Do you remember that advert last Christmas for Apple, with Frankenstein’s Monster joining in the carol singing? He sang ‘Home for the Holidays’. I love that ad, even though it makes me well up with homesickness every time. If you’ve never seen it, have a look here and then come back. I’ll wait.
It makes me think about one particular Christmas Day which holds both my worst Christmas memory and, slightly weirdly, one of the best.
It was a good few years ago now, back when my Grandma was with us and still lived in her own home. It was due to be a quiet one; my sister and her family were spending the day with her in-laws so it would just be me, my parents and Grandma for Christmas Day.
We’d just finished opening our presents over breakfast and had bunged the turkey in the oven when the phone went. Grandma had fallen in the night and my parents were needed over there right away.
‘You stay here’ my Mum said, ‘and turn the oven off at about half 11. We might be back by then anyway.’
Off they went, and I was left in the house on my own. The calls from family and friends started rolling in, and I had to explain what had happened and say I hoped they were having a lovely day. I dutifully turned the oven off when the turkey was done.
My parents were still not back. This was getting pretty lonely.
My Mum called in the early afternoon to say they were still waiting for the doctor and to raid the freezer and cook myself something for lunch. They had no idea when they’d be home.
It was horrible. Being on your own at Christmas, you suddenly understand just how bloody hard it is to be on your own at Christmas. Everything on the telly is geared towards being with loved ones. You get texts wishing you and the family a great day and see everyone else’s festive fun unfolding on Facebook. I got sadder and sadder, upset to be on my own and worried about my Grandma.
Now I do just want to make sure you understand that my Grandma was not a sweet fluffy little old dear, not on your life. She could very much be a contrary old besom, with a naughty sense of humour, a twinkle in her eye and all the elegance and subtlety of a breeze block through a window. But she had stayed strong well into her late 80’s, so the slow decline into frailty we had seen that year had been hard to witness.
God, I miss her.
Anyway. For Christmas lunch I ate a frozen pizza and, as I was feeling very sorry for myself, pudding was almost an entire tub of Celebrations. To save myself from being set off again by the cosy Christmas telly I watched the whole of Gone With the Wind. God bless Channel 5.
For someone who loves Christmas like I do, this was the worst Christmas Day ever. Even Scarlett O’Hara couldn’t save this one, and she always cheers me up.
Around tea time I heard the key in the door and my parents barrelled into the house, exhausted and hungry because my Grandma now got all her meals ordered in so she’d had no food in the house.
‘All she had in the pantry was one curled up slice of bread, a cracked bit of old cheese and some waxy marge’ my Mum exclaimed, throwing her hands up. ‘Your Dad’s had nothing and I’ve had half a manky cheese sandwich. We’re starving!’
Suddenly my frozen pizza wasn’t looking so bad! My poor gallant diabetic Dad, he must have been feeling really quite crap but had insisted my Mum should get first dibs on the gourmet manky sarnie.
We quickly descended into hysterics. The relief at Grandma being safe and them being home was like a real, solid thing. I stopped wallowing immediately; my loved ones were now in front of me to be hugged, comforted and held close. Nothing else in the world mattered.
Yes, I had been on my own on Christmas Day, but I wasn’t actually alone. I had my loved ones to share Christmas with. This was the first time I had ever spend Christmas Day on my own and so far, the only time. There would be thousands of people all over the country for whom this situation would not be a finite one. How unbearably heartbreaking.
We put the kettle on and declared that we just wouldn’t bother with Christmas lunch in future and would have cheese sandwiches every year (although perhaps less manky). It would be much less hassle. We were sitting down in front of the Strictly final before we knew it, planning Christmas Day 2, the sequel, for Boxing Day. Even better, that meant we got to have our Christmas Day with my sister and her family as well – even more loved ones.
I am so lucky. That’s why this very un-traditional, wonky Christmas Day shines bright in my memory. Everything will always be alright if you’ve got people who love you.
I’ve remembered that lesson every year since, and I’ve tried my best to give what I can to those who are not lucky enough to have a loving family and a safe roof over their heads at this time of year. There are so many appeals to help people who are lonely or who quite simply have no home to go to for the holidays.
Personally I reserve as many places as I can afford with Crisis. It’s not much, but it’s something, and I try to increase it a bit each year. There’s also the Shelter appeal, or the Salvation Army. The Eagles raise money every Christmas for our local night shelter in Ealing – we raised £1,000 this year, an incredible amount for one silly Santa Run and a bit of sort-of in tune carol singing.
If you can, please think about making a donation to one of these appeals. Anything, no matter how small, shows someone having a really tough time that someone else cares about them. It could make all the difference to someone. And it’s easy to wrap.
Merry Christmas. May you have a wonderful time with those who you treasure, and who treasure you right back.