It’s Christmas Eve and you’ve just stepped over the threshold of the only pub you ever visit when you return to your childhood home. Suddenly you’re surrounded by old school friends, ex-partners, former colleagues from that Saturday job in 2003, and a host of other faces you see for one night a year.
When Maria Taylor, 24, returns to Brighton for the holidays, all the people who have moved away to different cities still gravitate back to the same old bars. “It’s the one time of the year we’re all home and meet up without having any super organised planning,” she says. “It’s pretty casual.”
Conversations between friends mainly revolve around the fact another year has passed (and dissecting the job promotions, engagements, break-ups and pregnancies that have occurred in those 12 months). “Seeing them just takes me straight back to school and being a teenager,” she says.
Over the course of the evening Taylor gets drunk with her school friends, tries to avoid the people she slept with at college, and then goes back to her family, and doesn’t see any of those pub faces again till the following year. “Now I say it out loud I guess it sounds strange but it’s just part of Christmas.”
Becky Craggs from Hampshire has a more diarised appointment over the Christmas break. The 30-year-old meets up every year with her friend Christie, who she first met at a gig in 2005 and kept in contact with via MySpace.
When the band broke up, the pair needed something new to do together so they decided they would go, with a third friend Marie, to a singalong version of a ‘Muppet’s Christmas Carol’ at the Prince Charles Cinema in London. “We loved it so much that we agreed to go the next year, and then the next, and then the next. Somehow it just became this tradition,” she says.
In the past six years, the outing has grown: the three women go for a meal in Leicester Square beforehand wearing tacky Christmas jumpers, too. One year, they even won a costume competition, dressed as Dickens’ three ghosts.
Despite the day being more scheduled than Maria’s casual catch-up, it still only happens once a year and the women do not talk in between. “After the film has finished, we head back to the tube station together and go our separate ways,” says Craggs. “Every December, we travel to London, have a meal and sing our hearts out, then go back to our separate lives for the next 12 months.”
Similarly to Taylor, Craggs says she enjoy the novelty of catching up on what has happened during the year and it makes her feel nostalgic for her past. “I love the novelty of it,” she says. “It makes for a wonderful tradition.”
“Every December, we travel to London, have a meal and sing our hearts out, then go back to our separate lives for the next 12 months..."”
Relate counsellor, Simone Bose says that only seeing people once a year might seem insignificant but these acquaintances are psychologically important because they link us with our pasts and help us to keep tied to our roots.
“It’s important to have friends you see a little more regularly, but it’s also nice to have friends that are linked to positive parts of your past. It’s often beneficial to keep your social network of people broader, because contact with different people is positive for your sense of connection with the world,” says Bose.
So, would Taylor and Craggs want to see these people more regularly? “I actually really like that it’s once a year,” says Craggs. “I think it’s funny and it makes for a really lovely Christmas tradition. If I saw her in June, I’d be confused because I’d start feeling festive!”
And Taylor agrees she is happy with the set-up as it is. “I love seeing them at Christmas, but if I’m honest I don’t massively miss them during the rest of the year. They’re my friends and a part of my life but not my go-to every day friends for things that are happening in my life now.
“They remind me of simpler times, and although some of us have grown apart and are very different, we always have our childhoods and school in common.”
“Why let go of something that works?” reasons Bose. “If that relationship brings something positive to your life and makes you feel connected then you shouldn’t need to question it. Not all friendships have to be deep and meaningful.”
Taylor says that one of the main reasons she doesn’t think the relationships need to be more than they are is because people are at different stages in their lives. “None of that seems to matter at Christmas but I think if I saw them more, those differences in our lives would probably become more prominent.”
And Bose says that we don’t need to try and convert these into something they aren’t. “With these people you may have interesting conversations and have a lot of fun, a person can feel enhanced and revitalised from a good night out with good conversation and laughs, so why not keep this in your life?
“It’s nice to have different types of friendships that give you different things in your life. It’s important to have your close friends, the ones who you can trust and go to, but it’s also nice to have friends who you can talk to about shared interests and beliefs; or shared memories.”
If you feel like you’re chasing people to see them, even once a year, then it’s worth questioning whether you really want to keep that connection going, advises Bose. But if this works for everyone, then why change it now?