Family Christmas

Christmas isn’t easy for everybody. Family are thrown together and  whether you loathe them or love them it’s tradition that you spend time with them.You just have to bite your lip, pretend to get on and put up with them for a couple of days.I want to share with you a particularly awkward Christmas, an extract from my book ‘The Catholic Woman’s Dying Wish.’ Here’s the link: The scene is based on a Christmas I had several years ago. It will either make you laugh or cringe! But that’s Christmas for you!

Exert from ‘The Catholic Woman’s Dying Wish’

“Darius had hated Christmas as a child. Being a part of a Catholic family was a painful and ritualistic experience. They were dragged out of bed for midnight mass and his parents were always too poor to buy a turkey. At school there had been too much Jesus, hymns and carols and dressing up in ridiculous costumes to perform on a stage as a shepherd or a lamb. He hadn’t understood what it was all about, just the feeling that it was all complete twaddle. Most of all he hated the way the faith was heavily centred around sin and dogmatic holiness. Being part of what he called the evil empire meant control over how people were supposed to behave and there were so many rigid practices.

After Sam was born he aimed for a bigger and fuller tree than the previous year with brighter decorations that sparkled and glittered. It was liberating and modern. He felt naughty, guilty even. He loved the feeling of defiance and extravagance that Christmas gave him.

But this year was different. He wasn’t in the festive cheer and was dreading the usual routine of her kids escaping to their rooms, not being a part of the occasion and his son making a short perfunctory appearance.

It was Christmas Eve. They were languishing in bed. It was getting late. Darius had enjoyed an orange. The sweet fragrance filled the air. The curled peel had been tossed onto the floor. The dregs of a Baileys lay sticky at the bottom of wine glasses.

He was examining a tray of liquors, wondering which one to eat next. ‘This tray is a bit like the bar on the Titanic. I wouldn’t have dressed in a penquin suit to play music on the decks. I would have asked the sea to take me. I feel like the captain; drowning in style.’

‘And I bet the ladies wouldn’t have waved the cake trolley away if they had known.’ She added.

‘This bed is full of crumbs, wrappers, tissues and debris. It’s like Tower Hamlets. Maybe I’ll take mum and go back to Liverpool, but either way I’m soon out of here.’

‘You didn’t tell me. Your moods are constantly up and down like a yoyo. I can’t keep up.’

‘There’s no reason why you should saddle yourself with a defective product, a man with a failing heart. I’m not looking forward to tomorrow.’

And with that he pulled the duvet over his head sending liquor wrappers spinning, the tray tossing to the floor.


The kitchen was filled with the smell of cooking, the windows were misty with condensation and Darius and Sam were busy singing songs. For a short time they were friends again as they prepared Christmas dinner together. Meg and Tim were in their rooms on computers and Darius’ mother – who had to be persuaded to come – was reading stories to Chrissie in the lounge.

Darius poured himself a third glass of red wine then began to waltz across the kitchen with Sam singing to Bing Crosby. They fell apart laughing.

He sat down to Christmas lunch and glanced round the table at the motley collection of people celebrating the day with him. What a pantomime it was. When he’d put his profile on a dating site, all that time back he never imagined sitting down to turkey and sprouts in such an incongruous setting with a dysfunctional bunch of people. His son was inches away but at times felt a million miles away. He was just grateful the lad hadn’t brought his boyfriend for Christmas. The singing and the dancing in the kitchen were fleeting acts of father, son bonding. The people gathered around the table were a cut and paste family, constructed from a cheap Christmas cracker. He wondered what things would have been like if they had found Kathleen. Would she have spent Christmas with them? He imagined a big family gathering and hoped the New Year would bring new hope of finding her.

Darius raised a glass.

‘Well.’ He waited for everybody to pick up their glasses.

‘Here’s to our motley family. Here we are, three years on from hurricane divorce and the United Nations is still bringing us Christmas dinner in a soup kitchen. I had hoped to move from the tent to a house in those three years, but I’ve landed in with this travelling circus. Three white rabbits who disappear when placed in a glove.’

He looked over at the kids whose faces were balanced between uncertainty and confusion. His mother was the only one laughing, not really understanding what he was saying.

‘And that big bloated robin in the middle of the table is living on the fat of past credit. It should be a thin scrawny robin, a Cameron Clegg austerity robin.’ Darius chuckled.

They began to eat. They were strangers around a table with fractured lives and broken pasts. He chatted with Sam about the people who used to be in their lives and Faye chatted to his mother while the kids bickered.

‘Well I’m sorry I forgot the stuffing. We’re having an Alzheimer’s Christmas this year. The Brussels and parsnips are a bit hard, the turkey’s a bit too dry because the oven here is crap. Still, later on we’ll have turkey and cranberry sandwiches and they’ll look like I’ve murdered your three kids between two slices of bread.’ Darius laughed loudly, raising his glass again and gulping a mouthful. He wondered why Santa hadn’t thrown a few hand grenades down the chimney over night.

Darius’ mother was laughing too. It had been a long time since he’d seen his mother laugh. These days she was so fixated on finding Kathleen.

‘Were you warm enough last night by the way Maria? We kept the heating on all night for you’ Faye asked his mother.

‘Oh plenty warm enough thank you dear.’

‘Mother’s faith keeps her warm.’ Darius said.

‘I’ve had to give up on hot water bottles. They just keep leaking.’ Maria added.

‘You’re probably incontinent and don’t yet realise it.’ Darius laughed.

‘All the folk where I live seem to be using pads these days. I hope I won’t be next and they all seem to be dying.’ Maria smiled sadly.

‘Put enough old folk in one place and they do tend to die.’ Darius was quick to retort with a splutter.

‘Watch the gravy Sam. Use a napkin,’ he ordered. ‘Gravy is culinary hell. They serve it at all the nasty carvery chains. It’s hot vicous engine oil draining from a sump.’ Darius looked round the table.

‘The gravy’s a bit too thin.’ Maria complained.

Darius thought here we go again. She’s going to start her complaining.

‘It’s fresh sludge piped through to your table from the local sewer farm. It’s an amazing process to create raw sewer.’

Hearing his description Maria had her next mouthful poised in midair; fork hovering at her lips, uncertain whether to continue.

‘I don’t think I can eat any more. The turkey is much too dry and these Brussels are soggy. Don’t throw it away though. It might taste better tomorrow. I can wrap it up in tin foil and take it home with me.’ Maria said.

‘What is the other meat on my plate?’ Chrissie asked.

‘You’ve got the turkey’s thigh. The rest of the turkey’s in a wheelchair. It had its legs blown off in Afganistan.’

‘Dad. Shut up will you. Just shut up.’ Sam had turned angry. ‘There are men out there my age fighting. So just shut it. They’re coming back in body bags or they’re screwed up mentally and end up on the streets.’

A while later Faye said to Meg, ‘You’re very quiet.’

‘Your lot are always silent.’ Darius responded. ‘We have to insert a Sim card for conversation, but the USB is fucked.’

‘Well.’ Darius gave a big sigh. ‘That was a successful lunch. And you won’t have to put up with me much longer, Meg.’ Sarcasm dripped like gravy.

‘Anyone for a Poundstretcher cracker? That would liven you all up.’


‘The Catholic Woman’s Dying Wish’

The Catholic Woman’s Dying Wish by Joanna Warrington

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