Last year’s Christmas was a tough one for my family, leaving me determined to create new and better memories this year. So I decided to host Christmas day myself, catered and served in my flat in Northfield.
Last year, two days after Christmas, I woke in the early hours of morning to a paramedic standing over me. My heart rate was in the low 200s and my lungs were barely functioning.
An hour later I was lying in Resus fighting for my life. Jump another three hours and I was saying goodbye to my girlfriend and my mother as I was taken into theatre – the surgeon wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he didn’t have time to waste figuring it out.
On New Year’s Eve, I rolled over in my hospital bed and watched the clock as it ticked over into 2016…
I was released from hospital just a week after I went in, but two weeks after I was discharged my mum was back in the same ward, this time visiting my grandmother who had also been rushed in very suddenly. One more week down the line, she had a call from a nurse to say that my nan had died.
With these dark memories overshadowing the festive season, I was determined to make 2016 the best possible Christmas for my family.
It had long been our Christmas tradition to wake up early and open our presents. My mum would go to church, and then my sister and I would meet her afterwards and walk 30 minutes to my grandmother’s house. The turkey crown would be in the oven when we arrived, and she’d be sitting in the living room watching TV.
It dawned on me, fairly early into 2016, that I would never again walk into my nan’s kitchen and smell the turkey cooking. I would never again walk through the double doors from the kitchen into her living room and see her watching Eastenders on catchup.
As sad as this realisation made me, I knew that my sense of loss would be nothing compared to that of my mother. Christmas had been ruined for her forever by the tragedies of the last, and the gaping hole in our annual tradition left by my nan’s departure would only serve to amplify her sadness.
I wanted to do something to change that; something quirky that would distract her from the worst of her emotions. At the very least I hoped it would take the stress of arranging the festivities off her plate – to be replaced by turkey!
That is how I decided to host our Christmas dinner myself, catered and served in halls. The festive bird roasted in the same oven that reheats my daily pizza, and then carved on the same table that has seen games of beer pong and of Ring of Fire a hundred times over.
When we’re younger Christmas is – rather selfishly – all about our own enjoyment. Our parents cook for us, they shower us with gifts, they even eat the cookies and milk that we leave out for Santa’s reindeer to keep the illusion going just one more year. They swallow down all the dairy despite knowing that they’re going to need all the room they can get for the deluge of food the following day.
As cliché as it sounds, the older we get the less Christmas becomes about receiving and the more it becomes about giving. Suddenly we want to spoil our loved ones, rather than being spoiled ourselves. Or at least, we’re willing to vie for a healthy balance of the two.
The presence of this role reversal was poignant to me when I woke up at 8am to start prepping the Christmas dinner. No longer was everything being done for me; the responsibility was on my own head now.
The first thing that I noticed about my Northfield version of Christmas was the hangover – certainly not something that I remember experiencing as an eight-year-old on Christmas day morning! The second was that putting your hand up the backside of a turkey with a hangover is not ideal.
After removing the innards of the turkey, I took half an hour to sit down and fight the urge to vomit whilst contemplating veganism. I then went to pick up my mother and my sister, both of whom conveniently live in Brighton.
In true student style, the sink is still full of washing up as I write – a full 28 hours after the meal. But in my defense the food coma was one to be reckoned with and roasting a turkey for 4 hours leaves some stains that you just don’t have the stomach to tackle when nursing a hangover… Particularly with a big meal threatening to make a reappearance all over the cheese board.
In many ways, Christmas in Halls was no different to Christmas at nan’s. There was Monopoly, there was turkey – and I’d even overcooked the veg. Being the one in charge was certainly a contrast, but it was one that I enjoyed. Seeing my mum smile and relax, one of the few times that I have seen her do either in 2016, was the best gift that I could have asked for.
My scenic distraction had worked. My nan was definitely not forgotten, but now her memory was a source of smiles and laughter rather than a reminder of her absence.
We toasted to her at the end of the meal, before mum insisted on helping me clean up. It may even have been the first time in my life that I have protested her cleaning up after me, but still she wouldn’t take no for an answer.
On the whole, Christmas in Northfield was a success. Every family has different Christmas traditions, and while I might only be a fresher in Halls once – I’ve at least carried on nan’s tradition of blackened broccoli. And none of us would change that for the world.