Worst. Christmas. Ever. The chaos of hosting your family for the first time
Married and with a baby, Tania Edwards thought it was high time she hosted the family festivities. But chaos was coming…
‘Against all advice, we moved in to our new house at lunchtime on Christmas Eve…’
As a family we always managed to avoid festive disasters. When our dog was seen running towards the woods with a Christmas turkey in his teeth, our turkey was still in the fridge.
But a couple of years ago, in my thirties and newly married, I realised it was my turn to host Christmas. I thought I was ready. Sure, no one can deck out a 90-foot tree like my mother, but I wanted to try. I’ve inherited her excesses. Before we were married, I smuggled a whole Iberico ham across London to surprise Sanj because I knew he liked prosciutto. He looked horrified, and clearly had no idea how to house half a pig in his bachelor pad, but I couldn’t have been more pleased with myself.
What I didn’t have a grip on were the Christmas basics. I had no idea about the careful planning that makes it all look easy. If I’m honest, I was distracted. We had a new baby. And there were a few other things that promised to make this first Christmas together tricky. Specifically, our house wasn’t habitable. As the completion date pushed past October, I was a woman possessed, determined to make it happen.
Then, between packing and wrapping in December, I thought I’d help my husband with his paperwork. He had put aside a large pile of mail and redundant paperwork to be shredded. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice that pile. Instead, I scooped up all his most vital documents and confidently destroyed them. Every time he thought about his missing decade, he went a strange colour and lost the power of speech. I couldn’t understand why a small administrative hiccup should spoil Christmas – but it threatened to. Meanwhile, against all advice, we moved in to our new house at lunchtime on Christmas Eve.
We raced to the pub car park to buy a tree, but the guys had packed up. One dejected specimen leaned against a small sign that read “Take me”. We did.
My mum and stepdad arrived. They congratulated us, cuddled the baby and cheerfully helped us unpack.
I tried to look gracious as things were put where they weren’t supposed to be. I wanted to ask Sanj for reassurance but suspected he was brooding about his paperwork again.
Popping Champagne corks announced Christmas Day. We unwrapped the baby’s presents while he gazed at the crooked tree, buckling beneath the weight of its fairy lights. Then my husband decanted a bottle of Margaux. My family’s favourite wine is “poured quickly”.
For the first time in years my mother and stepfather had nothing to do. They tried to look positive about it. While my husband cooked, we watched the wine breathe. As we sat down for lunch, surrounded by boxes, the sunlight streamed in through the glass doors, and sparkled through the skylights. It was the final indignity. We could have been on Bondi Beach. I couldn’t believe our kitchen was only appropriate for the wrong 364 days a year.
As we pulled the ragtag crackers I’d found late the night before, I quickly realised my family can pour any wine quickly. I tried to remember what we normally did after lunch. Trivial Pursuits and music, of course, but they weren’t an option, as I had no idea where anything was.
I recoiled like a pinged spring when anyone moved in case they scratched the fresh paintwork. In the sitting room, I had triumphantly torn the plastic sheeting off our new sofa. Now I stared morbidly as my family, wine glasses in hand, squeezed onto it. At my mother’s house you always have the feeling that if someone sprays the walls with Claret she’ll toast a reason to redecorate. I’m not sure my neurotic pacing was having the same effect.
Like millions of other people at Christmas, my only hope was to get through it. Friends came and went on Boxing Day. They laughed at the tree and cooed at the baby, and didn’t notice I was having a nervous breakdown.
A year later and we really were ready for Christmas. I even managed to persuade my friends and family to come back. The mania had passed. The boxes were unpacked. Yes, the light still streamed in too brightly on Christmas Day, but now it showed up the cracks and chips that every house needs before you can relax in it. The only arguments were about whether it’s necessary to be over the top at Christmas. This is an argument I’m winning: and the answer is, yes.