Maybe you're one of those people who’s a self-styled, unironic Christmas lover. “Is it okay to put your tree up in November ha ha” you message everyone every year without fail, before posting a meme about how you've still got trauma from when Emma Thompson opened the Joni Mitchell CD in Love Actually. Come December, you’re the one diligently organising “friend Christmas”, followed by “flat Christmas” and “mini work Christmas” –and you’re the one making sure everyone wears their paper crowns “or it won't be fun, guys”.
There's nothing wrong with being a Christmas lover: Good for you, Sarah!! But for every festive freak, there are those who secretly think Christmas is “fine” and those who actively dread this red, green and gold nightmare.
The thing that makes Christmas extra stressful is that – in the UK, at least – it can feel like everyone's agreed in advance that it's the most important time of the year. It's supposed to be a heartwarming day of family board games and novelty gifts, and nans having too much sherry and falling asleep in front of Top of the Pops Christmas while someone from Clean Bandit does vocal runs while draped in tinsel. So when your Christmas doesn't look like that, it can make you feel like an android in a human skin suit.
For the record, I think Christmas is OK. I like being able to take time off, see family members and make weird Boxing Day concoctions of cold roast potatoes and cheese. But there are plenty of reasons that people might strongly dislike it. You might be estranged from your family, or have to navigate casually transphobic, racist or homophobic remarks from pissed-up uncle-in-laws, beards dripping in bread sauce. If you're skint, you have to suddenly pull presents out of your arse. And now, of course, we have Omicron to contend with – meaning some half of us aren’t going home for Christmas anyway. We’ll be eating Heinz soup in isolation and thinking “Well, at least I haven’t killed nan.”
For a lot of people, it's the expectation of Christmas that tends to ruin the whole thing. The idea that it's not allowed to be shitty. If we just collectively allowed Christmas to suck, it might even be more enjoyable.
“I hate the expectation to be happy,” says London-based performer Serena Ramsay, 25. “Also the weird competition to have the most X-massy Xmas. Like, who has the cutest fam, who has the best turkey, who got the best prezzies? There's too much pressure around that one day for me. I crumble! It normally ends up with me too drunk and cussing out a family member for their unseasoned parsnips.”
Hannah Thornley, a 28-year-old Londoner who works in PR, agrees: “Christmas Day has so much pressure attached to it. People go into it with high expectations, and when they're not met that breeds disappointment,” she says.
“I think there's also a lot of guilt and societal pressure about spending it with blood relatives. And that pisses me off… I honestly think no one spends it how they truly want to.”
Photographer Heather Glazzard, 27, tells me that it's the constant TV advertising in the lead up to Christmas that makes the holiday difficult. “It's annoying if you don't have a traditional family [set-up]. It makes me feel like shit,” they say.
“I think what would help is if people were mindful that this isn't an equal holiday,” they add. “Like, maybe if some of the adverts weren't just about being with your family – people forget how much a privilege that is. Maybe if there was more advertising directed at friends or community Christmases, and if Christmas had less expectations altogether, as that's what sets the anxiety.”
In essence: Christmas sucks for a lot of people. Families simply love to have blazing rows about vaccine passports or who got what in the divorce. It’s also really expensive – presents for the whole family? Are you mad?? And it's objectively the least sexy holiday of the year (elves are not sexy; they wear shoes with bells on them).
So, rather than freak out about Christmas, I propose we start accepting that it's okay to have a shitty time and simply move on. Christmas ought to be treated more like Halloween: fun to take part in if that's your thing, but no one's going to look at you like you’ve just served up a severed head instead of a turkey if you decide to skip it or not get fully into the festive spirit.
“I spent Christmas 2019 alone in a hotel room,” says Hannah. “It was the best Christmas of my life.”