As I take a rest between courses during my festive Christmas lunch in a beach resort in Malaysia, I realise I have made my peace with Christmas.
For several years I have resented the holiday and the expectations that are associated with it, mostly because I was coming to terms with the fact that I was never again going to have the opportunity to participate in a ‘traditional family Christmas’, even though my associations with a family Christmas are less than jolly.
My overriding memories of Christmas are fraught with tensions. As a child it was the pressure my mother put herself under to cook enough food for an army, Delia style, often with Dad away at work, while suffering from the illness we do not speak of. It made for an exhausting day of people pleasing, often repeated on Boxing Day for the maiden aunts, and hugely anticlimactic. As a child, once the presents were opened and lunch consumed, what was left except frustration, boredom and tears (either mine or mum’s.)
As an adult I was expected home for Christmas. I often did this as a day trip rather than a visit as I always felt I was a burden. I no longer had a ‘room at the inn’ so to speak and my own bed was far more comfortable, even if it meant forgoing wine with lunch.
Once I had my own home and a partner Christmas became an exhausting round of family visits. Our families were at opposite ends of the country and more numerous on his side, so a great deal of time was spent travelling and visiting. As a teacher, the autumn term is the longest and often the busiest, and as an introvert I longed for peace and quiet for my holiday. I only achieved this once, and that Christmas holds a special place in my heart that is both happy and sad. Hosting Christmas for my mum was no less exhausting and certainly no less fraught than my childhood experiences. I had morphed into my mother.
My last Christmas with her was particularly difficult as I had just come out of my long term relationship and was struggling to cope. Months later I was accused of spoiling Christmas with my attitude, one of many comments that marked the end of my relationship with her, as she deteriorated and I readjusted to a very new life and outlook.
It is this new life I have been trying to reconcile myself to, to make my own way in the world and not feel too guilty about it. Which has lead me to solo Christmases in tropical places, half a world away from the ghosts of Christmases past.
The atmosphere in the resort is intimate but not invasive. I am not required to participate, yet I am very much part of a special occasion. Families and groups of friends are celebrating together. But, as the only singleton here, I don’t feel out of place. The host has invited me to join him if I bore of my own company but has otherwise left me to it and while I very much appreciate his offer I doubt I’ll take him up on it. Because I am completely content in my own company.
I enjoy watching the families creating their memories and traditions; listening to snatches of conversation; enjoy the carols and the children’s reactions to a visit from Santa and eat my fill without the need to create it myself!
This year I have made my own traditions and done only as much Christmas as I want to. A few decorations have gone up at home, a chocolate advent calendar has been consumed, a few gifts bought and exchanged. Christmas Day has been spent chilling in Malaysia. It is an introvert’s Christmas, and a happier one for it.