As families across the globe prepare for the madness that are the Christmas celebrations, there is at least one woman who is having absolutely no part in the whole thing. Melanie Daly, from London, on the joys of spending Christmas alone…
The official time stress levels reach their peak on Christmas Day is 12.56pm. I will have a minute’s respectful silence for all those feverishly boiling and basting, trying not to lose their Prosecco-tweaked temper at the relatives standing in the way of the dishwasher as they offer: ‘How can we help?’
Personally, I will be spending Christmas entirely, blissfully alone.
I regard the feast day as an opportunity to indulge myself royally in ‘heavenly peace’
I have lots of love and laughter with other people throughout the year, but for me, friends are for life, not for Christmas. As a single late40something, I regard the feast day as an opportunity to indulge myself royally – as the carol Silent Night would have it – in ‘heavenly peace’.
I have nothing but compassion for my friends with their extended families, struggling to recreate a ‘Christmas at Downton Abbey’ fantasy in their terraced homes. Many are running the full generational gamut from grandchildren to geriatrics, with grunting teenagers, lazy students and tricky grown-up siblings thrown into the mix.
Add a flow of alcohol from breakfast-time onwards, rich food and an overheated house and you have the perfect conditions for a murder mystery. Every year, one of my girlfriends develops stress-induced blotches on her neck as soon as Halloween is over and Christmas plans begin.
By Boxing Day, she has a migraine, worn down by running a pop-up hotel for an age range spanning the best part of a century
I always call her on Christmas Eve to enquire supportively about Blotch Watch. ‘It’s spread to my face and chest,’ she invariably wails. By Boxing Day, she has a migraine, worn down by running a pop-up hotel for an age range spanning the best part of a century. ‘They want to be waited on hand and foot, then they complain I’m always in the kitchen,’ she says.
The older in-laws want lunch bang on 1pm, at which point the millennials have only just got out of bed. Present-opening time is another friction point. ‘I spent the whole of November asking people what they’d like and they say they don’t know. So I spend hours and a small fortune sourcing thoughtful gifts, but when they open them, they look bemused and say: “It’s lovely. Why did you get me that?”
A family Christmas is the emotional equivalent of climbing the North Face of the Eiger. Yet if I ever let slip that I spend the day on my own, people gasp as if I’d just told them my house had burnt down.
It’s so much worse for them than me, so I tend to avoid chatter about Christmas. If asked directly, I’ll breeze: ‘I’m just having a quiet one.’ That tends to deflect the pity-vitations (well-meaning offers which inevitably lead to ghastly board games and a sleepless night on a Z-bed) and suggestions I should volunteer in a homeless hostel. This smacks of paying some kind of penance for my sorry single state. ‘Volunteer yourself,’ I think. ‘Do I look like I know how to serve soup?’
My flat is a clean, calm, Christmas-free zone. No tree, no turkey, no tinsel, no tasteless jumpers. On Christmas Eve, weaving among the toppling trolleys in Waitrose, I carry a wire basket in the crease of my arm, in the style of Victoria Beckham with a handbag.
With no other palate to consider but my own, I choose a selection of luxuries: ready-made canapés, nuts, cheese, Belgian chocolates, champagne.
Last year, as I was happily browsing for my high-end treats, I saw a couple fit to burst with last-minute pressure. ‘We need lettuce for Boxing Day evening,’ the lady barked, wielding a foot-long shopping list. When her husband appeared with a large, cheap, unglamorous iceberg, she sent him back, furiously muttering: ‘I swear I’m going to divorce him.’
As I sink into a deep, warm, scented bath, I have my flute of fizz and white-chocolate truffles to hand.
Savouring my freedom from seasonal tension and rows gives me an inner glow worthy of any heart-warming Richard Curtis film. With no turkey or stockings to stuff, I wake up naturally every Christmas morning. For breakfast, I have smoked salmon and champagne, embracing the yuletide ‘alcohol is allowed in the morning’ rule.
I open the bags of presents I bought on Black Friday, congratulating myself on my excellent taste as I pick out an opulent bubble bath and face mask. As I sink into a deep, warm, scented bath, I have my flute of fizz and white-chocolate truffles to hand.
I raise a toast to strung-out mums up and down the country, imagining how they’re burning their poor hands as they attempt to cook food that’s ‘traditional with a twist’ and bridge the gap between reality and nostalgic, schmaltzy-movie fantasy.
The furthest I have to travel over Christmas is from bed to bath to sofa. Make-up-free, in my most comfy clothes, I line up nibbles and light the expensive scented candles I so thoughtfully gave myself.
Every year, I give thanks that my home smells of Liz Earle rosemary and eucalyptus instead of Brussels sprouts.
I listen to music of my choosing (Etta James, definitely not Slade) before settling down with one of my favourite Christmas rituals: the DVD box set of Sex and the City. No rows over who wants to watch the Dr Who special for me.
On Boxing Day morning, refreshed and relaxed, I go to a Body Pump class at the gym before heading for the sales to spend the money I’ve saved on buying other people presents they probably didn’t want.
Christmas is one mighty stresser for so many, but for me, it’s a gorgeous, glamorous haze. It’s short, sweet and most importantly, solitary. I wouldn’t have it any other way.