I don’t enjoy Christmas. This year I was looking forward to it less than usual until I decided to do the unthinkable. Spend Christmas Day on my own.
It’s a quirk of the human psyche that the things we choose to do are more bearable or acceptable than those which are foisted or forced on us. Solitude only becomes loneliness when we have no choice but to be alone. Christmas is when organisations such as the Salvation Army bring the plight of the lonely to our attention.
Choosing to be on my own at Christmas is quite different from having no choice, knowing there is nowhere to go, no one to spend the day with. I knew I was welcome to join family or friends.
Why did I make this strange decision?
Despite its etymology, ‘Christmas’ as it is now celebrated is not rooted in Christianity but in ‘Saturnalia’, a Roman feast of considerable debauchery and political subversion. Emperor Domitian (51-96 AD) changed the climax of the week-long Saturnalia to December 25th in an attempt to assert his authority and control subversive acts associated with it. The earliest reference to 25 December commemorating the birth of Christ is thought to be as late as 354AD, 42 years after the Emperor Constantine’s conversion.
In Western cultures we seem to have gone full circle and the emphasis is back on excessive eating and drinking and excusing behaviour which at any other time would be considered unacceptable. The focus of Christmas is not Christ but Santa who has got his claws well and truly embedded in our society, a far cry from the 4th Century philanthropic Saint Nicholas, Greek bishop of Myra in modern-day Turkey.
Supermarkets follow Halloween stock immediately with Christmas stock. TV adverts tell us from early in November what luxurious food and drink we should buy in order to have the ‘Perfect Christmas’. Gift ideas are thrust at us wherever we look. Silly antics such as sitting on the photocopier and pinning up the evidence is part of Christmas ‘fun’.
I could go on. Christmas gets me down. It makes me sometimes angry, sometimes depressed. Some 35 years ago I was a founder member of a small coterie of rebels who, fed up with the office Christmas Do (a ‘do’ is a North of England expression for a party or other celebration), inaugurated the Not-the-Xmas-Lunch and went to a nearby pub for fish and chips. The NTXL has been held every Christmas since. This year, partly because of disenchantment with the obscene commercialisation of Christmas and partly for personal reasons, I took the concept one step further. I reached a point where I just wanted to opt out of Christmas Day. Be alone with my thoughts. Do my own thing.
I’m a Christian so consider it right that we should be reminded that God became man in the person of Christ. That doesn’t need to be tied to 25 December or any other day in the year but it is common practice for it to be, so I began the day as usual by going to the Christmas morning service.
Then I ploughed a new furrow, I trekked up Garn Wen, the mountain behind the house. I had intended going even if it was pouring down with rain but in the event it was sunny and very pleasant. So I lingered on top, spending time reflecting, remembering. It’s usually a two hour walk there and back but I took three over it.
I got home early afternoon and then had a meal sitting in front of a log fire. As a family we have always had ‘Traditional Christmas Dinner’ usually turkey but occasionally varying it with duck and once a goose. We always had a good time together as a family though it generally took about 5 hours to prepare, eat and clear away by which time those who had been doing the work were exhausted and those who hadn’t were nodding off from eating too much and inactivity.
This year I had chicken breast marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and paprika with baked potatoes, parsnip, carrots and beetroot, basted with olive oil. Preparation time 15 minutes then 30 minutes in the oven. Followed by rhubarb and ginger with Greek yogurt and a cup of industrial strength coffee. No hassle. Mostly fresh from the garden. Delicious.
My Alternative Christmas was rounded off nicely when, early evening, the family came over so we could exchange gifts and share some time together.
Next, I’ll write about my alternative Boxing Day