Slouching around in her comfiest pyjamas and overindulging in Terry's Chocolate Oranges while watching TV, Holly Brockwell's plans for Christmas Day pretty much read like a carbon copy of how millions of us experience December 25th every year. Except for one thing: Unlike many households up and down the country, Brockwell won't be surrounded by her loved ones.
For the second consecutive year, the 31-year-old has chosen to spend Christmas alone at her home in Stratford in London. Brockwell admits she finds Christmas Day too stressful, and prefers to spend it on her own. “My family dramas could reasonably be described as Jerry Springer-level, and when it kicks off, it really kicks off,” explains Brockwell, who runs tech site Gadgette. “Having had both lovely and terrible Christmases, the fear of having a bad one starts creeping up in about October, so by December, I'm on eggshells worrying about what stupid thing I might say or do, or how things might go wrong.”
Becoming the owner of a kitten last year spurred Brockwell to stay put in London on Christmas Day. “I realised this was a perfect excuse to stay at home and do my own thing – and it was so refreshing,” says Brockwell, who still caught up with her family over the festive period. “There's plenty of time to see everyone, give presents and be merry.” After spending the day cocooned in her lounge, in the evening Brockwell indulged in a luxurious bath, read the book she bought herself and cuddled up with her pets. “I didn't regret it at all,” she says. “It felt like a break.”
Enduring a childhood of abuse, Sam Espensen says Christmas for her was always a tightrope of high emotion and drunkenness. “Due to my upbringing I have CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder), which means I get quite bad anxiety, and I struggle in a high-energy chaotic Christmas environment,” admits the Bristol-based cofounder of drinks brand Espensen Spirit.
Due to this – and owning an attentive dachshund – the 44-year-old admits she's spent a few Christmases on her own over the past 15 years. “I have many lovely friends who invite me to spend it with them, and sometimes I have done that and it's been wonderful. But this year, given that I have had no real time off since September last year, and started two businesses since then, I'm going to need some alone time,” says Espensen, who plans to lounge around at home, grazing on food and watching films.
Emma Whitehair has an enviable Christmas lined up. While temperatures in the UK will no doubt be in the zero zone, the PR agency managing director will be flying off to India to spend Christmas at a beautiful resort in Goa. Her loose plans for December 25th include yoga, meditation, swimming and reading on the beach. “I like to make the most of the only period of time there’s little happening on the work front, to really get away,” says Whitehair, 43. “The change of scenery gives me the reboot I need to return feeling refreshed in the New Year.” Whitehair's only immediate family is her father, and she says he will be spending Christmas Day with his partner.
“I no longer feel obliged to play the dutiful daughter – politely joining him to visit extended family for lunch,” admits Whitehair, who lives in London. “Don’t get me wrong – it’s always lovely to see them, but I just couldn’t help feeling like a waif and stray, being taken in at Christmas.”
The last time Jessie Denby, 95, spent Christmas Day with another person was when her husband was alive 20 years ago. “I'm always on my own on Christmas Day,” admits Denby, who lives in Eastleigh in Hampshire. “I have one son who lives and works in the Middle East who I see a couple of times a year. I don't mind. I'm quite used to it. It's like any other day. Just me and the cat.”
Denby admits she's not for the fanfare surrounding Christmas. “There's no Christmas meal,” she says. “I couldn't be bothered for one thing. There's no Christmas decorations, I've told people not to send me a Christmas card.” Denby says she couldn't care less about spending Christmas Day alone. “I don't mind a bit.”
While there are huge expectations from society that Christmas should be a 'family occasion', the reality is that gathering with relatives isn't for everyone. “Many people have an imagined and unrealistic ideal, which may be drawn from classic film and television programmes, adverts or from childhood memories,” says consultant clinical psychologist Dr. Rachel Andrew. It can be a positive decision not to conform to this.
“For some people, it can be a relief to spend Christmas alone,” says Andrew, also co-author of The Supermum Myth. “For those of us who are naturally shy, introverted or socially anxious, to be alone can feel like a comforting, safe place. For others who have suffered loss or bereavement or a family breakdown, spending time alone can mark the day as different and significant, if this is what you want to do. Being alone can offer the opportunity to ignore the day, or mark it in whatever way you want, which can be hugely empowering depending on your circumstances.”
While we may not yet be as old and wise as Denby, perhaps her take on Christmas is one to uphold. “I suppose I could join in with something,” she tells me. “But I am very old and I have done a lot of funny things in my life. I've been there, seen that, and got the T-shirt.”