I'm ok with it. Various people are around, so I probably won't fall down my stairs and lie there until I freeze to death as the dog whines gently and places tennis ball after tennis ball on my cooling, broken corpse. I can do interesting, frugal things with small tins of tuna and lentils, and curse the dog and do some writing. I'll have the tiny, tepid glow of virtue to keep me warm when the four hours of daylight are over. Doesn't that sound festive, boys and girls!
It's fine, really. Without the boys, it doesn't seem to matter much and I know they will be happy in a giant nest of cousins and wrapping paper and things that go bleep. I think my ritualistic delight in Christmas got a bit broken anyway the first year after mum died, when we just didn't bother, and it felt weirdly liberating - a bit transgressive and grown up. Since then, I can only think of two years in seven when I actually had a proper Christmas dinner, and even they were French ones, which don't really count, because ewww, foie gras and that nasty, sweet, flaccid toast, no roast potatoes and gravy and the horror of the bûche. Stupid bûche with fork raked, overchilled buttercream, icing sugar snow, a deformed plastic robin, and a cold disc of bad chocolate with "Joyeuses Fêtes!" in curly yellow script on the top. I mean, presents, sure. You can hardly escape that with children, and I wouldn't want to anyway, I like presents, love hoarding away tiny, clever, treasures for stockings that I can go and gloat over during December, choosing what colours of tissue paper to use for wrapping. I've inherited that from my mother, the stocking genius. But not a big old family meal, paper hats and cracker jokes. Last year we had fishfingers and oven chips, that was good.
Anyway, where would I go? I never used to see my dad at Christmas, so there's no tradition being broken there. My sister is staying in a Copenhagen squat, and Prog Rock is threatening to take a tent up to the Lake District. It's either that or stay in York and cook whatever the single meal in the universe is that meets the dietary requirements of all his female relatives and friends (variously unable to eat meat, gluten, dairy, fish, potatoes..). The single meal may not exist, he's still looking.
I'll miss the boys of course. I don't relish that part at all, even knowing they'll be fine, better than fine. But apart from that, do you know the only other thing I'll really miss?
Let me explain. Of course, I can make myself cups of tea. Belgium has both electricity and teabags. It even has milk, after a fashion, if you can tolerate UHT. But I miss the tea of my childhood home, the constant, relentless rivers of Yorkshire Gold tea. Pots of tea, stewing under the grubby, duck shaped teacosy. Always, but always, someone saying "do you want a cup of tea?" and me always, but always, saying yes. Putting the kettle on, again and again. Half drunk, abandoned mugs dotted around the house. Coming home in adulthood there was no more instant short cut back to childhood, adolescence than the onslaught of tea. Slumping into the corner seat in the kitchen by the wall with a cup of tea and one of Prog Rock's neatly folded Guardians as he cooked, meticulously, the sagging wickerwork of the chairs, the slight restlessness of knowing there was little to do except read and watch tv and doze, or mooch around "town" (always described as "town") eating pastry products and walking the same circuit around the same eight or ten streets I walked down every Saturday afternoon for years.
I'll miss that. I'll miss the tannin soaked certainty of my York Christmases. Most of me knows that everything fractures, changes, reforms. That I will, we will have "good" Christmases again. Not the same, not as thoughtlessly content, perhaps, but good. Even so, a wistful little part of me wishes we could have kept it how it was, preserved in tea like bugs in amber.