As a mum, there is so much pressure. So much pressure to make sure my two teenagers are happy, because that is all I want. I want it to be a nice occasion but there’s a big part of me that is very pleased when it’s over.
Over Christmas, I have this quiet feeling that I’m a fraud, or that I’m cheating. I have to go through the motions for them, which was cute when they were little but there was always the niggle that it was a performance. I hated the lie of Santa Claus and all the external shows about a religion that I didn’t believe in.
I am not the sort of mum who would make a turkey or anything overly traditional like that. Chilli and rice feature as regular ingredients for whatever I cook each year. I could joyfully get on a plane somewhere else over the Christmas period.
Growing up in a large Catholic household with six siblings, Christmas was a time of high stress. I always loved the lead-up to it, with the fun and frolics at school and the general sense of goodwill to all men, and all that. I even loved midnight mass when I was little. It felt special to be up late and part of something beautiful. But it would all go downhill after that.
My dad worked in London, so he wasn’t actually at home very much. When Christmas came around, it was like he was suddenly faced with his family. We’re a large family, and no one behaved well. By the time it got to the end of mass on Christmas Eve, tempers were fraying.
On Christmas Day, the tension would rise even more. The stress of the cooking marathon, the present-giving and family squabbling would put my dad in a foul mood. After a couple of drinks, my mum would tell him too many home truths.
The expectation that this should be a lovely day made things worse. My mum really tried, even though she never got any help. Stockings were always lovely. But mounting inter-generational anger would arise nevertheless. Everyone always left feeling slightly disappointed.
As soon as I could, I did everything to avoid the traditional Christmas. From my late teens, I would go away for the festive period and spend it on a beach somewhere far away. There wouldn’t be any worries or fuss. Just Christmas time and swimming in the sea.
The best Christmases I ever had were when I went skiing with a big group of my friends. We would be out on the mountain all day and drinking for the rest of it. I didn’t care about traditions, and I didn’t miss sitting around a table heavy with food and bad tempers. There was no horrible feeling of being too full, mixed with malaise and anger.
Once I had kids in my early thirties, this all changed. As soon as they reached school age, there was this big build-up, and I went along with it all. It was cute. But I still felt like it’s just a ritual, and one which I don’t necessarily feel super excited about.
As a parent, there is so much pressure when it comes to presents. Putting in the effort seems to symbolise love. It’s a time to show you care. And I want to show that I really care. But I think particularly now with the cost of living crisis, I’m conscious that my two children are used to having much more lavish gifts. This year, I’ve asked them if they need any more pants.
Now that they’re older, I would love to go back to my nomadic ways, but my kids want this continued comfort, so I am stuck for now. My dream Christmas would be skiing again. I haven’t skied over the festive period since they were born. I’m 50 now.
Those Christmases were my idea of heaven. Waking up and doing nothing, but having a really good time. Just in the snow, and getting smashed on the mountain.
It was a different sort of freedom. I’d like to go back to that one day.
As told to Eleanor Peake