I woke the usual time this morning, and it took me a few moments to realise it was Christmas Day. It seemed much as usual. It was quiet outside and the light pale. There were two messages on my phone. One was from a friend overseas, and the other from one of my nephews and I responded to both. Then I did just as I would on any normal day. I fed Rigby and let him out. I made a flat white for myself. And I went back to bed to catch up with the news and social media on my iPad, and then to read.
It’s funny how your mind plays upon you at such times. This a perfectly acceptable and pleasant way to spend a morning. The problem is that it’s Christmas morning and even as I read I could recall the dozens of years when I would be with up with my family bright and early as the kids (including me, as a kid) would tear into their presents. We’d look on, Christmas carols on in the background, a festive cheer in our heart, and a glass of bubbles in our hands. I knew something similar to that was happening all over Australia at that moment, and soon much of the world.
It’s not what I had that that weighed on me, it was what I didn’t have.
To be fair, it’s half by choice. This year, as others, I’ve had invitations to share Christmas celebrations. As most years, I’ve politely declined. Christmas is a time of rituals and family. You might not see some of your family from one Christmas to the next, but on that day you pick up just were you left it. You know how it works because you’ve done it so often with these people. You slip into your part, knowing it backwards, because this is who you are in your family. You know by rote the traditions, the schedule, even much of the conversation. It’s comfortable and easy and a day where you can just relax and be grateful.
I can’t just insert myself into in a situation like that – no matter how welcoming my hosts are – because while I may not be a stranger to them, I’m a stranger to their rituals. Whether I’m there or not makes no difference to their experience of it, regardless of their affection. I’m welcomed, but redundant. And for me, I’m looking in on something that I once had myself and the reminder of it only grates. There’s no way that the Christmas celebrations of others can nourish me in the same way that our own celebrations once did, and looking upon it the absence grows keener. It’s easier for me to do nothing than it is to pretend otherwise.
I hope that doesn’t sound churlish. I’m grateful to those who think of me at this time of year. And it probably sounds sadder than it should. I’m aware of what I’m missing, and it gives me a hollow feeling. I can hear the kids next door now. But it’s only what I’m missing that ails me, not what I have.
It’s a gentle feeling, more a sense of waste than it is of loss. I know it could be many times worse, and know there are many thousands who have nothing on this day. And I know that there are firefighters out there giving up their Christmas with family to fight fires on behalf of all of us.
I’m up now and the few, modern rituals I have are being played out. Once I was dressed, I took Rigby for his walk. On Christmas morning I normally take him down the beach, but the railway crossing has been blocked off. We walked the other way, looping back up to the main road. Yesterday, it was chaos. There were traffic jams coming out the supermarket carpark. Today the streets were empty. It was quiet. The odd car went by, a single pedestrian, and all the shops bar one were closed.
I’ve since had a piece of egg-nog and white chocolate cheesecake for breakfast while I opened my present (from my nephews and niece). I gave Rigby his Christmas bone. I might open a bottle of bubbles in a moment. As usual, I’ll use the occasion to cook up a feast. After that, unlike previous years, I plan to work – to write. Then it will be Boxing Day, and catching up with the woman who invited me to be with her today.
Unfortunately, my plans to go down Wye River later in the week have been aborted as my dog-minder had to fly out abruptly to visit her sick father. Instead I’ll get my rest and read plenty and write, and may even go onto work for a day. I have no interest in NYE at this stage – I would’ve been away for that – but I’m sure I’ll rouse myself to some effort. My main priority is to recharge my batteries, and maybe even finish the final draft of my first novel. You never know though, anything could happen.
Merry Christmas to you all. I hope your heart is full to bursting.