Last year I decided to do Christmas alone in London. It felt right - like I could handle it. After three years of either being away on holiday or throwing myself into charity work for Crisis, I thought 'I can do this'. I can be in my flat, on Christmas Day, on my own, and just be.
I planned it - I knew what the day would entail and I was really looking forward to it. I'd go for an early morning run; I'd make coffee and a hearty breakfast; I'd open my presents while watching something crap on TV, sitting next to my beautifully decorated tree. How hard could it be? I'd be seeing one of my friends whom I'd met at Crisis later that day, and enjoying a Christmas dinner with her and her flatmate. All good.
But oh my god. Those hours. Those long, long hours.
It really started going wrong on Christmas Eve. I'd left work full of seasonal joy (and prosecco) at around 4pm, slightly thinking that there might be a post-work pub moment. There wasn't. Everyone went home. I went along to HMV and bought myself a boxset of something - can't remember what. I went home, shrouded in increasing gloom.
Again, I'd thought there'd be some spontaneous socialising to be done back at the ranch - nothing doing. Everyone had, in the words of one neighbour, 'f**ked off for Christmas'. This is what people do (even though most of my local friends and neighbours are Jewish.)
But it was ok - I still had my plan and my dinner to go to.
It started so well - it was one of those crisp, sunny mornings and I ran a few laps of my local park saying 'Merry Christmas!' to passers-by who were walking dogs or hurrying to a family gathering. The endorphin rush got me through the next hour or so, as I made breakfast and slowly opened my presents.
I'd made a pact with myself not to look at social media, because I knew what I'd see - pictures of cosy Christmas family mayhem and drunken antics - but let's face it, I broke the pact within a couple of hours.
I know what the reality of a family Christmas is because I've been there. The seasonal cheer lasts about four hours before the rows, the tears, the sniping, the wishing-I-was-anywhere-but-there feelings kick in, especially when they involve in-laws. But still, I believed the Facebook hype - that everyone was having the BEST time. Of course they're not.
To give myself credit, I lasted about four hours before giving in to the wallowing. My first mistake was 'seeing no harm' in opening one of my stack of prosecco bottles, just for a 'glass or two' over lunch. My second was to start watching an extremely romantic film that a friend had bought me on DVD for Christmas. There's a reason why they don't show these movies on Christmas Day - stick with the comedies, people.
Let's just say that for the ensuing four hours after those mistakes were made, I descended into a pit of gloom so deep it resembled the Mines of Moria. It was like slowly dying and being reborn as I emerged from the pit at around 5pm, blinking, into the Christmas lights of my friend's flat, and having a glass of champagne thrust into my hand. Little did the people I was with know, as I joined in laughing at the Morecambe & Wise Christmas Special and munching on pigs in blankets.
The memory of those few dark hours is enough to see me heading off on holiday this Christmas and New Year, alone, but not 'doing Christmas'. I know I'll be surrounded by 'entertainment' staff in the hotel, wearing Santa hats and trying to get me to be Christmassy but I'll be relishing the non-Christianness of the location and reading a book on the beach. Why don't the people in these hotels realise you're there to get away from Christmas, not recreate it in their country?
I remember my first Christmas alone in Thailand, and a well-meaning couple who forced me to join them in a bar, because I 'couldn't be alone on Christmas Day' - except I could and I wanted to be. Out there I was absolutely fine on my own - it was only other people's perceptions that made me feel crap about it. And that was the year I had the worst New Year's Eve EVER on my own, but the BEST New Year's Day, on a motorbike in between two Thai women, touring round Koh Samui, followed by all-night clubbing.
That's when I realised.
The real fun happens on the day when you least expect it.
First appeared on Because I Can blog - http://becauseicanblog.com/2014/12/18/home-alone/