Christmas is a sacred day. Make the most of it, together or alone.

18 Dec 2017

This year, for the first time, I will be waking up on Christmas Day without any children in my house. I separated from my wife earlier this year, and my two youngest daughters will be getting their stockings and presents at their mum’s (as will my two eldest, with their mum).

I know this is a time of year that many people dread, and single parents are among them. Christmas Day on your own seems to represent not joy and togetherness, but melancholy and separateness.

Having said that – although I can’t be certain how I am going to react – I am at peace with the situation. This may have something to do with the fact that my brother lives a few streets away and I can eat Christmas dinner with him. Also, my two younger daughters are coming to join us at my brother’s house afterwards. So I’m not going to spend the day crying into my mulled wine in crippling isolation.

Those who do have to go through that isolation, whether through age, separation or for other reasons, have my sympathies. The 25th can be the loneliest day. To those people I can only hold out one or two strategies for getting through it.

The first is to take my late father’s view, which was typically English pragmatist. “Christmas is just another day.” Which it is. All the layers of expectation, illusion, dream, wealth and community are at least partly myths. Yes, families do get together at Christmas, but as often as not they fight and find ways of making one another miserable. So don’t imagine you are missing as much as you think you are missing.

Anyway, what is the real meaning of Christmas? I know what it isn’t. It isn’t about beating yourself up. If it’s about love, as it’s often said to be, that must not exclude self-love. Christmas Day is not a day for hating yourself or self pity – which is an aspect of self-hate.

So what can you do, in practical terms, if you are alone at Christmas? I would allow myself to do things I might not do on other days. If I were a smoker who had quit, I might allow myself a few fags (so long as I didn’t fear falling back into addiction). Who’s going to stop me? If I were a glutton, well, Christmas Day is the perfect occasion for chocolates and Christmas pud with brandy butter (even if it is a supermarket “Christmas for One”). If I were lazy, then I should stay in bed and watch box sets.

I have found other practical ways of softening the blow. I am having a Christmas celebration, with stockings and turkey and everything, with all my four daughters together. Not on 25 December. We’re going to have a great time on 23 December, and I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Yet there is a real sense that Christmas Day is a time of reckoning. Some people have no one, through, no fault of their own. Many of us, however, bear some responsibility for our solitude. Christmas Day is a good day for self-examination, and perhaps to start being honest with ourselves and making a change. We could start by apologising to those we have wronged, or forgiving those who have wronged us. Why wait for the New Year?

And at the end of the day, if Christmas is a disappointment, so what? Life is full of disappointments: some of them fall on 25 December. Christmas is about rebirth, renewal and a certain spirit of generosity – towards yourself as well as to others. It is not a competition to see who has the most presents, or the biggest turkey, or the most extended family. It is, if you like, a sacred day for yourself as much as anyone else. Make the most of it, together or alone.

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