My first Christmas was different from the romanticised version in my head

The fantasy is always different from reality

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

In 2020, I celebrated Christmas for the first time.

Growing up in a strict Muslim household, we’d never really done anything for Christmas. The only time I’d ever been close to celebrating the festivity was during school, where we’d listen to Christmas songs, watch the classic movies like Elf and The Santa Clause and Polo Express, making cute cards, crowns sprinkled with sequins, glitter, gemstones glued on and smeared with paint, to wear during lunch in the canteen, and making various types of dessert. Sometimes, we’d even make gifts for our favourite teachers or our friends with whatever we could grab first.

The memories are nice, tinged with the innocence of being a child and a stress-free life. Every year, as I grew older, I found myself wanting to participate in the festivities but knowing I never would. I appeased myself by watching the same movies, splurging on chocolates and reading stories centred on the holiday spirit. I’d look at the sparkling lights strung over windows and trees and people’s front doors, wreaths hanging in so many different shades. I loved walking down the street, seeing all the colourful lights and the ways in which everyone decorated their homes for Christmas.

From every movie I’d seen and every book I’d read, I had an idea of what Christmas was like: huge evergreen trees with tinsels and fairylights covering it in shades of red, green and gold, a glittering star on the top, just about grazing the ceiling and glimmering baubles hanging, perfectly complementing the theme. Presents in all different sizes, wrapped with the kind of attention that you knew came from the heart, with so much care, in warm golds and reds and whites and silvers, beneath the tree to wake up to on Christmas morning. The house would smell like gingerbread and cinnamon, pure joy and happiness lighting up every room.

But it’s just a fantasy

Of course, I know life is nothing like what Hallmark movies show us, but it’s nice to dream, to live in that dreamy fog, even if only for a while.

Around this time of year, I find myself escaping into a world of twinkling lights and glittering trees, where everything is just bright and happy. In my head, this time of year means being with family, like Eid. Having never properly had a fun Eid, with our house (and by our house, I guess I should say my aunt’s, since that is where we’ve always been for both Eids) never being decorated, no sense of excitement around the holiday. I’ve always dreamt of things to be better than what they are when it comes to the season surrounding Christmas; the spirit of gift giving, making others smile and even having a belief in the magic of Santa and the reindeers and his elves is one filled with promises of something good.

Winter has generally been a tough time for me, ever since I was little. With traumatic memories clinging to the darker, colder months of the year, I seek out ways to ignore reality. I picture a world where I enjoy the enchantment of Christmas and the bliss that arrives with it, where I’m the main character living the dream. In this world, Christmas is big and bright and gorgeous and exciting.

Reality was a lot different to what I envisioned

It didn’t really come as a surprise though, if I’m being 100% honest. After all, I spent all these years romanticising Christmas and dreaming it to be a picturesque dream, like a snapshot right out of The Princess Switch, so of course I knew that it wouldn’t be like a fairytale Christmas in real life. Especially given the way 2020 was, with us being in a global pandemic and most of the country being in Tier 4.

Originally, my boyfriend and I were supposed to spend Christmas at his mum’s, but that plan went out the window when PM Boris Johnson announced households were not allowed to mix. It disappointed a lot of people, and where I’d once been looking forward to spending the holiday with his mum, who’d gone the extra mile to get me halal chicken, I found myself wondering what Christmas in 2020 would entail. Especially with the new rules in place.

Nevertheless, we spent the day at home, like any other day, but with a lovely Christmas dinner (consisting of a halal chicken for me) and a gorgeous black forest gateaux that my boyfriend’s brother had made. To end the day, we played some Mario Party game, and I came in second place, from starting off last. It’s really just a game based on luck (it was fun, though!)

Whilst it wasn’t the storybook day I’d pictured, it was a pretty fun day.

The reality of Christmas versus the fantasy

Sadly, there wasn’t a massive evergreen tree, decorated with glittering tinsel in red, gold and green, or a star brushing the ceiling, wrapped with fairylights and dripping with sparkly baubles — but there was still a smaller tree which was cute. There were presents and time spent with one another, the first of many holidays to come.

Given the current situation of the country, it was expected that this Christmas wasn’t going to be utterly amazing, but for my first Christmas? I’d have to say I enjoyed it, more so because of the company I was with, and for having my own special gift from Santa on Christmas Eve.

I’ve been told that Christmas feels just like any other day, but with that special element of being surrounded by your family. Health Psychologist, Dr Jozelle Miller, says spending time with family strengthens the bond, forming strong, emotional ties and create happy memories, leading to a warm and nurturing environment and positive behaviours. “More than anything,” she goes on to say, “spending time together helps families reconnect and learn more about one another, as well as open up to each other.”

Engaging in activities, like playing Mario Party, with my boyfriend, his brother and his fiancé, was not only fun, but a way for us to work together whilst taking part in a game. It was a memory made on Christmas, that’ll be remembered, not just because it was a hilarious bonding session, but because of the people I created that memory with.

So yes, whilst it was a vastly different day to what I’d always dreamt, it was more than what I could’ve hoped for. And honestly, I can’t wait to spend more holidays together and to see how Christmas 2021 will be.



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Sumaiya Ahmed

Sumaiya Ahmed


Sumaiya Ahmed is a freelance journalist and contemporary romance author, specialising in sex & relationships, PCOS, and mental health.