I havenâ€™t always hated Christmas; I think I enjoyed it as a kid. Not so much since. It is a little about the food (if turkey and sprouts are such good news, why donâ€™t we eat them on any other day, eh?). It has a little more to do with rampant consumerism. Gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath â€¦ funny how a festival that is supposed to be about the birth of Christ has come to encompass so many Christian sins. But this isnâ€™t about him; itâ€™s about me, my own family and my own insecurities.
I think things turned sour in my 30s, when my siblings selfishly started having families of their own. Suddenly there were new people and generations involved; it became more complicated logistically, as what had been a simple family gathering exploded. This lot went here, that lot there â€¦ oh, God, what about Sam? Whereâ€™s he going to go? Whose turn is it? I wasnâ€™t involved in these conversations, but Iâ€™m sure they happened. They did in my mind, anyway. I had become the grumpy grandad no one wanted, before even being a dad.
I could â€“ and should â€“ have just spent Christmas alone, for everyoneâ€™s sake. But that would have made them feel bad, and I didnâ€™t want that or to be felt sorry for. So I went along, to wherever there was room or I was least unwelcome, to whoeverâ€™s turn it was. I ate my sprouts â€“ mmm â€“ and I tried to be the fun uncle, and not to disapprove so obviously of the mountains of presents being ripped open (while also, hypocritically, feeling sorry for myself as I strung out the unwrapping of my own pitiful molehill of hastily thrown-together afterthoughts). I donâ€™t think I fooled anyone.
And then one year I did fool them â€“ everyone. Uncharacteristically, and improbably, I found myself in the situation known as having a girlfriend (I had had them before, just not for Christmas). She came with a family of her own, and they asked me if I would like to spend Christmas with them. No, of course I bloody wouldnâ€™t, but it gave me an idea. Thatâ€™s very kind, I said, but Iâ€™m spending it with my family. Theyâ€™d be devastated if I wasnâ€™t there. (Ha!)
See where this is going? I then told my family that I would be spending Christmas with my girlfriendâ€™s family â€“ I was keen to get to know them better. And my family concealed any relief they may have been feeling. At least they didnâ€™t need to feel sorry for me because I wouldnâ€™t be alone at home â€¦
I may have felt a little sorry for myself, but I thoroughly enjoyed doing so
Which is exactly what and where I was, of course. By myself, as myself. I had a steak â€“ with chips, no sprouts â€“ and a nice bottle of rioja. (I donâ€™t really remember that it was rioja, but in my mind it was a grade or two above the usual. It could have even broken the Â£10 barrier.) I toasted absent friends and family. Yeah, maybe there was a bit of gluttony involved, but itâ€™s hard to remain sin-free at Christmas. I went for a walk; London is beautiful on Christmas Day. There were no arguments about what to watch; I caught up on some of the films I had missed in the year just gone. I may have felt a little sorry for myself, but I thoroughly enjoyed doing so. It was perfect â€“ best Christmas ever. But impossible to repeat.
It turns out the girlfriend wasnâ€™t just for Christmas, but for life (so far). We did some new-generation-creating of our own, and since then, as you can imagine, it has been impossible to sneak off. But thatâ€™s OK.
I still hate Christmas because of the turkey, sprouts and all of that sinning. Also wrapping â€“ I really donâ€™t like wrapping. But now I donâ€™t have to pretend not to hate it: Iâ€™m the Grinch, but out and proud. Which is liberating, even amusing â€“ for me. And Iâ€™ll always have the memories of the year I went free solo.