Until the early 2000s, we celebrated Christmas as one big squabbling family. I personally made sure that the TV would stay off. Smartphones weren’t a thing yet. There were always fifteen or more of us, kids and adults from various parts of the country. My uncle would tell fascinating stories about his ulcers – I didn’t mind, it was just good to see him that one time in the year. Some got married, some were heading for a divorce that was not discussed at the table. At the centre of everything was my Grandma. I’d sit on the ground with my chin on her knee and just feel that… that thing that I thought of as Christmas. I did that when I was six and I still did it when I was twenty-something. We were not like a TV family – too much drinking, too much politics, too many ulcers – but even before I turned 20 I wasn’t stupid enough to believe that adverts and movies presented the real world.
Fifteen or sixteen years ago I came out as gay. I was assured that nothing would change, that I was loved as I was, and since I had a boyfriend I thought that meant he’d be treated the same way my cousins’ girlfriends were. My aunt, whose house was the only big enough to accommodate the whole shebang, told me that we were not welcome – it was fine for me to be gay, but only as long as I wasn’t being gay in her presence. That was it. I never even found out whether the rest of the family asked and/or were told why I suddenly stopped appearing.
Our family, with one or two exceptions, considered themselves atheists, but very few people in Poland didn’t celebrate the holiday. For us, Christmas had nothing to do with the church or Jesus. It was about being together, consuming a lot of calories, laughing at the kids that were nearly unconscious with excitement because there were presents. It took one short phone call – I was only going to ask whether three p.m. was good, or should we arrive earlier or later – to lose all that. I have never seen some of the family members again, those who lived so far away we only ever met on that one occasion. The end of December, however, didn’t get cancelled worldwide to make things easier for me.