This Christmas I will be doing something I have never done: I will be spending the day alone, except for Mr kItty of course! Even the five Christmases I spent in prison were spent in the company of others (for further info and context see chapters six and eight of my autobiography ‘Finding a Different Kind of Normal if you haven’t already). My practical reason for not being with the other Purkises in the festive season is that I left it too late to book cat boarding but I also did that last year and the year before but I made sure I spent the day with a friend and their family for Christmas. There is almost a stigma about spending the holidays by oneself and I think my need to be included every previous year was based in a fear of people – and me – thinking I was sad and lonely. This has certainly kept me from going it alone in the past – worrying it would mean I was socially isolated and in need of some kind of social charity.
This year I timed cat boarding wrong again and could not take the time to visit family interstate but for once I felt no need to invite myself to a friend’s house. In actual fact I don’t care a lot about Christmas itself. It can be such an exclusionary event, for the very reasons I am discussing here. People can feel isolated if they do not have time with family, and socio-economic disadvantage is thrown into sharp relief with all the costs of the season and people feeling scared of being seen to be poor. Poverty is never a reason for shame but that doesn’t seem to be widely known. Families with autistic kids and adults can feel excluded by extended family members sometimes and may miss out on an invite, not only main Christmas unpleasant but often leading to rifts in families. If you come from a culture other than the Western Christian one there is often an expectation that you participate in festivities which may not be something you want to do. Christmas seems to be a big and often unhelpful expectation which many people feel the need to celebrate in order to avoid the judgement of others.
I know there are people (including adults) who really do love Christmas and find it a genuinely pleasurable festival but I also know many people who do not.
So this year I am making a very gentle stand and spending the day in the beautiful company of Mr Kitty. I will write and make art and reflect on the past year. I am in a period of significant change and transition at the moment across a number of areas of my life so I think a bit of reflection will be nice. I have bought gifts for a few people because I like to give gifts but apart from that I will be having the day to myself, which when I think about it seems a very good thing to do if I am observing a festival which at its heart is about how hope and joy can come into the world and change everything. I don’t need a big lunch or bubbly alcohol or boxes full of gifts or more human company than I can manage. I am having a merry contemplative Christmas.
As I write this I realise what a liberating experience this could be for me. I am someone who spent almost all my teenage and early adult years desperate to be accepted by other people and to belong. I was a social chameleon so adept that I believed the very damaging role I was acting in my early twenties. I remember when I lived in public housing in the early 2000s. One of the neighbours would lock his door to visitors at Christmas and drink huge qualities of alcohol by himself whilst playing loud music (not carols!). I have always seen spending the holiday alone is a sad thing which nobody would choose. The choice I am taking this year seems incredible when set against the backdrop of my strong drive to be socially accepted when I was younger. I don’t know what it will be like on Monday. I may be sad and feel isolated but I don’t think I will. If I were a TV network executive I would probably make a tacky reality show about ‘The woman who chose to be alone on Christmas’. Thankfully that isn’t the case but I do hope this piece might give support to others who feel similarly to me.
And I should say that I do not dislike any of my family members and neither am I estranged from them. I love them all very much and have sent them all gifts and cards and love but sometimes I need to have some ‘Jeanette time’. I’ll let you know how I go. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and purrs from Mr Kitty.