What's Christmas Like If You Choose to Spend It Alone?
Illustration by Ella Strickland de Souza

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What's Christmas Like If You Choose to Spend It Alone?

We asked a few people for their stories of solitary Christmas days.
20.12.16

If charity Christmas adverts tell us anything, it's that this is a hard time of year to be alone. Think of the poor and needy, they say, the homeless in the cold, older people with no friends and family to celebrate with, the refugees in camps across Europe.

Nobody young and successful and healthy is supposed to spend Christmas on their own. Department stores and supermarkets glow with images of families watching dogs on trampolines, friends around the Iceland party prawn ring. December is a month of militant conventionalism. While festive advertising has embraced religious diversity, same sex relationships and veganism, there is a right way to do Christmas – and it looks like a Richard Curtis film.

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But what if you make a choice to treat Christmas as just another miserable day? We asked some people who, for various reasons, have made the choice to spend Christmas on their own to find out how it went.

Celebrating being single

I used to love going back North for the big reunion with my friends and family. But then I got divorced, and then went through another really awful break-up right around the time everyone else in my life was settling down. So last time I went home there was no one else there.

Essentially, there is no greater way of making you feel you are failing at life than if you go home on your own at Christmas, divorced and childless.

So, the next year, I decided I was going to stay in London alone. People kept inviting me to join them, as if I must be up to my neck in misery, but I was actually excited. I got in all the food I like and on the morning itself I went for a walk. I called my family and then I came home and prepared dinner very slowly, listening to Frank Sinatra. It felt really peaceful and exactly as I'd wanted it to be.

I think it's important to know you can do these big events like Christmases and birthdays differently. Christmas has become a reminder of how honestly I live my life, rather than trying to be what other people want me to be or respect convention or tradition.

Laura, Ramsgate

The junior doctor

I'm working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I live in a two-bed flat with a housemate in Vauxhall, but he's going home for Christmas, so it will just be me when I get home.

The NHS used to do a Christmas dinner on the wards. The canteen would put it on and it would be free for all staff. There was even talk of on-call surgeons coming in to carve the Turkey with their instruments. But in the situation that we find ourselves with all the cuts, that's gone.

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I never really minded the nights and Christmas, because you do get in the spirit of all being in it together; you do bond quite closely. But now we just had this contract imposed on us people are starting to get to the point where they resent this kind of thing. There's only so far being in it together will take you. So this year, I'm actually feeling quite bitter about it.

Chris, London

The family outlaw

We never celebrated Christmas in our house growing up, or birthdays. My mum's a Jehovah's Witness and my dad's in America. I left home when I was 13 and spent many Christmases alone. I'm the outlaw in my family because I'm queer, and my nan is the other outlaw because she's old, so the last couple of years I've spent Christmas with her.

One thing that helps is making a conscious choice to get what you can out of it, despite it being an enforced situation with a lot of pressure. I used to make adventures out of it – I would stay in a hotel or go somewhere. In Glasgow one year I almost set a hotel on fire because I left some candles burning near some tinsel. Then I went on a mission to find some highland cows, because I was determined that this would make my Christmas.

People don't mean to, but they normalise what it is to be with a big family and to get gifts. Already there's an assumption there that you have a mum and dad; they're financially stable. For lots of people that's not reality.

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Charlie, Bristol

The lonely hangover

One year, my parents both went away on holiday with their partners for Christmas, and my brother went to a friend's. I'd spent the previous three Christmases with my ex. I think if anyone asked me what I was doing at Christmas I told them I was spending it at my mum's because I didn't want sympathy or awkward invites.

I spent Christmas Eve out in town with my friends that year, which was actually a really fun night. I got home at around 4AM and decided to open my presents there and then before going to bed. Presents on Christmas Day is a ceremony for family. There was an overwhelming sense that I didn't have anything to do, so I sat up for ages smoking and drank about half a pint of whisky.

I felt like shit the next day – not really that hungover, just really bummed out. I didn't wake up until mid-afternoon, but I thought 'fuck it' and stayed in bed. I wondered what was so wrong with me that I'd got myself into that position, at 30 years old, completely alone on Christmas Day.

I've been to my dad's every year since. We get drunk and I argue with my older relatives about politics, and it's nice, but it all seems unnecessary to me now – enforced merriment. I do look forward to seeing my friends who come back home; that's great.

Scott, Peterborough Ella Strickland de Souza / @hazelsheffield

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