When did Christmas stop being fun? From bad dads, family bust-ups and annoying relatives to unwanted gifts, Christmas just isn’t the same being a grown up as when you’re a kid.
You rarely get new toys to play with, or not much if you get something expensive like a new phone. At this age, as well, you have no real need for anything, so thinking of things to respond with when your parents or siblings ask what you want is near impossible.
These days, I dread opening presents in front of people for I fear reacting wrong if I get something I don’t want or didn’t ask for. It sounds a bit ungrateful, and I swear I’m not. When it comes from the right people, you will always appreciate the gesture, even if you later exchange their gift for something else ‘from’ them. But sometimes, I really mean the phrase, ‘You didn’t need to get me anything,’, and this is certainly the case when it comes to some relatives…
In short, I have lived with my mum and our dog full time since I was fourteen, while my brother splits his time between home and his dad’s. My dad’s only efforts to get to know me involve ineffective ‘bribes’ (in other words, he tries to buy me stuff to gain affection). But because he doesn’t know me, he knows nothing about what I like or dislike, my interests and hobbies, nothing. This is why I dread his presents.
This year, I had to tell him I didn’t want to open my gifts at his, namely because it’s embarrassing, but also, as I said before, because I struggle so much to look happy about something awful from someone who, if it weren’t for that really annoying thing called blood (and my mum’s nagging), I would not have in my life.
Unfortunately, I did have to go round to his house on Christmas day, but only because I had to pick up my brother, so I had no choice.
His idea of spending time with us is acting like a completely normal, no-issues-at-all-family, sitting around together and watching the TV (even though my brother will sit with sound cancelling headphones on his iPad and I will be messaging my friends for help). He does not bother trying to talk to me much, because he does not know me, and we are also completely different people.
I’m sure a lot of kids with divorced parents have similar issues, not wanting to see one parent at Christmas or even resenting not getting to see them because of your other parent, perhaps. However, most ‘normal’ divorced parents don’t live five minutes away from each other. All of my friends with divorced parents will have one either end of the country, or at least in different towns. But we live in the awfully uptight, dull hometown of my dad, and my mum only stays here because of her friends, work, and since my brother is so close to finishing school, there isn’t any point in her moving just yet.
Anyway, once I got home, I spent the rest of the day actually enjoying Christmas Day for the first time in a long, long while. My mum and I both said afterwards, it was the best Christmas in ages, and it didn’t take much; every helping out in the kitchen with Christmas dinner, watching some TV, opening few but wonderful and thoughtful presents (and enjoying music from my mum’s gift from my brother and I of a record player, which we had not expected to make her so emotional).
It was enough to forgive (or at least forget) the negatives, i.e. Dad’s thoughtless gifts, all from the same areas of two stores, as per usual, because he doesn’t try hard.
One thing I should say is that my family are really careful with money. We’re not poor, but that’s because we don’t spend on anything pointless. My dad, on the other hand, despite working full time in a rather well-paid job and having two household incomes as he remarried, complains that he has no money because he has supposedly spent it all (on things like my braces, which he will hold against me, and an extension for his house), yet will buy me so much I do not even want at Christmas and birthdays, then throw some money in my bank account on top.
Now, I’d be grateful for the money, but I cannot be overly grateful because, as I said, it gets used against me, and I also end up with loads of crap I can’t do anything with. About 80% of my dad’s gifts from my birthday and Christmas are currently in a big bag in our spare room.
I’m on the verge of creating an unwanted Dad gifts eBay account as I type.
Metal signs are the bane of my existence when it comes to unwanted Dad gifts, as well as glittery, flowery bags designed for eight-year-old girls, foods I’m allergic to and boring DVDs I will never watch (mostly purchased for containing an actor who was once in Harry Potter, and as most of you will know, there are a lot of actors in Harry Potter).
For me, Christmas was probably simpler as a child for two reasons. One, I mostly wanted Playmobil, chocolate and teddies. Two, my parents gave joint gifts. My mum would get my the stuff I want and my dad would source ‘stocking filler’ gifts (a.k.a. tat), so there was lots to open with plenty of variety.
Despite this, the worst part of Christmas was the Boxing Day extended family gathering. Christmas is known to be a family time, but over the years, our family has grown smaller and those in the family we tolerate even smaller than that. My family is just nutty, plain and simple, and we’ve had some hard times this year that have driven in some wedges. It’s fair to say that alcohol was a must, and I rarely drink.
But no matter who you are or where you come from, I believe the key to Christmas is relaxation. Don’t overthink it or build up your expectations, because that’s when things will go wrong. Christmas comes once a year (even if it seems to start in September these days), so why waste all that built up excitement. Buy yourself some of your own gifts for others to give to you if you must, and make sure you each have some compromise with the TV remote. And it doesn’t matter if you’re with family or friends.
Just smile through it. Or get some Lego to keep everyone quiet. You’re never too old for Lego.