I hate Christmas.
The cheesy made-for-TV movies, the endless songs that play over and over again, the crazy crowds fighting to get good sales in the stores, and the cheap Santa suits on the workers at the shopping centre. The fact that Christmas Eve also marks the anniversary of my father’s death might also be a contributing factor as to why I despised the holidays.
The only thing about the festive season that was actually appealing to me was the snow, but in this dismal, rainy town in southern England, we didn’t even get much of that. I couldn’t remember the last time we had snow that didn’t melt the minute it hit the floor.
So, as you can probably guess, I wasn’t particularly filled with festive cheer as I headed downstairs on the day before Christmas Eve. I could smell the cookies that Mum was baking, the same ones she baked every year because they had been Dad’s favourites.
“Lily, you’re awake,” she said when she saw me step into the kitchen. “Do you want some coffee?” She’d set the kettle to boil before I’d even responded.
“Is Nick already out?” I asked her.
“He’s gone for his run,” she replied.
My brother, Nick, had recently come home from university for Christmas, and even I had to admit that I’d missed having him around the house the past couple of months.
“What time are we going tomorrow?” I asked quietly.
Mum stopped what she was doing and stared blankly at the kettle. “About 4pm. I’ll pick the flowers up later and we can put them in water overnight.”
Whilst most families had more fun traditions on Christmas Eve, ours was to visit the cemetery, as we had done for the past three years.
“I was thinking we could do something tonight,” Mum suggested as she placed a mug of coffee down in front of me. “We could go ice skating.”
“I’m not really in the mood,” I told her, taking a sip of my coffee.
I saw her shoulders sag a little but she didn’t say anything. She was used to it by now. We had the same conversation every year. She’d ask me to do something Christmassy with her and Nick, and I’d refuse. I could never face it, a Christmas family outing without Dad. It just didn’t feel right.
I was halfway through drinking my coffee when I heard the front door open and Nick came striding energetically into the kitchen.
“Ah, she’s awake,” he said when he saw me. “So, are you up for ice skating tonight?” I saw Mum shoot a glance at him, causing his eyes to narrow in suspicion.
“I’d rather just stay in,” I told him, avoiding his stare.
“Like last year, you mean?” Nick shot back at me. I could tell he was frustrated, just like he was last year. He tried so hard to make us feel like a family again at Christmas. I appreciated it, I really did, but I couldn’t fake a smile and pretend to be fine. He looked like he was getting ready for an argument when we heard the doorbell ring.
“I’ll get it,” I said, jumping out of my chair.
I got out of the kitchen as fast as I could, wanting to escape Nick’s glare. I walked through the hallway that was dotted with Christmas cards and headed for the door. I wasn’t surprised to see Noah grinning back at me when I pulled it open.
“It’s the eve of Christmas Eve,” he said to me.
“How wonderful,” I replied dryly.
The grin on his face didn’t falter. Noah was used to my scrooge-like ways when it came to Christmas. It still didn’t stop him from trying his best to get me feeling festive, though.
I glanced over my shoulder at the kitchen. “Want to go for a walk?”
“I was just about to ask you the same thing.”
I grabbed my coat and bag, ready to go. Nick came out into the hallway and stood with his arms crossed, glaring at me with his lips pursed. I shouted a goodbye to Mum before walking out the door. I may have escaped for now, but I knew Nick’s angry eyes would be waiting for me when I came home.
“Nick doesn’t look too happy,” Noah said as we walked down the driveway. “What did you do this time?”
“I refused to go ice skating.”
“You know, Nick doesn’t get much of a chance to spend time at home these days,” Noah reminded me. “Maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to turn down the chance to do something as a family.”
We reached the end of the road and turned in the direction of the park. We found a bench to sit down on and I watched a couple of kids run past, all laughing. There was so much excitement around kids at this time of year. I missed what it felt like to be giddy over Christmas, to be too excited to sleep the night before, eagerly awaiting the morning.
After a few moments of silence between us, Noah stood up from the bench. “You can’t go on like this, Lily,” he insisted, staring down at me. “I know it’s hard for you, but you need to start putting a smile back on your face. It’s Christmas!”
I was surprised by his sudden outburst. Noah was always so calm. He never dared to make any comments about how I lived my life. But he was getting frustrated with me.
“I try, Noah,” I sighed. “You know I do, every single year, but it doesn’t work.”
“You know what you need?” He came to sit back down on the bench, a gleam in his eye. “You need to fall in love with Christmas again.”
“What?” I asked, confused.
“That’s it,” he said, clapping his hands together. “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to show you exactly why you need to love Christmas.”
“Noah, it’s really…” I let my voice trail off. I wanted to tell him that it wasn’t worth it, that Christmas just didn’t feel like a happy time for me anymore, but looking at his face, full of enthusiasm, I just couldn’t.
Noah had been everything to me over the past few years. His family lived across the street from mine but I’d never really spoken to him until my dad died. He caught me crying on my front porch one evening and came to sit with me. He was the first person I felt comfortable talking to about my dad’s death. Our evening talks became a regular thing and we’d been friends ever since. I could tell him anything. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through the past few years without him.
He pushed his blonde hair out of his eyes as he sat there, deep in thought. “Give me an hour,” he said to me. “I’ll meet you back here.”
“I’ve only just left the house,” I argued. “What are you up to?”
He stood up again, stretching his arms out, eager to get going. He leant over and placed his hands firmly on my shoulders. “Trust me, okay?”
“Whatever,” I sighed, rolling my eyes. “I’ll just…wander for a while, shall I?”
He gave me a final grin before proceeding to leave me sitting there on the bench, completely bewildered.
I spent the next hour sitting in a coffee shop, checking my phone every five minutes to see if Noah was done with whatever ridiculous plan he was cooking up.
I was already heading back to the bench when he sent me a text to tell me that he was on his way. I was sitting there, watching two birds fight over a bit of bread, when he arrived. He sat down next to me and pulled a folded piece of paper out from his pocket.
“What’s that?” I asked, eyeing it suspiciously.
“This is your twelve reasons to love Christmas,” he said proudly, a manic grin on his face. “And we are going to do all of them before Christmas morning.”
I stared at him, blinking in confusion, before holding out my hand. “Let me see.”
He shook his head and laughed as he put the paper back in his pocket. “Nope, they’re all surprises.”
“Why twelve?” I asked.
He thought about it for a second and then shrugged. “The whole twelve days of Christmas thing came to mind, I guess.”
I sighed. “So what’s number twelve?” I was already dreading whatever it was that Noah had planned.
He had a mischievous smile on his face as he said, “Christmas shopping.”
“Oh God, no,” I groaned. “How could you ever think that chaotic shopping would make me love Christmas? You are completely out of your mind.”
He stood up from the bench. “Come on,” he beckoned, holding out a hand.
I let him drag me up from the bench, already wanting this day to be over.