The festive season used to conjure painful memories for Katie Glass. Now she enjoys not having anyone to answer to.
When I was younger, Christmas was agony. I was a teenager when my family fell apart: within a year, my mum and stepdad separated, I moved out of the family home and my relationship with them disintegrated. A few years later, my father died. During that time I found anything family-related difficult. And Christmas was unbearable.
For most of the year I got by without family. On birthdays I made my own fun with friends, I bought my own eggs at Easter and avoided Mother’s Day. But December — when Christmas descended, the shops shut and my diaspora of friends scattered home — always felt like the cruellest month. The festive season, after all, is about family. Everything, from the mince pies in Tesco to children’s toys in shop windows and adverts featuring happy families scrabbling for their favourite Quality Street, was a sad reminder of what I had lost. Some years I went to the family homes of friends, others were spent with extended family, and I always had fun. Not having my close family around meant I built relationships with other people, which I was grateful for. But there was always a moment — when they were arguing over their gran’s plum pudding recipe or snuggling up to watch EastEnders — when I’d have to sneak off with something in my eye and the feeling of missing my mum.
I thought I was doomed to hate it for ever. But, over time, my attitude changed. It helped that for years I worked in hospitality. I’d volunteer to do as many shifts as I could and spend December 25 frantically ferrying roasts, then getting drunk with the chefs. There’s nothing like serving squabbling families to put your situation into perspective. But mostly, among the ragtag crew drawn to catering, I didn’t feel like such a misfit. I found friends with their own reasons for not going home. Among journalists that also turned out to be true. And gradually, instead of hating it, I began to embrace my freedom. Now some of my favourite Christmases are the ones I’ve spent with friends.
There are advantages to a family-free festive season. The biggest relief is you can be yourself. You don’t need to worry about how much you drink or revealing your true thoughts about Brexit. You don’t need to mind your Ps and Qs, as I was reminded when I spent last year with my ex’s parents and got told off for “swearing like a sailor” by his mum.