I thought I would experience some kind of profound epiphany about what Christmas really means to me today. For the first time in my some 27 years, this is the first Christmas Day that I have not spent it with family. As part of my contract at my part time job, I am responsible, along with the other weekend receptionist- my flatmate and good friend Chloe, to work all weekends and holidays. I have escaped working Christmas Day for the past two Christmases, but this year there was little evading. Due to there being no public transport on the 25th and 26th December, as a non-driver, wherever I am on the evening of Christmas Eve, is where I am stuck until the 27th December- unless someone is willing to drive me around, which given the season, is very few people. As my Mum is spending this Christmas at her home in Hull and my Dad is spending his with his wife and daughter in their home in East Grinstead, parents were out of the equation, which as a single person, doesn’t leave many other options. So to avoid both Chloe and I giving up Christmas to sit at a reception desk for 12 hours each day, I thought I’d just do it. That way I won’t feel guilty about anyone else having to do it, I’ll get double pay and I don’t have to fit around other people’s lives and feel the pressure of making Christmas magical.
So here I have sat, since 6.45am, alone at my desk. The desk I have sat at for at least 12 hours every weekend since April 2008. I’ll be here until 7pm, in case you were wondering. Surprisingly I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I really thought I would be. In fairness, I have a delicious homemade Christmas dinner in the fridge that I cooked last night and brought with me, I had smoked salmon and cream cheese for breakfast, I’ve done some work, watched the Nativity and all in all, it could be worse. At least no-one is annoying me. I guess if the day is just about acceptable, it will surpass all expectations, making this possibly the best Christmas I’ll have had for quite some time.
I loved Christmas as a child. For the first 9 years of my life, I would spend a sleepless night frustrated in my bed, waiting for morning to come. It was the longest wait imaginable. I’d be out of bed by 7am, go downstairs to the lounge with my Mum and sister and open the bundles of shiny wrapped gifts that had been neatly placed in two large sacks, one blue which was mine, and a white one for my sister. I would sit on one sofa and my sister would take the other, while Mum would usually kneel on the floor passing us gifts and assisting us in unboxing toys and checking how they worked. After all presents were unwrapped and the disarray of wrapping was cleared from the floor, my sister and I would retreat to our rooms and prepare for the arrival of our Grandparents. Our Dad would surface from his lay in at around 10am and begin cleaning and cooking. He was very OCD about cleaning and housework back then. It was best to keep out of his way when he was mid-cleaning splurge, which was most of the time.
Our Dad’s Mum and husband Terry would arrive between 11am and noon bearing more presents. At around 1pm our Mum’s parents would arrive for dinner. For ten minutes maximum, the house would be bustling with both sets of grandparents, my sister and I happy and expectant and my parents doing their best to get on. That was possibly my favourite ten minutes of the whole year. Then my Dad’s parents would leave and we would exchange more gifts and then have dinner. Dinner was always the best meal we would have all year; a massive roast with Christmas pudding with thick cream and a glass of watered down wine. We’d sit around the dining room table until Granddad started to become less talkative and retire to the lounge for his annual afternoon nap. The evening would be filled with playing with new toys, watching Christmas specials and music videos and finally having tea which would be a cold salad style buffet.
My brother’s birth in 1994 changed Christmas somewhat. I was no longer the baby of the family, but the older brother by nearly ten years- something nothing can prepare you for. Not only was the focus at Christmas on the little person in the family, but I had to give up my bedroom and share a room for the first time in my life, and throughout my teen years. Christmas changed but was still exciting and followed a similar formula. The biggest change came in 1997 when my Mum’s Mum past away, as I have written before. She died close to Christmas and so the season of joy and celebration turned to a holiday of sadness and loss. Since then Christmas lost its structure. There were no sleepless nights or piles of gifts and fewer and fewer guests came to our house.
Now we are into the next generation and my sister has her children and husband, my mum lives 250 miles North with my brother and my Dad lives with his new family. I look forward to Christmas in the future when I am working full time and so the automatic time off work will be a welcomed break and I can visit friends and family at my leisure. I am now the visitor, the Uncle, the friend of the family; an interesting transition that, like being a much older brother, no-one can prepare you for.
I wish everyone the most magical of Christmases.