Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Xmas-NY’s: Revelations more than Resolutions

January 9th, 2020
London and Lech

I love my kids, don’t get me wrong. But as an empty nester Christmas can be a shock to my oestrogen-low system. It’s like spending three months eating bonbons in bed binge watching The Morning Show, and all of sudden being told to get out of my nightie, don a tracksuit and Nikes and sprint over to Santa’s workshop.

Christmas prep  basics: full happy-looking tree, white lights (no multi-colored or flashing ones allowed)  tasteful ornaments- ideally from some Nordic country-  named stockings from childhood – (where did I store them???), menu planning (actually, I leave that to my kids who say I don’t eat), menu buying (they leave that to me – owner of sacred credit card), music, candles, festive table settings and of course, the presents. You know the drill. Relaxing, right?

Add to that that my daughters are convinced that I hate Christmas. Blaming me still for a few past mistakes.  Post-divorce I  did have a few blink and it’s over efforts, like hiring someone to decorate our tree on the 24th and remove it on the 26th, or planning our post-xmas holiday to Nicaragua, departing on the morning of Dec 25th, or travelling to countries that don’t celebrate Xmas – Buddhist countries ideal.

But I want to make amends. This year, I vowed, we’re going to have a great Christmas at home in London.

In addition to the usual cast of characters – my three kids and me attending Xmas Eve dinner at their father’s, an excellent chef and chooser of red wine and caviar – there would be a slight plot twist: My new son-in-law Harry,  my long-time beau Stretch, and Hunter would all be making their Xmas Eve debut.

Who is Hunter?

My children’s surprise Christmas present to their father and the best tension breaker known to divorced families, that’s who. Works better than whiskey.  I know a puppy isn’t just for Christmas, they can be useful at funerals too.

Stretch and I were in charge of buying Julia’s mile long grocery list including such traditional ingredients as fish sauce,

red curry paste, kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk. Meanwhile, the rest of the group was en route to Wales and Hunter.

Stretch suggests we add a ham to our exotic list. I text Julia, who is heading home with puppy.

What about us getting a ham?

Ham? We never have ham, she shoots back.  You need to stick up for yourself. Be strong, no ham.

But I like ham. It’s  a lot more Christmassy than kaffir leaves.

I begin to doubt myself. Do I like ham? Or am I just being the acquiescent girlfriend? I think back to my childhood before I knew men existed – or kaffir leaves- and I distinctly remember liking my grandmother’s Xmas ham. We get the ham in honour of Grandma Fay.

During Christmas Eve dinner, Julia and Kate bicker over which is healthier – white or brown rice, mashed potatoes or yams.

I’m an advocate of all white carbs, says julia.  I don’t like the shaming they get.

So, would you agree that a cheeseburger is better for you than steamed cod, taunts Kate. Jellybeans versus kale salad?

To her credit, Julia stays silent, just glares at her beloved family.

Why is it that my kids revert back to their childhood selves when under one roof for an extended period of time (two days) of family togetherness? I am comforted by my friend Melanie and sister Diana’s family news- a window was smashed during the Vere Nicoll festivities. And my sister had a child threaten to fly home mid-turkey. Some traditions never die.

I ask Thomas to play some Christmas tunes, maybe some Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra. He opts for P Diddy. Kate gives me a look,

Can you please discipline your son?

so I  cheerily, always cheerily, ask pot stirrer Thomas to please, turn off the gangsta rap. He complies. Miracles do happen.

It’s not just that old tiresome behaviors reappear, but there’s no escape hatch. I take a shower and get dressed. While I am blow drying my hair, Julia comes in to use my makeup and borrow my jewellery.

You’re putting on the same clothes you were wearing before your shower?” she asks accusingly.

Yes, they are still clean, I answer defensively.

Please tell me you changed your underwear.

Yes, I answer after a brief pause.

I go to the living room. Kate looks at me:

Aren’t you going to dry your hair?

I thought I had.

I go to the kitchen. Strech is making a drink.

Where is the freezer? Do you have any ice cubes? Snacks?

One tradition I do adore is our post-Xmas ski trip. This is not because I love to ski. It is because my kids do. (Thomas is the exception that proves the rule) So while they do their thing, I do mine.

See you at dinner, I say after breakfast, waving goodbye to the downhill crew. Everyone disperses in a good mood.

I go for walks, cross country ski with  Florence and the Machine belting out “Dog Days Are Over” into my ears. Sip hot chocolate – alone – at a little mountain restaurant. Take photos of a pretty church,


Sometimes I ski with Melanie as long as she’s a safe distance ahead and understands that I cannot hear a word she’s saying.

After the blissful ski holiday is over, I go visit my friend Lauren in Wimbledon. Her whole family loves to ski and just came back from Wengen, Switzerland

So how was the skiing? I ask her.

I am so over skiing, she says. I read a ton of books. A ton. And whenever I wanted to enjoy the mountains, I just looked out my bedroom window.

She shows me a photo of the Swiss Alps bordered by some blue and white check curtains. Lauren’s husband Dan walks by.

Dan, are you limping? I ask.

Oh, just a bit of sciatica, he mumbles as he leaves the room.

He was trying to keep up with the kids on the slopes, Lauren whispers. Just not up to it anymore.

January, 2020