Over the last few weeks, I’ve been talking to people – friends and strangers – about how they’ll be spending Christmas this year. It’s interesting, because not one of them described that perfect family Christmas you see on all the TV adverts throughout December. Families are intricate, complicated old things, and none of that changes just because it's Christmas. Families grow and merge and change all the time. Some years they get bigger, some years they get smaller, and people are pulled in a million different directions to make sure everybody’s happy. For many people, Christmas is just another day; whether they’re working and it’s business as usual, or they’re opting out altogether.
My husband and I always spend the holidays travelling. We live in London, but have families in the North East and the North West. We want to spend time with them equally so we alternate seeing one family for Christmas Day and the other family in the few days after. It’s always hectic and we end up sleeping in several different beds, and living out of suitcases for 10 days, and we come back to London at the end of it feeling like we need another holiday, but we do it because we love them and it wouldn’t be Christmas without them.
Talking to people about Christmas over the last few weeks has made me realise just how lucky this makes us. Not only do we have each other, but we have two families that love us too. Sure, it’s not perfect, nothing ever is, but we’re never short of a bed, a meal, or a tight hug at Christmas. It’s not the same for everybody.
So here is a selection of the stories I’ve gathered, to present the other, more realistic side to the big holiday hype, with all the imperfections that life throws in the way. I hope when you read them, it’s helps you to rebalance your perspective about what you really want for Christmas, and allows you to count your blessings, however many or few there may be.
Wishing you peace and love this Christmas.
Market stall trader from France
“I’m spending Christmas with my boyfriend and his family in Hungerford. I’m really excited because this is my first Christmas in England. We’re going to play lots of games and just enjoy being together. I love the idea of a traditional English Christmas so I’m pretty excited.”
Nurse from Wales
“As a nurse, I’ve worked many Christmases in the past. It always involved a two hour drive to get to work from my dad’s house in mid-Wales and I’d end up doing the round trip on consecutive days so that I could at least spend some of Christmas with my family. I remember the first year I worked on Christmas Day, I was due to start in the afternoon which meant leaving my dad’s house 10.30am. I was crying when I left because I didn’t want to go! I hadn’t thought about what to take for lunch so I ended up stopping at a service station to buy a sandwich. It was the saddest sandwich of my life! Now I have the tradition that whenever I’m working on Christmas Day, I make myself the best Christmas sandwich to take with me. But I actually have a new role now, so I won’t be working over Christmas this year. I’ll spend it with my Dad and one of my sisters in Wales. My other sister will be in Manchester with her boyfriend so we’ll miss her. It’s a bit of a novelty to not be working really. I’m going to enjoy it!”
EFL teacher from Hull
“I have decided to spend ten days over Christmas and new year at a silent meditation retreat in a Buddhist temple in Thailand. It will involve ten days of meditation training, only speaking once a day with my meditation coach. There will be no contact with friends or family, no phone, TV or internet, no music or alcohol, and no food after midday. Just silent meditation and some daily chores. I suffer from depression and I’m trying to improve my mental health. I’m hoping that this retreat will allow me the time, space and guidance needed to go inside and re-evaluate my inner self.”
Artist from London
“I’m going to my dad’s for Christmas, with my son and my fiancé. We just got engaged this year. It’s a bit awkward though because my son’s dad will be there too. Usually my son stays with him on Christmas Eve and then comes back to me on Christmas Day, but we’ve recently discovered he’s got a severe dust allergy so he can’t stay with his dad this year. That means his dad is coming to stay with us. We’ll be playing happy families altogether - my son, my partner and my ex. It’s going to be interesting...!”
Paramedic from Portugal
“On Christmas Day I’ll be working 6am-6pm. In a rapid response vehicle, I mostly respond to people having heart attacks, seizures or strokes. Christmas Day will be busier than usual for me as many of the team will be on annual leave, but my family are in Portugal so it’s not as easy for me to be with them. My flat mates are also Portuguese, and they’ll be in Portugal over Christmas so I’ll be all alone when I finish my shift! I’m sure I’ll find something to entertain myself though. And I’ll see my family in a few weeks time.“
Teacher from France
“Last year, I spent Christmas here in England with my boyfriend and his family, so it’s our turn to visit my family this year. It’s his first Christmas in France! Christmas Eve is very special there so we’ll have a nice meal at my brother’s place (...if it’s not snowing as he lives in the mountains!) and there’ll be a visit from Father Christmas for the children. Then on Christmas Day, we’ll spend it just with my parents. I’m looking forward to it, but I will spend all my time translating as my boyfriend doesn’t speak French and my parents don’t speak English. That’s going to be quite hard work for me!”
Artist from Edinburgh
“My partner and I have been organising and running Christmas markets throughout November and December and we’ll have just finished this weekend. We’re totally exhausted. We’re looking forward to spending Christmas just the two of us at home in Yorkshire. We’ll walk the dogs in the morning and just enjoy spending the day together. Our shop is open again on 27th December so it’ll only be a short break for us.”
Dentist from London
“My mum is in hospital at the moment so we’ll be visiting her on Christmas Day. We’ve made her a stocking and are going to bring all our presents to open with her. We were hoping she’d be home by now, but she needs to stay there a little while longer. I’m not complaining though, because we’re just so happy she’s still here and she’s getting better. I’d take Christmas with her in hospital over Christmas without her any day.”
Blogger (fatgayvegan.com) from Australia
“I don’t celebrate Christmas, not for any religious or cultural reasons, but out of personal choice. So 25th December will mostly be spent in my bed in West London, eating lots of food. Vegan food that is...”
Teacher from Lebanon
“I am one of eight siblings. Five of them live in the US and two of them live in Lebanon. This year, I’m flying out with my husband and daughters to Phoenix, Arizona to be with four of my siblings, but I couldn’t find a flight before Christmas so we’re traveling on Christmas Day. We’ll have Christmas Eve in London and then fly out the next day, arriving at 6pm in Phoenix. We’ve never done this before so it’ll be exciting. I love my brothers and sisters so much but it’s difficult to get us all together, so to have five of us out of eight will be a wonderful thing.”
Big Issue Seller from Bristol
“It’ll be a quiet one for me this year. I’ll probably just take myself off somewhere and hide with a good book. To be honest, I can’t wait for it to be over. My daughter lives in Norway and she’ll be coming over at New Year so I might see her then, but for Christmas it’ll just be me and my book. It’ll be quiet around, so at least I’ll get some peace.”