A Different Christmas Day in London

by Mr B

When I think about Christmas Day, the first thing that pops into my head is 'family'. I think it's an international tradition, at least where Christmas is celebrated, that families come together on Christmas Day. And that's usually a very good thing. I've had many great Christmas Days with both my and my wife's family; some at our home, some at my parent's home, and some at the in-laws. Fortunately we all get along and over the years have negotiated the two family traditions into one. For example do we collectively eat the big Christmas feast at lunch-time or late afternoon? Do we open presents in a specific order, or is it just a free-for-all? The only place we struggle is with TV. And that's not trying to bring two opinions together, it's trying to reconcile everyone's different opinion. Should we watch a movie? Should we be watching something with more 'fibre'? Should the TV be on at all on Christmas Day? But we get through.

But I've also had some great Christmas Days without the family. The one that really stands out was December 25th 2002. I was on my own because I was flying to the US on Boxing Day for a two week holiday driving around California with an old friend from University. It seemed a bit pointless driving half way across the country for Christmas lunch, and then driving back again the same day so I could catch an early morning flight from Heathrow. However strong the logic, my Mum was concerned and insisted we had a fake Christmas Day a week earlier.

"Are you sure you're going to be OK on your own?".

"Yes I think I can manage it, I can always walk down to the local petrol station and buy a stale sandwich if I get hungry."

In retrospect I'm not sure that was the response she was looking for, but I was tucking into a huge plate of turkey, roast potatoes and all the trimmings, so my focus was elsewhere.

"Anyway," I continued "I am still unpacking boxes in my new flat, and I need to pack for the trip. I'll be fine".

As I drove home, I realised that in some strange way I was actually looking forward to a day without all kinds of imposed timings, regulations and traditions.  But then 'the kindness of strangers' kicked in. A very good friend called Rachel had left a message on my answer phone. (note: back in the dark ages of 2002, people still left messages on home answer phones as opposed to just calling the mobile phone, simply because mobile calls were still so expensive).

"Hi there, I was just telling my Mum that you are all alone at Christmas and she insists you come over for dinner with us on Christmas Eve and stay the night in her spare room - that way you won't wake up on Christmas Day on your own."

It hadn't crossed my mind that waking up in my nice new flat, on my own schedule, without needing to suddenly be presentable for friends, family or families of friends, was a problem, but I was drawn to the free dinner and I knew it would give my Mum slightly less cause for concern. And in fact I had a really fun evening, with spectacular food and drink, and it meant that after breakfast I experienced one of the unexpected joys of Christmas in London. There was no traffic. At all.

Driving home, it was as if I'd woken up in that movie "28 Days Later" where the whole population of London had disappeared (ok in that movie most of them were dead, so it was a little different). The streets were empty. I saw the majesty of London in a brand new way - without people, cars, buses and taxis. I could drive at my own speed, slowing down to savour views of Hyde Park, beautiful buildings, the stunning bridges across the Thames. I could drive down the embankment in one swoop, not needing to stop every 10 yards for a traffic jam. It was great. London is an absolutely amazing place on Christmas Day.

Of course it was also entirely closed, in that you can't even find a petrol station open to sell you a stale sandwich. But thankfully I was well prepared at home with all the ingredients to make a very un-Christmassy spaghetti bolognese.

And the rest of the day panned out just as enjoyably. I got back to my flat, unpacked all my boxes whilst watching 3 great comedy movies on DVD (Dumb & Dumber remains an all-time classic), and at no point had to 'go and lie down because my stomach hurt from eating and drinking too much'. I avoided the Queen's speech, I avoided any forced polite conversation, and I avoided any family arguments.

I wouldn't say it was my best Christmas Day, because it wasn't. And even if it was, I'd never write that in a bog because my family might read it and every Christmas from now on would be ruined with the silent suggestion that I would be happier elsewhere. But I'm glad that I was able to spend one Christmas doing exactly what I wanted, without compromise, with the building anticipation of what turned out to be one of the most fun holidays I had ever had.

Mr B is a father of two and writes under a pseudonym to avoid embarrassing them.

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You May Not Know

Sir Henry Cole commissioned the first commercial christmas card in the mid 19th Century. The card was illustrated by John Callcott Horsley and showed a family drinking wine. He sold out of his first 2000 print run.