herald

Thursday 19 October 2017

We both want to see our families... that's why we have TWO Christmas Days

like many couples, chris wasser and his partner niamh split up to see their mums and dads on the 25th. so they have their own special day, turkey and all, today...

I remember having an argument with my girlfriend one Christmas. It was two years ago, and we had barely made it to New Year's Eve when we started discussing future plans. Back then, we were still getting used to the idea of living together, having only moved into our cosy little abode in Chapelizod the previous October. We were discovering new things about each other. For example, Niamh was a great cook; I had trouble frying an egg. I was better at cleaning up -- she thought differently.

We had already celebrated our first Christmas as a couple in 2009. We'd only been seeing each other for around six months. So, on the morning of Christmas Eve, I dropped over to her parents' house. Presents were exchanged, lunch was had and I left that evening to celebrate Christmas at home with the family.

The next day, I visited her place again, having already decided that she'd be heading to ours for St Stephen's Day. Of course, that meant having to leave my family on Christmas night (the mother wasn't too happy, I can tell you), but a plan is a plan, and, despite the fact that we were only dating, we knew that we wanted to get in as much time together as possible. Within a matter of months, we began to talk about moving in together.

Which brings me back to the argument. "What'll we do this year?" asked Niamh as we sat in our new place, weighing up the pros and cons of a real Christmas tree.



HOME

"I'll have to head home," I said. "You are home," she replied. Good answer. Eventually, we agreed that starting, or indeed, ending, Christmas Day without our families around us was a definite no-no. But weren't things supposed to be different now that we were living together? Shouldn't we have been focusing on kick-starting our own traditions as a couple?

"I have an idea," said Niamh. "How about we have our own Christmas Day on the 24th? I'll cook dinner and everything! Whaddaya think?" Genius. Two Christmases for the price of one. It was settled. On Christmas Eve 2010 (the first one, not the 'real' one) we arranged our gifts under the tree, cracked open a bottle of wine, tucked into the Quality Street and watched Santa Claus: The Movie on DVD.

The next morning, we awoke at 7am and headed downstairs to open our presents. Snow had fallen overnight, which only added to the excitement. We drank some Buck's Fizz, listened to some cheesy holiday tunes and tried to assemble a malfunctioning racing car set (I still like one or two toys at Christmas). It was, well, just like Christmas Day. In fact, it was one of the best we'd ever had.

Later on, Niamh prepared dinner and I set the table. Actually, I had one other job that year. It involved defrosting the turkey on time for Christmas Eve. I'll spare you the details, but let's just say that I have something of a gift for screwing up even the simplest of tasks. Luckily, Niamh's ability to improvise saved the day.

By 6pm, the food was gone, the bottles were empty, and the dishes needed washing. It was time to return to normality. We parted ways that night, happy in the knowledge that, even though we wouldn't be seeing each other until December 26, we'd had our very first Christmas together at home. Our home. A couple of days later, I started to get ahead of myself.

"You know next year?" I asked. "Why don't we do things properly and visit each of our family homes together on Christmas Day?" Bad move. My use of the word 'properly' didn't help.

"How would that work?" she pondered, raising an eyebrow. "Well, we could get up in the morning, head out to your parents' house for dinner, then spend the second half of the day with my family. Or vice versa. I mean, we have to get used to it at some point, right?"

She looked puzzled. "But I can't not wake up in my own home on Christmas morning," she explained. Now I was confused: "I thought that this was our home?" As it turns out, only she can pull off an answer like that. Then I really put my foot in it.

"I left my family to visit yours last year," I argued. "If I can do it, you can, too. I mean, that's the only way we're going to be able to make it work in the future. We have to start our own traditions, don't we? What if we had kids? What would we do then?" And that was that. Sometimes, a man thinks before he talks. And then there are times when the words just fall out of his mouth and there is absolutely nothing he can do to stop them.

We had already started our own tradition. Didn't everything work out fine? And what would be the harm in repeating the process the next year? In 2011, we did exactly that.

We had moved house again at the beginning of October, but everything else remained the same. Two Christmas Eves, two Christmas Days -- easy, right?



rush

Well, not really. Don't get me wrong; I love how we celebrate the holidays, and last year's Christmas was just as good as the previous one, if not better. But as we prepare to do it all over again, I find having to spend Christmas Day (the 'real' one, not the first one) without Niamh, that little bit harder.

We're three-and-a-half years together and both in our mid-20s. There's no rush when it comes to planning out the rest of our lives. But as my older sister Vicky recently pointed out, it's only a matter of time before we both agree that spending the big day apart is entirely out of the question.

She and her husband Carl stayed at home one Christmas after the birth of their first child. But they hadn't even finished dinner when they decided that something wasn't right.

These days, they divide their Christmas between his family and ours. According to Vicky, having kids is when the real traditions start. There's a buzz of anticipation that only comes with having a child who can't wait to see what the Big Man leaves under the tree. And for that to happen, you need to be in your own home on Christmas morning.

Now, I'm in no way ready to be a father, and though Niamh and I have discussed marriage, it's not something that we're likely to get into over the next year or two. Eventually, however, we will have to accept that, if we are to spend the rest of our lives together, it's only right to split the day in two.

Then again, it's not just young, cohabiting couples that are faced with these kinds of problems. Take, for example, my extended family. We're a very close bunch.

I grew up on the same road as my aunt and uncle and their two daughters, so we've always spent Christmas together, either in one house or the other.

My parents have made a couple of attempts to try something new. But it has never worked. The Wassers missed the Kavanaghs (my aunt and uncle), and the Kavanaghs live in the house that my mother and her sister grew up in. So, that's where we go.

Niamh has a big family, too. Are we prepared to bite the bullet and divide our day in two for the sake of pleasing both our families and each other? I don't know. Like I said, it's not easy leaving your partner behind on one of the most enjoyable days of the year, and I guess two Christmases is better than one.

For now, though, I'll try to avoid worrying about the future and focus my attention on the present(s). Oh, and by the way, we always go for the real tree. That's one tradition that I'm in no mood to compromise on.

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