“Driving home for Christmas,” sang Chris Rea. “Oh I can’t wait to see those faces.” As the sun finally sets on the working year for many of us today, I can imagine plenty with be sharing these sentiments. Tomorrow motorways, highways and autoroutes will be chock-full as people return home for the holidays.
I shall be adding to the clog tomorrow morning when I take to Heathrow. It’s not home I’m headed to though. I am flying to a place as far south as the northern hemisphere will allow; somewhere as tropical as the festive season can be. I’ll be jetting away for Christmas and the only faces I can’t wait to see are the ones who will be procuring me rum, shrimp or sun lotion.
Abandoning home turf is controversial, primarily because of the guilt many people feel leaving an empty seat at the family dining table. To me though, skipping Christmas is a guilty pleasure I allow myself biennially. Like a football team, I do one Christmas at home and one away.
The planning usually starts in spring. The first thing I do is clear it with my mother. “Darling, in my eyes it’s just one less mouth to feed,” is often her response. Then it’s the question of possible travel companions. I am in the market only for the truly committed Yuletide-shirkers. Those that “could maybe fly off on Boxing Day” are quickly discarded. Being in the UK for Christmas Day is missing the point entirely. It’s then the matter of geography: climates that aren’t becoming to turkeys are preferred as are destinations where palms reign over pine. If it involves a long-haul flight then so much the better.
It’s not that I dislike Christmas. It’s simply that I wholeheartedly value its significance as a time to sit back, contemplate the year that’s passed and the future ahead. And the only way I can do that is sitting on a beach.
Perhaps to put it slightly more seriously: we’re all force-fed images of Christmas being a time of year when things are perfect. To many, it simply isn’t. As a child of divorce, this time of year fell foul about 15 years ago when my parents separated and 25 December simply hasn’t been the same since. The joy that Christmas brings can also be tinged with a certain sadness when things aren’t perfect. So take my advice: a glass of something with dark rum in it and an Ernest Hemingway in your hand certainly takes the edge off things. That’s the happiest Christmas I could imagine. And it sure beats sitting in traffic trying to get home.