This Christmas Day, I’ll start the day at 7am, manically screaming at my brother and sisters that “Santa’s been!” and gather them in my bedroom to open our stockings. Less than ten minutes later, we’ll have a vicious argument about who was in the shower for too long and used up all the hot water, which will lead to my brother and I relentlessly teasing my sister until she cries. I’ll go downstairs and demand my mum makes my breakfast immediately, while my dad tells me off for being a lazy brat. Then, I’ll stare at my phone and sulk, whispering “merry fucking Christmas” under my breath just loud enough for him to hear, but quiet enough for me to deny it ever happened.
We will then repeat every hour of the day until someone cries. Forgivable, maybe, if I was an over-excited 14-year old hyped up on festive feelings. But I’m 32.
There’s just something about Christmas Eve that makes you regress 18 years, isn't there? It somehow makes me feel I have the right to act like a moody teenager, and I’m not ashamed to say it’s the best feeling ever. Who hasn’t gone home and slumped onto the sofa, using their mum as a delivery system for endless cups of tea and biscuits from the special Christmas biscuit box?
One friend WhatsApp-ed me this week to say she can’t wait to dump her one-year-old son on her mum and go and watch a new film when she’s back in our hometown. See? Even if you have a kid, you act like one.
The thing is: every year, Christmas is the same in our house. We’re not one of those families who takes it in turns to host the day or goes out for Christmas lunch. I don’t split the years between my boyfriend’s house and my parents, and while the guests might change each year – past highlights include a total stranger with the norovirus (long story) and my sister’s then-boyfriend who hangover-vomited directly onto the breakfast table – it’s always me, my brother and sister and my parents, year after year, stuck in a weird overheated, short-tempered, turkey-packed Groundhog Day. The same breakfast, the same lunch (always Delia Smith’s turkey recipe and apricot stuffing, always), the same routine, the same arguments and therefore the exact same behaviour as when I was six years old.
It’s not just my family that gets it either, it happens with all my hometown friends too. I’ve been mates with these girls since I was three, through my teenage years and into adulthood. But no matter how much time passes, we'll still be telling stories about bad boyfriends in college, about weird teachers at school, about that horrible time when we all had shit hair. Ok, so maybe we’ve swapped getting drunk and going out dressed as sexy Santa/ sexy Elf/ sexy Reindeer on Christmas Eve for a sedate lunch attended by husbands and babies, but still, I’m home! I’m a teenager again! It’s almost my RIGHT to get so drunk that I get back from the pub and eat the entire Christmas ham (chased down with a ball of mozzarella, eaten like an apple) before being sick in a bucket and going to bed, safe in the knowledge that Santa will clear up the mess when he puts my stocking at the end of the bed!
It doesn’t help that my parents will forever treat me like I’m 12. Before I leave the house for the traditional (compulsory) Boxing Day walk, my mum will always ask if I’ve been to the toilet, as if at age 32, I haven’t quite got the hang of my own bladder yet. If I sleep in until 9am, my dad will come into my room and tell me I’m missing the best part of the day – a common parent myth: show me the official research on why 8am is so fucking great – despite the fact that the other 51 weeks of the year, I’m out of the house by 6.30am every day.
Maybe it’s because life is so unpredictable, and feels so unreliable, that I act like this. It’s comforting to make someone else responsible for my welfare just five days a year. Maybe it’s because being an adult is so tiring, with all the forms and permits and contracts and admin, the broken boilers in the rented houses and the constant fear of being made redundant, or your boyfriend running off with a 19-year-old he met on a dating app you didn’t even know existed yet, the social anxiety and the fear of everything.
Or maybe, after a year of being polite to passive aggressive colleagues, flakey friends and random strangers who refuse to just move down the bloody train carriage, it’s nice to say exactly what you’re thinking out loud. You can be rude and unreasonable and moody and a total nightmare, and your parents still have to be your parents. And anyway, it’s nice to keep up Christmas traditions, isn’t it? Even if that tradition is treating a blood relative like a servant and drunkenly chomping your way through a lump of meat that weighs more than your head.