We put up our Christmas tree last weekend. There was a degree of resignation to it, I suppose, or maybe just an acknowledgement of something we’ve known deep down for quite a while but only recently accepted: we’re really not going anywhere this year.
This will only be the second Christmas we’ve spent in Brighton. The first was in 2006, when the UK Home Office still had my passport and our plan to spend Christmas in Ireland was thwarted. But good friends from Germany were in Brighton for Christmas that year, and another Brighton friend was on his own, so we all had a “Friendsmas” celebration instead, with lots of food, drink and Texas hold ‘em (we were obsessed with poker that year—Jeremy and I had recently bought a new television, and we would stay up late watching professional poker matches on TV).
The only other Christmas I remember not spending with family was in Freiburg in 1996. That was the first time I bought a Christmas tree and ornaments, and the first time Jeremy and I had to make our own Christmas dinner. We tried to cook a teeny-tiny roast beef in our toaster oven and blew most of the ancient screw-in fuses for our flat. The only room that still had electricity was the bathroom, so we moved the toaster oven in there to finish cooking the little roast. Then we trudged through the bitterly cold city to the Tante Emma automat across town, a big vending machine that sold everything under the sun, including (thank goodness) replacement fuses. (Incidentally, that automat was a lifesaver during my years in Freiburg. It was open around the clock, something that was unheard-of in Germany at the time—a country where shops closed relatively early even on weekdays, and at noon on Saturdays, and wouldn’t open at all on Sundays, and remained resolutely shut for days on end over Christmas.) A Canadian friend was in Freiburg for Christmas that year as well, and we spent some of the holiday with her, a fellow stray a long way from home.
But this year it’s really going to be just Jeremy and me. Traveling to the States for the holidays was out of the question, and over the past few months it became clear that even the short hop to Ireland was going to be too risky for everyone involved. So last weekend Jeremy climbed into the loft and dragged down the artificial tree I bought back in 2014. On a strictly personal level, 2014 was even worse than 2020, and I bought the tree in a desperate attempt to bring some joy and light to a very dark year that had weighed terribly, terribly heavily on us. I surprised Jeremy with the tree that year, putting it up and decorating it while he was at work. I thought he might be nonchalant about it, but when he came home that evening and saw it all lit up, he smiled broadly and said, “You made Christmas!”, and his joy filled my heart with joy, too.
Since we’re usually always traveling over Christmas we generally don’t bother dragging down the tree, and instead I hang a few ornaments on our long-suffering living room ficus. But this year all the decorations are on display. We still have those original ornaments from Germany: pretty silver-white glass baubles with a sparkly snow scene, traditional straw stars, a collection of little plastic musical instruments, and a big bronze star for the top of the tree. They’ve been joined by ornaments from my parents, from Jeremy’s mom and from friends: classic ornaments, handmade ornaments, Star Wars ornaments, ornaments with our names on them, and even more miniature musical instruments. And we have multiple strings of fairy lights, stockings hanging from the mantlepiece, candles around the fireplace, and my usual bowl of stars. Jeremy says it’s our “grotto”. It’s certainly very cozy.
There will be no Baileys by the fire with doggies in Ireland this year, no Christmas walks along the San Pedro river in Arizona, no giggling with my little niece in San Diego, not even socializing with friends here in Brighton (other than maybe a fresh-air stroll or outdoor hot toddy somewhere). We’re truly on our own, making our own Christmas. We’ll have Baileys by our own fire (sans doggies), and video chats with family, and too much food for two people, and we’ll watch movies and play music and muster all of the sparkle and light and warmth that we can to see out the end of this long, lonely year.