First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 20.12.21
We have a friend who doesn’t like Christmas. Not because he belongs to one of the religions that doesn’t celebrate it, and not just in the way none of us likes Christmas in patches, like when we’re trying to find a car park at the mall, or the piped carols they’ve being playing in stores since November sound like fingernails down a blackboard, or at around 4pm on the actual day when you’d quite like a nap but the guests show no sign of leaving. We can all be a bit anti-Christmas at times.
But our friend doesn’t like Christmas at all – or at least, he doesn’t engage with it in any way, preferring to spend the day entirely alone.
In earlier years, we liked to gather up waifs and strays at our place on December 25th. Partly that’s because I couldn’t bear the idea of anyone being lonely on this day of all days, but also (quite selfishly) I’d noticed that injecting the odd special guest encouraged family to be on their best behaviour, which can be helpful as the day wears on.
So when Dougal (not his real name, something about him just makes me think of “The Magic Roundabout”) first told me years ago that he’d be spending Christmas Day alone in his flat with his traditional meal of baked beans and a beer, I invited him to join us for ham and champagne instead. I’m not quite sure when an invitation turns into a command, but I used a fair bit of, “But you must come!” He, however, wouldn’t be persuaded.
I’ve never asked why – I’m not very good at asking people the kind of questions I can feel they don’t want to answer. I’d be a terrible press gallery journalist, leaving all the question time to Barry Soper.
My usual style is to leave a long pause to see if the person fills in the silence (a useful technique with recalcitrant teenagers, I’ve found) but if nothing is forthcoming, I’ll let it go. I can guess a whole lot of reasons for someone wanting a solitary Christmas but really all we need to know is that he’s having the kind of day he wants.
Which is what I wish for all of us. There are a gazillion things that can go wrong – sometimes it feels like some of us are blue touch paper and some of us are matches. But there are even more things that go right. I especially love that bit after all the presents have been opened when the smallest kids toss their gifts aside and start playing with bubble wrap and boxes.
Chances are that at some point during the whole Christmas palaver – if you keep an eye out for it – you will be touched by some unexpected kindness, or a supreme act of thoughtfulness, or a gift you weren’t expecting. Quite possibly, you will have at least one lovely moment in amongst the hoopla where you share a sneaky knowing look with someone who gets it. And you will get a phone call or text from someone in another place who is thinking about you.
I will send Dougal a text, like I always do. It won’t mention Christmas – like I say, Christmas is clearly not his kind of thing. But he always texts back, so his phone is on, and that tells me something. And then I might slip away for a nap.