“Humbug” was his – perhaps slightly unoriginal – reply to the carol singers that evening. Though, he did think that the pouring of Humbug sweets from his bedroom window, a homage to hot oil from medieval castle sieges, added a pleasant uniqueness to the stereotypical Scrooge-like image he had manifested during the festive season.

As he was only twenty-five years old, many people found this attitude surprising. Especially since he had perfectly pleasant Christmases growing up and even enjoyed the feelings of nostalgia that Slade and Wizzard gave him. However, he was stuck in the very awkward moral mindset of being an atheist and unmaterialistic.

Should he, as an unbeliever in Jesus (no mind that he was meant to be born to a virgin mother whose pregnancy her husband took surprisingly well) really be celebrating Christmas at all? Was it not slightly hypocritical? Maybe if he continued to call it Xmas? He did rather enjoy taking the Christ out of Christmas.

That next day, the 25th, he awoke naturally. It was just starting to get light outside; he looked at the rising sun through the crack in his curtains for a few seconds, enjoying the irony that it was the first thing he saw that day – the Sun gods of older religions being what the Son of God was later adapted to by Christianity. He turned over, thinking himself a bit pretentious at times, but still maintained that it was his best worst trait. Perhaps second to sarcasm.

The empty space next to him was strange. Stranger than he thought it would be. He wondered if she was just waking up, thinking the same thing.

He sighed heavily and got out of bed and walked to the kitchen and put the kettle on. It was the first Xmas morning he’d ever experienced without company. He felt odd making a tea and going back to bed to watch The Simpsons, but he didn’t have to be at his parents until midday. Maybe he should watch the Lovefilm disc he had received earlier in the week. He didn’t think Creepshow would be particularly Christmassy, but he would have plenty of that later anyway, when wearing silly paper crowns and watching Doctor Who.

He had always enjoyed the giving and receiving of presents, hoping to get round the materialistic problem with thoughtful gifts that weren’t necessarily that expensive but meant something to the receiver. He remembered spending hours making a birthday card for an ex when he was eighteen, only to get a small smile and the reply, “You have bought me one too, haven’t you?” That relationship proved to be a short one.

His most recent ex was a lot more like him in that way – she had even made him presents sometimes. But he soon stopped this train of thought, because remembering the good parts of the relationship was not going to help him get over her. If he were to think more about her love of Hollyoaks, her freakishly large toes and the ridiculous seriousness she treated horoscopes with, he might have more success.

It was a little past noon and he climbed into his car, placing the presents for his parents and siblings on the passenger seat. He started the engine and waited to pull off while the car warmed up. He looked across the street at his neighbour’s house – where there must have been more lights than bricks – and tried, unsuccessfully, to put himself in the shoes of idiots who needlessly used such a large amount of electricity and put decorations up in November. He sighed, shaking his head, and started driving as The Pogues started on the radio.

He pulled up outside his parents’ house. He could see them around the Xmas tree, laughing and joking with one of his brothers. The scene looked straight from a Hallmark card but it made him smile. It looked cosy. Safe. Familiar.

He shivered slightly as an icy wind cut across his bare face and hands. He approached the door and before entering knew that, as in all walks of life, he should try to take the positives from the situation. The mince pies, the time off work, the TV specials. The nostalgia, the look on a loved one’s face as they open a present they like, the excuse to guiltlessly drink and eat.

He took a deep breath and pushed the door open and walked inside. His family turned to him. “Humbug to you all!” he said loudly, his hands in the air. They laughed in what he thought was a rather cheesy way. It was probably going to be one of those days.

 

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