Young Ceci and her brother basking in the Christmas magicAuthor's own

In August, a plumber discovered a leak under the floor of my parents’ house. A big one. Under the tiles in the downstairs toilet. Then, he discovered another leak, this time under the tiles in the kitchen. And then another one. And another one. After visits from surveyors, insurers, and supposed ‘leak experts’, we were told that we would have to move out of our house for three months so that the tiles could be taken up and the floor dried out.

You’ll be back in by Christmas, we were told.

“My green glittery Budapest bauble, bought on holiday with an ex-boyfriend a few years ago, remains in the attic”

Christmas is less than a week away and we are not back in our house. The holes in the floor have been filled in but there are no tiles and no kitchen and all the doors are still stacked up in the conservatory, one on top of the other, instead of on hinges in the doorframes where they belong. It looks like it will be the end of January, or even the start of February, before we are instructed that it’s safe to move in again.

Luckily, the plumbing catastrophe was covered by our insurance, which gave us somewhere to stay until the leaks are fully fixed, but not being at home means this Christmas will undoubtedly be different. It is a lovely house, the one we are currently living in, and we are fortunate that we have a place to be at all, but what it lacks is the things that usually make Christmas so Christmassy. We do not have our normal decorations, the ones collected by various family members over years and years, reminding us of people we once knew and places we once visited. My green glittery Budapest bauble, bought on holiday with an ex-boyfriend a few years ago, remains in the attic. We do not have the cookie cutters I use to make gingerbread men. We do not have the wooden board that my Dad carves turkey on. We do not have an advent candle on the kitchen table or a real fir tree in the living room or a wreath on the front door. I have my Christmas jumper, which is dark blue with stripes of white and pink, but it is folded into a suitcase somewhere and I am yet to work out which one.

“I am learning that Christmas is quite possibly the worst time to go through a breakup”

On top of being in a house that is not home, I had my heart broken at the beginning of this month. After five months of togetherness, the Christmas gift I received from the guy I was dating was restored singledom. I have been heartbroken twice before, but never at Christmas. I am learning that Christmas is quite possibly the worst time to go through a breakup. Love Actually is screening on every TV channel, and All I Want For Christmas Is You is playing on every radio station. Mistletoe is hung from the ceiling, in cloakrooms and restaurants and the living room of friends I visit. Couples in coats and scarves and bobble hats breathe in each other’s clouds of warm air. Biscuits are heart-shaped and department stores are full of shiny displays of ribbon tied boxes with labels that read ‘for the one I love’.

So in the library down the road from the new house, I sit and think about what I want for Christmas. I am supposed to be writing my dissertation, but instead, I am writing a mental wish-list. I want to move out of this temporary house full of suitcases and boxes and be in my parents’ house like always. I want to spend time with the ex that things are so suddenly over with, to do all the things we had planned before it went pear-shaped. I want to go to the events that have been cancelled for Covid reasons, theatre shows and drinks with friends and New Year’s Eve parties in the centre of London. I want to eat an entire Terry’s chocolate orange in one sitting, just unwrap it and eat all the segments one after the other.


Mountain View

My heart-shaped life

I know that, except for the chocolate orange, these are not things that will happen. And yet, somehow, it still feels like Christmas. I am happy, full of the same red and green joy as every other year. It is like the end of The Grinch, by Dr Seuss, where all the Whos in Whoville stand round and sing and smile and laugh, even though the Grinch has stolen all of their gifts and decorations: ‘He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came! Somehow or other it came just the same!’

With the new restrictions coming in to try and prevent the further spread of the new Covid variant, the festive season might look a little different for all of us this year. What matters is that, even if we are not in our normal surroundings, even if we are not celebrating with the people we expected to or in the ways we thought we would, because of distance, or dumping, or some other disaster, Christmas will arrive anyway. And it will be as wonderful as normal. This time of year is about remembering what is most important, about being thankful for the things we do have. I don’t need any of the things on my list. Not really. Although I still think I’ll find a way to eat a whole chocolate orange.