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The Ghost of Christmas

When I was young I just assumed that anyone spending Christmas Day alone was either a bit weird, a leper, or the black sheep of the family who didn’t warrant an invitation. Perhaps they were a combination of all three. It was always my favourite time of the year, and had the Ghost of Christmas Future rocked up to tell me that I’d be spending Christmas 2022 alone I’d have just laughed in his face. Such an idea would be unfathomable, even to my past self from a few years ago.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy my own company, and I’d even go as far to say I probably enjoy my company more than most other people. That’s not me being down on myself, it’s just the truth. I dread to think how many of my text messages, emails or social invitations have been ignored over the years, but I’d say it was quite a considerable number! Thankfully I do enjoy my own company, it’s just that society generally frowns upon the idea of one spending Christmas alone.

“You can’t be alone at Christmas!” they say. Well, I was, and I survived (with a little help from my pooch).

Christmas 2022 was stripped of everything that I’d come to associate with Christmas – and I don’t mean the birth of the baby Jesus, or an old man in a red hat who, according to the creepy song, watches me as I sleep. I’m talking about the exchanging of gifts – watching someone’s face light up when they unwrap something they really wanted – or watching them try and disguise their disappointment at a gift they didn’t really want. There was no turkey, no board games, no Christmas crackers, no bad jokes, and I even abandoned my usual Christmas Eve viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life.

I realise now that, as a child, my Christmases were exceptionally privileged. I grew up in a loving family, with my mum, dad, sister, and dog (Max, until 1987, and Ben, who passed in 2004). For around 20 years Christmas Day always followed the same routine; I’d get up in the morning, exchange gifts with my immediate family, and then my grandmother and uncle would arrive late morning, bearing more gifts, and stay for dinner. Afterwards we’d often play darts and/or board games, before my nan wanted to head home before it got a bit misty.

In those days we only had 4 TV channels, but there was always something to fall asleep to in the evening.

Despite the stress that Christmas often brings, I cannot recall one cross word, or any family arguments. Our Christmases were the complete opposite of a Christmas in Albert Square. In fact I’d say our family was more like the Waltons than the Simpsons.

Having said that, Ben would occasionally drag his bed into the lounge and start humping it if he felt he wasn’t receiving enough attention.

I don’t have a standout Christmas, or any that shine brighter than the others, but I have very fond memories of coming downstairs to find a BMX bike, the Star Wars Death Star, He-Man’s Castle Greyskull or Optimus Prime in all his transforming glory. My family was a long way from rich, but I know my parents poured everything into ensuring we created special memories.

Whether I received Star Wars toys, Transformers toys, or Masters of the Universe toys, I knew I was the happiest child on earth during the festive period. If I could go back in time and visit my younger self, the one thing I would say (apart from “Keep the bloody boxes!”) would be “Cherish these moments. These are the best days of your life.”

When you’re at school and grown-ups say “Schooldays are the best days of your life” you just assume they’re talking nonsense. Especially when the other kids are throwing your PE kit in the showers and calling you names like “Ginger ninja, carrot top and rusty” every day.

Christmas changed slightly in 1996 when my nan passed away, and again in 2004 when we lost Ben, but we always remained a strong family unit.

Over the years Christmases in the Hill household slowly evolved as my sister and I both left home. She married and had two children, while women ignored me so I adopted a dysfunctional dog named Luna.

Luna is seldom invited anywhere twice – especially for Christmas. In 2014 she joined us at my sister’s house… where she terrified their small dog… in 2015 she went to a friend’s house… where she ate their draught excluder and stuck her tongue in a glass of brandy. While another year she went to her friend’s house, where they played for 12 consecutive hours.

One year she even went to a kennels – but they tend to charge around £200 for the festive period as they close to new admissions between the 24th and 27th.

Most people don’t want an extra dog in their house on Christmas Day and I respect that. If I ever hosted a Christmas Day celebration I’d just say bring the dog, but I’m a dog person who knows the struggles of what to do with your four-legged family member on the big day. I’ll always have an open door policy for dogs – if they aren’t prone to urinating on my furniture.

In 2022 leaving my pooch at home while I travelled to my parents house simply wasn’t an option. It would take me around 5 hours just to get to my parents house and back again, so I could have popped in for a couple of hours, but Luna has a habit of leaving presents if I’m out for much longer – and we’re not talking the gift wrapped variety.

In the end I was working Christmas Eve and I volunteered to work on Boxing Day to help me cover a £600 car repair bill, so I just figured cancelling my Christmas entirely was the best course of action. It just became a logistical and financial nightmare.

The day itself isn’t so bad, it’s the lead up where you start to feel like an outcast as the world prepares for a big party that you’re not invited to. People (whether that’s friends or customers in the shop) ask what you’re doing for Christmas so I’d usually just play it down by saying I was having a quiet one with the family. I mean, Luna is still family.

Some people were telling me they had 12 or 20 people coming to their house, but if you say “I’ll be spending it on my own” it just sounds like you’re fishing for an invite. To be honest I’d feel more alone in a house full of people I didn’t really know – than staying at home with my beloved pooch, who I know all too well.

Obviously we’d had Christmas 2020 with just the two of us – but that was during the lockdown when spending Christmas alone was quite normal.

I’m extremely privileged to live near the coast, so Luna and I took a stroll down to the beach on Christmas Day. We didn’t partake in the swim, but the weather was nice and it was good to while away a couple of hours in the fresh air. Funnily enough, I don’t recall putting on the television, as I mostly played Christmas songs on Spotify. I find songs evoke better memories – although some of the lyrics were a bit on the nose. I wasn’t “waiting for the family to arrive” and nor was I “driving home for Christmas” but, for the most part, I found the festive tunes quite uplifting.

This year I was exceptionally thankful to a few good people close to me who either gave me gifts or helped decorate my tree. You see I’ll never remember being alone this Christmas, but I will remember a few special people who made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

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