By Linda Kupecek
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for a cozy Christmas during which people cuddle up in front of the fireplace and exude good will like a Hallmark movie. Year after year, this notion of an ideal Christmas is imprinted on us with relentless evangelical devotion, extolling syrupy, velvet perfection. Theoretically, I guess I approve.
I wonder, though, am I the only person in the entire world who has kissed that myth goodbye and moved on?
In my opinion, being alone at Christmas is not the end of the world. Some of us are alone because our families have passed on or moved away. Others, by happenstance. Or, in the case of those of us who are older and single, the younger relatives may just not know what to do with us. An older, single woman is like the elephant in the room. Younger people don’t realize that the elephant may be perfectly happy to sip chardonnay and smile beatifically. And then there are those of us who willfully, rebelliously, choose our own company.
Much as I loved my family, I don’t mind being alone over the holidays. In fact (forgive me if I sound like a heretic) it is rather exhilarating. Freedom and gratitude are the two words that spring to mind.
Once you deflect the horrified lamentations of pity from well-meaning people who are eager to let you know that you must be suffering terribly, you can settle into your very own Christmas, not the Christmas that others have imposed on you. I am not Scrooge. I am somebody who has spent too many years trying to live up to the expectations of others, and now need please only myself.
Sure, I miss my loved ones, but I don’t miss all the other holiday baggage: the pressure, the hysterics, the culinary panic, the blubbering into the mashed potatoes when the lumps won’t go away, the mystery of salvaging the mashed potatoes when a drunken guest plops their face into the bowl, the back strain from heaving an overweight turkey from counter to oven and back again, the backed up kitchen sinks, the family tensions, the insults, the acquaintances who should have sought therapy before seating themselves at my table, the two drunken uncles who duked it out in the snow in the front yard at midnight (I am sure the neighbours dined out on this story for years) and my own hysteria over the entire production of Christmas dinner. I have been known to collapse on the kitchen counter in tears from the stress of trying to slam a dinner on the table by myself, while the dinner guests waited hopefully for whatever miracle I might produce. Years ago, one of my friends, with a host of guests expected in a few hours at her door, for a dinner which she was obliged to make whether she wanted to or not, packed her bags, jumped into her car, and just drove away. I think the catch phrase might have been, “I am tired as hell, and I just won’t take it anymore.” I get it.
So then, consider Christmas Alone. A few years ago, I promised myself I will never roast another turkey. Ever. So far, so good. Fingers crossed.
Instead, I can choose my solitary feast. On Christmas Eve, I opt for a platter of smoked salmon, pickled asparagus, cream cheese and bagels. I yearn for hurka, the Hungarian sausage of my youth, but no way am I going to try to replicate my father’s recipe. On Christmas Day, I roast chicken with a rich glaze, either maple syrup or ginger marmalade. No stuffing because after years of struggling to make stuffing, I am off the hook! No distant cousins are going to sit around my table, looking at me mournfully because I am no good with stuffing and gravy. I don’t have to mash potatoes because I am perfectly happy with boiled or roast potatoes, rather than endure the suffering of mash mash mash into oblivion. I can make crisp asparagus, or fresh sliced tomatoes with olive oil and oregano, not soggy brussels sprouts which I always managed to turn into wet swamp-like balls. Sometimes, if am up for the extra effort, I make chicken paprikas with Hungarian noodles (nokkedli) swimming in rich, rosy sour cream. I can make whatever I want, without having to please anybody but myself. No more assorted guests with different tastes and genes who won’t touch the yams, disdain the salad, pick at the turkey, and turn up their noses at my gingerbread dessert. I put holiday jazz on the stereo and avoid the sappy Christmas carols that everybody else seems to love.
As a writer, I enjoy my solitude. I have yet to sit in my living room and sob into my Santa Claus apron because I am alone. One of the great strengths in growing older is the realization that you are Enough. That you are fine on your own. And that you can drift through Christmas Day with no schedule, no expectations, no myths to fulfil or follow.
So, Merry Christmas to the happy families around the fireplace. I wish you well. And Merry Christmas to those of us who have created our own peace on earth.