Scroll on five years. Another Christmas, and a new partner. Divorce was a painful process for me, because I hate to renege on a promise, and with divorce you have to accept that you haven’t lived up to your own expectations. Being rid of the ‘other party’ is easy enough, it’s living with yourself that is hard about divorce. But I got over it, believe me. I learned and I grew and I became more myself than I’d been for over a decade now that I wasn’t weighed down by being attached to someone who, it seemed, had completely opposite values to myself. It was my time. But Christmas comes round every year, and it still had to be negotiated.
Between China and Cyprus I’d managed to keep most Christmases relatively low key. I couldn’t get my family to stop sending me presents – even though I didn’t spend Christmas with them. My brother got let off the hook the year we all went to the Highlands and now he was married with kids, they pulled a lot of the focus, so I got my ‘bye’ for several years. I was able to establish something of a pattern. Low key would be the best description. And that suited me fine.
But this year was going to be another ‘first.’ I was with a new partner, which meant, I thought, teaching a whole new set of people my views about Christmas – and inevitably alienating them in the process. My partner had other ideas. He had never enjoyed Christmas either (it’s amazing how many people confess to this actually!) and he’d just got divorced so he wanted to get away. How about we went off on holiday together over Christmas?
It was a great idea. Of course I no longer had the illusion that we would escape Christmas through travel, but it would cut out a lot of the difficult bits – spending Christmas with his family for example. They were all died in the wool Christmas freaks, with their own set of rituals – which involved a lot more eating of rich food than I would ever be able to stomach – and I was pretty sure party hats would come into the equation. I wanted to make a good impression and I’ve learned that I don’t make a good impression on normal people at Christmas. No one likes being told that Christmas isn’t great for everyone, especially those who keep in the happy Christmas bubble and still engage in stocking fillers for all.
We could leave them all behind. Right through the festive fortnight. What’s not to love? It was just pick a destination. We chose Cyprus. No expectations about the Christmas factor, but we rented a self-catering apartment and hired a car and would be pretty much able to enjoy the place and each other’s company without interaction. Okay, hide your eyes from the Christmas tree when you go through the lobby, but it’s not that much of an imposition. The apartment block was actually pretty low-key. In fact, I have to say, that to get away from Christmas, Cyprus is probably my destination of choice. No one was really bothered and I suspected that many of our fellow travellers were of the same persuasion as us – they couldn’t see Christmas far enough away. Of course there were the uber-revellers – who got tanked up on the plane and one of whom, a girl called Abb-eeeee by her pals, got so drunk that she passed out on the corridor of the plane and the rest of us all just stepped over her – we’d endured the 4 hours it took her to get that paralytic and no one, cabin staff or fellow passengers gave a damn. I wished her a stomach pump for Christmas and on we went. There were also the families, transporting their Christmas lock, stock and barrel to the sun, but we knew it would be easy to give them a body swerve. Stay away from hotel pools and we’d be fine.
The aim was non-Christmas in Cyprus and I have to say, for the first time the plan came together and we had a wonderful time. The weather was a bit more festive than I’d anticipated – we had a lot of warmish days but we also drove up into the hills and experience fog and snow. That’s okay, I like snow, I just wished I’d packed warmer clothes. But beyond that we had time on the beach and travelling round the ancient and natural sights of Cyprus. There are loads of them, though when we were there it was also an island becoming a building site by the minute – more tourists, more ex-pats. But at least there was virtually no evidence of Christmas.
We stocked up on good Greek food in case we couldn’t get a meal on Christmas Day. Though we weren’t even sure, after a few days there, which day Christmas Day would fall on. One day we went out and some of the restaurants were closed, but the Chinese wasn’t, so we went there. And had a lovely meal. I reflected that I was in a far better place, both physically and emotionally than when I’d had Christmas Day in China itself. The combination of the right person, the right place and the ability to turn a blind eye to the trappings of Christmas, made it a holiday to remember. We stayed through New Year and never mixed with other people the whole fortnight. There were fireworks on the balcony and a party downstairs for Hogmanay, which we duly reported on an international phone call to our respective families. But we held our own festivities. And they had nothing to do with Christmas.
And by the time we got back, Christmas had been consigned to the landfill along with the trees and tinsel, and if not forgiven, it was more or less forgotten that we hadn’t been there as willing participants. I’m sure we weren’t even missed during the Christmas period, and that, for me, is a result. Each to his own, and I’m not trying to stop anyone else enjoying Christmas, however they want to do that – but I’d like the respect of other people letting me NOT indulge in the Christmas experience if I so choose. The only way to achieve this seems to be cutting yourself off from everyone for the best part of a month. And with family that isn’t at all easy. Christmas is for children, for families, for consumer capitalism – it’s not a time to be refusenick! But after Cyprus the die had been cast. No going back. We’d fully broken the family Christmas hoo-doo and there was no going back. Ah. So we thought. You can never predict the future now, can you. There’s always going to be a Bond movie in the Christmas mix and you can never say never again.
An advent calendar of memories that are not for the faint-hearted.