December is on its way. You are all in the countdown until Christmas. I can hear you all wrapping and plotting. Writing lists and checking off names. Putting up Christmas Trees. Rediscovering decorations. I know you are thinking about what you will eat and who will be at the table. You will wonder whether your present is the right one and maybe what you might receive. You will think about the music and what wine to serve. Christmas will be a delightful focus for you in the month ahead.
But not for me. You see I don’t have the Christmas spirit. I don’t know where it went. Well actually I do know where it went. I am quite prepared for a blinding silence as you read this. That hauled in breath. I know it is your favorite season. But I need to get this said. I need to get these words out of the way if you like. I am not good with Christmas. Our John calls me the Grinch. But that is OK because it means I don’t have to explain or pretend to behave any differently. And really it is hard to understand. I will try to explain it to YOU though, why my heart elevates to an unreachable place at Christmas. Why my soul becomes a watcher. Why I go into a hiatus. A waiting time. A flux.
When my children were small their father and I separated, then divorced. I was in my late twenties. I had five live children. My own mother had already died, my own family dispersed. Every year after that, for fourteen years actually, I spent Christmas alone. My children went to have Christmas with their beloved Grandmother. Their fathers mother. She was a wonderful person, she adored her grandchildren. She died a year ago and I know my children will miss her terribly this Christmas. Every single summer they would travel almost to the top of New Zealand with their father and have Christmas with Oma and Opa. This was their tradition. I am deeply grateful that we ensured that they were with her each year. My kids and I are very close. We kind of grew up together. They understand this Christmas thing. We did the right thing at Christmas.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I was not a sorry orphan at Christmas. I woke up alone on Christmas morning but I had friends to visit, usually for an early breakfast. Then they would go to their families for lunch, (twice I was even kidnapped to go to their parental homes with them but it was not right because my aloneness followed me like a silent cat, I was hopeless) so turning down all their kind offers to accompany them, I would proceed to my project. I always set myself a Christmas Day Project. I had a wonderful darkroom in an old walk-in safe in a very old abandoned railways workshop right beside the sea. It was an enormous mystery of a space. So I would take my dog and work in there. Just close the door and be gone for hours. With my antique enlarger and my rickity timer with its loud click, click. Darkrooms are perfect for absenting yourself. Time means nothing in a darkroom.
When I came up for air (literally) I would go home smelling of fixer, wet black and white prints drying on a towel on the back seat of my family sized station wagon and I would make my Christmas lunch. I always ate the same thing. For my Christmas Dinner every Christmas, I had fillet steak and mashed potatoes with gravy (made with Marmite of course) and a salad. For years I rented the movie Breakfast at Tiffanys. Every year I would pour myself a glass of champagne, sit on the couch, put my bare feet up on the old scarred science classroom coffee table with fifty year old rude words carved into it, all the windows open to the day and eat my fillet steak and mashed potatoes with gallons of gravy and say Holly Golightly’s lines for her with my mouth full. I know this sounds a bit sad but really it was not. My kids were having a great time. They would spend the whole afternoon at the beach with their grandparents, cousins and family. They always did. They were not with me so I was with myself. I was still. Does this make any sense? No-one bothers you on Christmas day. Stillness and aloneness are allowed.
Later that day in the lovely warm Christmas evening I would take my three legged black dog whose name was Marzellet Mazout the Marzipan Kid and we would go for a walk. A really long walk. No-one is on the roads at Christmas, all the shops are closed. All the cars are gone. On Christmas afternoon New Zealand goes to the beach, so the coastal town became my own town. There was a magical Christmas hush that I used to believe was my consolation prize. This massive empty moment, when you long for your children’s voices but know that they are well and loved. Not being all together is OK. My aloneness was OK. I walked. Time ceased to matter. The endless clatter in my head gentled.
But along the way I lost the day. Christmas Day lost me. Like a bright red balloon my Christmas Spirit unravelled from my fingers and floated away.
Of course Boxing Day was a completely different story. Boxing day was party day at Celi’s. My bright scented garden would heave with friends and music and laughter on Boxing Day. We would carry couches and tables and chairs under the trees and have ourselves A Time. But I can still feel my Christmas Day stillness. The Christmas Day waiting. It was strangely precious. No mirror. No acting. No pretending. Just a deep quiet that no other day offers.
I do give Christmas presents, but not always on Christmas Day. I love to give presents so I give them when I find them. I am hopeless at wrapping and keeping secrets. I do not understand Christmas Trees.
I am again without my children this Christmas and so I feel that stillness approaching like a silent cool low mist. You never grow out of missing your children. From the moment they are born you are afraid when they are out of your sight. There are many, many parents like me who know this. Many, many parents who spend Christmas Day alone. Many, many people without children who spend this day alone. A few of my own children will be without family far away out there in the world.
And if YOU are alone on Christmas Day, then you are in good company. Being alone is like being Free. You have time to Make a Plan. Let it be special.