Coming from a big family, my first Christmas for just the two of us was surprisingly quiet and certainly more relaxing than the youngest of my three sisters cycling round the living room on her new bike or my mum bursting out of the kitchen and announcing that the gravy had tipped over in the oven and drowned the mince pies.
If it’s just us, we don’t have to leap up at dawn to stick a giant turkey in the oven and peel pounds of parsnips, we can have Bucks Fizz, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon in bed. In fact, if we didn’t have a large dog, we wouldn’t have to get up at all. We can eat whatever we like whenever we like. I don’t have to make bread sauce (does anyone like it?) and maybe we won’t even have turkey. Duck is nice – or sea bass!
We won’t have to play charades, watch noisy cartoons or hunt for batteries. We will light a fire and we may roast chestnuts – although one spat out and nearly castrated the dog last time. We’ll probably take a walk and we’ll certainly watch the Queen’s speech. We may even have a nap…
But a perfect Christmas à deux doesn’t just happen. As a comedy writer, I’ve mined the minutiae of marriage for nearly 40 years – most recently in my Radio 4 series, Conversations from a Long Marriage, for which I wrote a Christmas episode. The couple, played by Joanna Lumley and Roger Allam, fend off invitations from friends – and discover that some things can bring the day down quicker than a toppling Norwegian spruce.
Let’s start with the assumption that you like each other. It’s quite important. If your relationship is already rocky, Christmas together won’t improve it and it’s no surprise that divorce solicitors are at their busiest in the first week of January.
Have you talked to each other about what you want for Christmas? Forget “surprises” – they are never to be recommended – especially in long relationships. A husband who “surprises” his wife with, say, a scratchy, scarlet basque, with a dangling price tag labelled “Reduced”, deserves to be catapulted with sprouts. Most sensible couples will have sent their other half the online link, size and colour choice several months ago.
The “no surprises” rule extends way beyond present giving. If you’re the one who rarely cooks, don’t suddenly offer to make Christmas lunch. It will not end well. Nor is it a good idea to buy a “surprise” firepit and announce you’re going to toast marshmallows. Unless you’ve done it (successfully) many, many times before.
The key to a happy Christmas à deux is to have some structure to the day. I’m not suggesting you whip out a stopwatch and spreadsheet, but if the Christmas morning opener is “What do you fancy doing today?” you’ll end up cleaning the fridge or sorting out your sock drawer.
It’s unlikely the Queen will be getting the Hoover out or doing the ironing but I’m sure she will miss the routine of attending church in Sandringham with her family, this year, too. No doubt there will be lots of phone calls and she and Philip may reminisce about the last time they spent Christmas reminisce, in 1949, when baby Charles was left at home and she went to join him in Malta.
As a couple, they’ve never been short of conversation and at the end of their quiet Christmas, I’d like to imagine Her Majesty turning to her husband and echoing the immortal words of Mariah Carey “All I want for Christmas is You.” Until next year…