I've been doing Christmas at home for the last twenty-four years, granted the first few of those I didn't have much say in, the last three have been spent in the perpetual state of recently-returned-home-from-uni-definitely-moving-on-again-soon. At first thought a family dinner with clean cutlery, something snazzier than value lager and actual decorations in place of the solitary string of tinsel found in the road, sounds amazing. Soon it becomes apparent though, that while you've become accustomed to coming and going when you want, living rather sluttishly, not getting dressed and only making the good bits for your Christmas dinner (roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings), things are very different when you go home for Christmas.
Going "home for Christmas" has become as cliché as Rudolph and dodgy jumpers. Chris Rea sings about it, films are made documenting it. We're all mad to get home for Christmas because it is the done thing. We spend the rest of the year with these people, they've known us our whole lives, so why - on the one day everyone is meant to be happy - are we forced to swap cracker jokes with them over a dinner fraught with 'I wouldn't have done it like that' tension? Because life is not like a Christmas movie kids.
It starts with good intentions. The words 'we're not going to do anything, just relax' is a staple phrase in our house which means the exact opposite. Or at least not what I would include in the 'relaxing' bracket, i.e. six-mile walks on Christmas morning, military-operation present opening and arguments over the remote. For this reason I have composed a potential list of coping strategies (or escape plans) to get us all through the festive season with the relatives, relatively unscathed
1. Have lots of long showers. It's about the only 'you time' you can get without feigning something gastro-intestinal which may hinder your reaching for the tin of Roses. Similarly, insist everyone plays Monopoly, and then spend a few hours looking for the missing dog/iron/bowler hat.
2. Forego the fear of lumps of coal in your stocking (if you're at home you may as well embrace your inner child) and tell granny Downton Abbey isn't on this year. Blame the recession or the Coalition and switch over to a repeat of The Snowman and the Snowdog. If all else fails choose your channel wisely and then remove the batteries from the remote.
3. Ordinarily, to ease uncomfortable social situations I'd say have a drink or four but at Christmas, with a ticking family time-bomb, the booze might be best avoided. Instead make sure everyone else is well oiled, preferably just enough that they fall asleep or become lovely. Careful though, too far and you'll have to get out quick, before the shouting starts.
4. Tell your family you've become vegetarian/vegan/allergic to eating in the same room as others. Then bask in the glory of being able to make your own dinner to order. Sausage rolls can also be used as an emergency mouth-filler when you feel the need to break with traditional Christmas merriment and tell someone to shut up.
5. Failing all of the above, form an alliance with granny and demand dinner at one and Downton! It's either that or move out and buy your own bloody baubles.
With some ingenuity Christmas can be coerced like a six-foot, plastic, Argos tree into going the way you want it. And you almost, maybe, definitely, will be moving out soon, so make the most of the clean cutlery and the bought instead of "borrowed" fairy lights, and if the Snowdog isn't on, you may as well return the batteries to the remote and watch what everyone else wants, it is Christmas.