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Breaking Tradition: The Alternative Christmas Experience

From coping after the death of a parent to creating new holiday traditions after relocating, these four women will have a very different Christmas Day this year


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Traditionally and famously, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Only, what if it isn’t? What if yours doesn’t fit the Richard Curtis-style mould of a perfect love/family-fuelled day? With the news that even Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are breaking tradition to have an alt Royal Christmas this year, it’s obvious that the festive season means so many different things to so many different people. Maybe you’re dealing with heart-breaking loss whilst being bombarded with seasonal cheer at every turn? Or rewriting the rulebook and creating your own traditions. BURO. asked four women to share how their December 25th will be different from previous years.


image courtesy of SAM FREEDMAN

Growing up in a Jewish family, Christmas hasn’t always been that traditional. But one thing we Freedman’s always ensured was that we spent it together. The four of us, the quad pod, as we often called ourselves. For the most part we celebrated Christmas on holiday somewhere hot, carefree, with sand between our toes. The dress code was swimwear and a Santa’s hat. More recently we enjoyed festivities at home in Hertfordshire, with Dad cooking and Mum sprucing the house with red velvet ribbons and winter spice candles.

This Christmas, however, will be completely different. My dad, the head of our family, the big boss, the Christmas cook, and the one we all leant on for just about everything, passed away two months ago. He wasn’t old, or ill, he was involved in an unexpected accident while we were at our home in Portugal. After a gruelling three weeks in a Lisbon hospital where he spent 13 days in a coma, we finally managed to repatriate him. Two days later he suffered a heart attack and our lives were instantly torn apart forever.

They say that the first time you do something traditional without a loved one is the hardest. Our once laughter-filled holiday will never be the same, as the undercurrent of sadness without Dad will ring through each of us. But he would want us to celebrate, to be kind to one another, to be merry and to feast on a humongous meal, (he often devoured Christmas lunch before it had even begun - cook’s privileges apparently.) This year, we’ll spend it with family, sharing stories of the happiest times. Unforgettable memories of the most unbelievable man. Dad would want nothing more than for us to be together, as we always were.



image courtesy of FRANKIE MCCOY

Last Christmas, I was converting to Judaism, as the George Michael classic goes. It was also my first Christmas living with my fiance, the man for whom I was becoming Jewish. And my first Christmas without a tree. I casually asked in late November when we would get ours. He gently pointed out the incompatibility of my burgeoning religion, and the pine-needled symbol of a festival that said religion doesn't believe in. Oh. Of course.

I was doing a Charlotte York. I was giving up Christmas. No big deal - I’m not that into Christmas: can’t ice skate, hate wrapping presents, rage at pavement-blocking tourists 'gramming garish decorations. We’d still see family on the 25th. And we’d be celebrating Hanukkah instead, the Festival of Lights, when we’d eat fried foods like potato latkes and sufganiyot (naughty little jammy doughnuts), light candles on our menorah and exchange gifts. Who needs a tree? Not me!

On the second night of Hanukkah, we had our weekly conversion class at synagogue. We learned more about Hanukkah, ate a lot of jammy doughnuts. I was full of festive spirit - and no, not that one. We got home. I turned on the lights. And there in the corner was a perfect plump little Christmas tree, surrounded by presents. ‘Did you really think I wasn’t going to let you have a tree?’ my fiance asked as my eyes welled, a scene from the cheesiest of feel-good festive films.

This year is my first proper Jewish Christmas. And to save me from tears, we got a bloody tree on December 1st.


image courtesy of ALEX HOLDER

It was never Christmas I disliked, it’s what comes immediately afterwards. The grey pallor of the first Monday back at work, the abstinence and the guilt; The long frugal days of January peppered with leftover festive accoutrements - where you deprive yourself of the full-fat flat white because that seems excessive, but casually end the day with a bath bomb.

January’s crash only happens if you over-inflate Christmas, and this year I think I’ve found a way to not do that - I moved from London to Lisbon. Here, Christmas is already rolling out differently, I didn’t see a Christmas decoration until late November, the shops aren’t full of festive versions of ordinary food and consumption just doesn’t feel as aggressive. When I went back to London for a few days in mid-November and was confronted by so-much-stuff and so-many-opportunities to buy things, it honestly looked insane. Perhaps because I’m not being advertised to in my own language, in Lisbon I don’t feel the pressure to fill my flat with Christmassy crap, or pile wrapped plastic under the tree (it helps that there’s no Westfield or Amazon Prime).

Also, being in a new place has given us the space to create new routines, new habits and new traditions. We’re at Christmas ground zero and it’s liberating. With no Christmas TV to anchor our day and no ‘local’ to sink a pint in on Christmas eve, we’re having to think through everything. I once read that if you do something twice you can call it a tradition and I might start one this year by surfing on Christmas day. They’ll still be drinking, they’ll be lots of eating, but I don’t think I’m going to enter January quite as hungover from the holidays as previous years. I will miss Terry and his chocolate orange though, London, I’ll give you that.


image Courtesy of MATILDA ROSENBLATT

Growing up, I had this idea of the ‘perfect’ family. I really believed that life would always be pretty simple, I would get married and have babies. I kind of believed that I would carry on life as I had as a child, forever. There weren’t that many divorced parents in my group of friends - but if there were, I would think “that child must never be happy.” I was so naive. Then I fell pregnant at 21 and became a single mother soon after my son, Rudy, was born.

I remember I was really scared of the word ‘single parent’ - especially around Christmas, when there’s this projected stereotypical idea of a ‘normal’ family. What it did do is open my eyes to the fact life isn’t always what you think it’s going to be, but rather life always happens the way that it should happen. I met my husband, Ollie, two and a half years ago through one of my first ever boyfriends, who is now my best friend. Falling in love with someone with a child means it was me and Rudy he had to fall in love with, there was no ‘one or the other’. It’s a huge thing, a new man coming into the house and bringing you up, but we all chose each other.

Christmases have always been the biggest deal to me; I love the magic of it all. One of my fears as a child was “what if the man I marry doesn’t love Christmas?” Then I fell in love with a Jewish man. I don’t think he knew what hit him. Although he’d never admit it, Ollie secretly loves Christmas.

I’m so excited about this Christmas. It feels like it’s going to be an incredibly special one, the first time we’re a family, officially under law. We’re now bringing Rudy up with Hanukkah and Christmas, which makes December even more exciting. It’s the start of new traditions, the three of us together.

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