I’m swerving my family this Christmas – and having Friendsmas instead

I was born on Christmas Day, so every year, even at 30, I get the same old Jesus jokes and the same old questions. “It’s a bit rubbish, isn’t it? Do you get double presents?” Our family Christmases have always been pretty by the book: dinner, presents, a board game, arguments about who’s really winning said board game. But although I love them, I’ve decided that after three decades on this planet, it’s time to try something a little bit different on 25 December.

So instead of heading back to Birmingham this year, I’m going to hang tight in London for my first Friendsmas. I rent with one of my best mates, and we’ll be hosting around half a dozen for Christmas dinner. The WhatsApp chat (which is called “Friendsmas 2023” – groundbreaking) is very much up and running (and slowly taking over my life), so the “doers” of the group can plan all the food and drink, who’s buying what and where we’ll go for that pre-dinner walk. We’re all pretty determined, you see, that it’ll be an extremely wholesome day. One of my friends has moved back to Galway, in the west of Ireland, but he’s making a flying visit because he can’t cope with the Fomo. And there are a few people who have family based in London, so they’ll sneak off and join us later in the day, too.

This branch of my friendship group is mainly gay men and women, so there’s always been a bit less of an emphasis on those traditional milestones, that idea that you must achieve certain things – marriage, kids – by a certain age. And I’ve always loved that. But there’s still a slight taboo about spending Christmas away from home, especially if you’re not part of a couple. When you’re in a long-term relationship, it’s normal to do Christmas with the in-laws every other year, but single people often feel this obligation to go back to the family instead of doing their own thing.

Everyone always thinks, “Oh, my mum would kill me, I don’t know how it would go down if I made my own plans.” One of my friends joining on the day is 39: he owns a flat, he’s senior in his career, but he was still nervous about how he’d break the Friendsmas news to his parents. That shows how much respect people have for their families, which is great, but I value my friendships too. My friends provide a different type of support and different kinds of advice – it shouldn’t just be a case of trying to squeeze them in for a quick pint on those weird in-between days between Christmas and new year.

So how did my family react when I dropped this bombshell? I think they’d probably seen it coming: my mum over the years would always tell me to bring friends round on Christmas Day but of course, they could never come (because, well, it’s Christmas Day). I already knew that this year would be a quieter one, as my brother and his partner are with his in-laws. So, when my mum sent a message saying that my cousin had invited us round for dinner, I replied with “Oh, I’ve got news…” Cue awkward silence in the family group chat. Almost immediately, I piled in with the reassurances, telling her that it’s not a judgement on how much I enjoy spending time with family: I just want to try something different.

Luckily, both my mum and dad got that. It helps that they’ve already met most of the group: they made a trip down to London last year when my friend invited them to my surprise 30th birthday party and got to see everyone all together (I’m not great with surprises, and when I walked into the restaurant, my dad was there but I couldn’t spot who he was sat with: I obviously assumed he was having an affair, as any good catastrophist would do, but of course, he was with mum). So I think their view is: he has such love for his mates, so why wouldn’t he want to spend this time of year with them as well?

More traditional parents might say, “Well, it’s not like you’re spending it with your wife, kids and your in-laws, so that’s not a valid reason,” but they’re very open-minded people. I’ll be giving them a call on the day to get the lowdown on what’s going on, and which family member brought up that embarrassing story again. I’m sure a friend or two may even interrupt my birthday chat with a chaotic “Merry Christmas” in the background. We’ve already had our early Christmas weekend, too: I came back to Birmingham, where we exchanged presents, played crazy golf with my brother, his partner and my nephew and niece. My extended family even made the effort to come over a week earlier for my birthday too, so I’ve not been totally cut out yet.

It’s already interesting to see how people are planning to bring a few of their own family traditions to the table. Having a Jamaican mum means we rightly always have rice and peas on the Christmas dinner table, so I’ll miss that for sure. But on the other hand, I guess I finally get to try Nigella’s ham in Coca-Cola, and a mandarin posset my mate found on TikTok. You win some, you lose some. We’ve not really thought too much about presents. To be honest, I don’t think anyone wants to watch their mates bankrupt themselves over Christmas gifts in a cost of living crisis. Perhaps we’ll push the boat out and just put the heating on for the whole day as a treat for everyone, so they don’t have to turn up wearing two jumpers.

I’ll be giving my parents a call on the day to get the lowdown on what’s going on

(Molly Benge Illustration)

I do feel a tiny bit wistful about missing out on some Christmas TV: I usually end up sitting down for something like Strictly as my parents will put terrestrial TV on in the background (although we draw the line at Mrs Brown’s Boys…). But, as any true fellow “real housewife of Clapton” will know, terrestrial TV is a thing of the past, so I’ll just have to check X (formerly known as Twitter) that evening to see who’s been murdered in EastEnders.

On Christmas Eve, I’d also normally go to a local pub with my friends from home – and everyone always wants to buy you a drink when you’re born on Christmas Day. There were a fair few times, in my twenties, when I almost ruined Christmas, waking up in my childhood room with a banging headache (luckily my parents have redecorated, but I can still see a few remnants – if I open a drawer I’ll still see every Aston Villa kit I’ve ever owned), and thinking, “Oh God, not a whole day of people saying I look tired…” But this year, I’ll probably wake up feeling pretty fresh, as people won’t have been trying to force pints down my throat the night before. See, I told you it’s going to be wholesome. Someone suggested we could even go to St Paul’s for the Christmas Eve carol service, which would really surprise my family. We did miss the pre-sale though, so if anyone’s got guest list, give me a shout.

Christmas is quite a reflective period: choosing to spend that time with friends, and making a different sort of memory with them, means a lot to me. And when I’ve mentioned my plans to other mates, plenty of them have admitted they’re a bit jealous. Maybe next year, there’ll be a fair few more around the table at Friendsmas – although I probably won’t be one of them. If I tell my family I’m doing two Christmases in London in a row, I’m not sure they’ll be quite so forgiving…

As told to Katie Rosseinsky