As a childless woman, I'm fed up of people treating Christmas as a kids' holiday

As a childless woman, I'm fed up of people treating Christmas as a kids' holiday

December 23, 2021

Every year it gets worse. As shop shelves fill with mince pies and the streets twinkle with fairy lights, my heart soars – and then plummets. 

It’s not Christmas I’m dreading, but the constant stream of comments about how I obviously won’t be celebrating the holiday – because, apparently, not being a parent means you don’t enjoy the biggest day of the year.

‘You’re so lucky that you don’t have to bother making an effort for Christmas,’ says a friend over drinks one evening – her two children are at home with a babysitter. ‘I mean, you probably won’t even get a tree, will you?’

‘You must find Christmas very relaxing,’ suggests another friend, as he scours the internet for the toy his youngest simply has to have. ‘It’s not like you need to put much effort into buying presents, and you can have whatever you like for Christmas dinner.’

The last bit floored me. Was he seriously suggesting that people are only having a classic British Christmas dinner because their children insist on turkey and sprouts? 

What I find so astonishing is that these aren’t deliberate barbs from people trying to upset me – these are comments from friends, close colleagues and even family who have bought into the idea that Christmas is only for children. 

And they don’t mean grown-up children, as in adults spending the holiday with their parents. The idea is that it’s only worth making the effort for Christmas if there’s at least one actual child involved.

Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not just the besprogged who get in on the act – and to stop being so surprised when the child-free among us want to join in on the festive fun. 

Once, a child-free colleague was astonished when my order of crackers turned up at the office. He wouldn’t bother with the festivities, he proclaimed, if it weren’t for his nieces and nephews. Why was I clinging on to a celebration that clearly wasn’t for me any more?

It was certainly news to me that celebrating Christmas came with an expiry date

There are plenty of reasons, happy and sad, that someone won’t be spending Christmas with children. Maybe they’re joyfully child-free – after all, the Office for National Statistics predicts rising levels of childlessness in the future – or they simply aren’t ready for kids at the moment, or haven’t met the right person.

Perhaps they’re experiencing fertility problems, or they’re estranged from family. They could be separated and their ex is having the kids this time. They could be grandparents who aren’t seeing their kids for Christmas – because they want an adults-only celebration or because it’s the in-laws’ turn. 

As for me, I’ve always been ambivalent about having kids – I might consider the idea if I meet someone special who really wants them, but it’s just never been a priority for me.

Whatever the reason, it’s deeply insulting to suggest that people can’t have a special Christmas if there are no under-18s present. Why exactly is it necessary to gate-keep the festive season?

This isn’t a narrative that helps parents, either, as it brings a huge amount of pressure. A couple I know decided to effectively skip Christmas one year on the basis that they had a newborn who wouldn’t notice or care, and they were exhausted. An alarming number of family and friends pretty much accused them of child cruelty. 

I don’t have brothers or sisters, and while I have spent past Christmases with my wider family, nowadays I often spend it with just my closest relatives – no children among them.

By the reckoning of the Christmas-is-for-children lot, we should presumably gather in a decoration-free house for a quiet day watching non-festive television; perhaps exchanging gift-wrapped satsumas if we’re feeling daring.

But guess what? We go all out – and I love every child-free moment of it. 

My Christmas is filled with its own magical moments, from belting out festive favourites as we decorate the tree, to toasting with special-offer fizz on Christmas Eve. 

I enjoy debates (increasingly heated as more of that special-offer fizz is consumed) about which is the worst Christmas film. There are light-up decorations aplenty, carefully chosen presents, reindeer-shaped chocolates and, yes, Christmas dinner – even if we do have an annual argument about whether any of us actually likes turkey. 

After the horrors and uncertainties of the past 18 months, I’m more aware than ever that we’re so fortunate to be able to do all this.

Over the years I’ve also enjoyed adults-only Christmas’ with groups of child-free friends and just-the-two-of-us celebrations with then-partners. Same scenario: we still bothered with the details and had a wonderful time.

So please, don’t try to imply my Christmas – or indeed anyone’s who is child-free this year – is somehow less or lacking, just because there won’t be any children present. Why try to dim other people’s joy, particularly when joy has been in short supply for too long?

Some may view their child-free status as a reason to breathe a sigh of relief and step off the Christmas celebration carousel. Good for them. But that’s not what I choose – and I wish everyone could respect that.

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