anything-but-amicable break-up, I was in no mood for a social Christmas. Specifically, I didn’t want to be that person: a waif brought in from the cold. A curious guest half the people around the table had never met before, but whom everyone (even Nana) knew one solitary fact: he was alone at Christmas.
It also sounded like a whole lot of effort pretending to be full of festive cheer, when I could quite possibly not be feeling it. Taxi for the fun sponge in the corner!
Once I’d made the decision to go it alone, I’ll admit some low-level anxiety set in. In the days leading up to Christmas Day, I did have moments when I wondered if I would actually be okay. After all, for weeks in advance there’s no escape from ads featuring smiling families gathered around huge tables heaving under mountains of food – think Nigella having about 20 mates over trying out her latest recipes. We’re conditioned to think that there is only one way to celebrate Christmas.
But once I’d taken a few steps back and really thought about of all of those messages we’re bombarded with – eat this, drink that, spend spend spend – it felt truly liberating – rebellious even, to do my thing, my way.
I also had a massive word with myself and got things into perspective, knowing full well that for many people, spending Christmas alone isn’t a choice. So, instead of focusing on the festive FOMO I had created, or what people may (or may not) have been thinking, I owned the decision, going from FOMO to JOMO.
And once I’d truly embraced it, I honestly couldn’t wait for the day itself to come. It was, if nothing else, going to be a brand new experience I could tick off – been there, got the Christmas jumper. And besides, come Boxing Day my best mate would be joining me and we’d be on our annual pilgrimage of Brighton’s finest drinking establishments.
When Christmas Day finally arrived, despite the initial trepidation, the overwhelming feeling I had when I woke up was a sense of total freedom – both from the ex and the fact that I had precisely no one to please other than myself.
So I got up and went for a run around my local park. I’m not gloating, it’s just that it was my day to spend however I wanted. I had never done it before but I was curious as to how many others would be doing the same at 9am on Christmas morning – and was surprised by the number of people I encountered.
There was also something really uniting – and smile-inducing – about those fellow joggers and dog walkers wishing me “Happy Christmas” as I pounded my way around the park. For someone who usually got up around 11am and dived straight into the Quality Street, it was honestly the most memorable Christmas morning I’d had in a very long time.
“The following year I did it again, and without any ex-boyfriend to get over, I enjoyed it even more than the first time.”
Once home and nestled on the sofa, it was all pretty standard: I ate a lot of cheese and chocolate, drank too much wine and watched Call the Midwife. But the big difference was that, save for a few FaceTime calls, I was alone in my thoughts. More importantly, I was content – not even my oven conking out threw me, I improvised, and had a chuckle to myself about the timing of it all.
The following year I did it again, and without any ex-boyfriend to get over, I enjoyed it even more than the first time.
Last year I spent Christmas with a girlfriend – albeit with the proviso that I had the morning to myself, and vice versa. We then gathered at her house around the corner from mine for a late lunch, present opening, Jenga, and lots of laughs. It was lovely.
She invited me to hers again this year, but it’s her first with her new boyfriend. I’ve done the honourable thing and declined. I’m not going to get in the way of their first Yuletide together.
Well, that’s the excuse I gave, but honestly, I really just want to spend it (happily) alone once more.
Matt Bagwell is head of entertainment at HuffPost UK. Follow him on Twitter at @BaggersBites
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