Escaping the chaotic festivities for my own fairytale in New York
Sick of the stress and family arguments of Christmas Day? Do what writer Eva Hall did and leave it all behind for a winter break
As I sit watching my sister battle with her tangled fairy lights, while she gripes about her lodgers asking if they could help her put up her Christmas decorations - "Why would I need help? It's my tree... I do it every year..." - I get a sense of relief that I don't have to worry about dusting off the tree and fighting off spiders from the shed, while chasing the dog around the house to take the stuffed Santa head out of his mouth for the fourth year running. Because this year, I've decided to run away from Christmas.
Before you get all 'bah humbug' on me, let me be clear that I love Christmas - well I did, up until last year when I realised I didn't quite love it at all.
I love the winter weather, the prospect of snow when you get to pull your (faux) fur from the wardrobe and pretend you're Carrie Bradshaw popping out for milk. I love the carols playing in the shops, the hustle and bustle of panicked shoppers fighting over the last Star Wars mug on the stalls.
I love creating my own gift tags with jokes for my niece and nephew. I love wrapping their Toblerones in wrapping paper every year, despite them knowing exactly what's in it.
I love being the only child of seven to have a Christmas decoration with my name on it on my mother's tree. I love filling a stocking for my dog and seeing him tear open every toy and treat all at once on Christmas morning.
And I love taste-testing every course my mother has cooked, from the duck starter to the gravy, to the three different types of stuffing she makes, right down to the trifle.
Yet despite all the love, I realised something last year - I actually hate the day itself. When siblings and their partners arrive at the door, it's a reminder that I'm still single and have no one's plate to throw my unwanted Brussels sprouts on to.
With the entire city closed down and no car at my disposal, there's nowhere to go other than your sitting room, where you can't hear the annual showing of Oliver! on TV for all the chitter-chatter. Then there's the awkwardness of having parents who are separated, but still live together; they don't want to sit at the same table so one of them ends up in the other room, which inevitably ends up with one or two other people joining them so they're not alone.
The dog gets so excited at the sheer amount of people and wrapping paper all in one place that he has to be put out the back, which makes me resent the visitors for making my dog leave his own house.
Then there's the drinking, and with seven siblings and their partners all congregated in the broken home with shots of whiskey in free flow, sparks most definitely always fly, resulting in the family separating into two tribes for the next six months of the year.
The niece and nephew are now teenagers, so don't really want to sit around playing Pie Face and listening to some neighbour no one really likes anyway singing 'Fairytale Of New York'... badly.
So this year I'm taking my mother and we're running away to have our own fairytale of New York, so to speak.
I've told everyone there'll be no presents - the extra cash is going on fur-lined boots and woolly hats. The dog is getting shipped off to my sister's where he has four furry cousins to play with, and the niece and nephew will just have to accept a Toblerone from the airport.
After cooking Christmas dinner for 45 years - one year she cooked four meals, one for the family, one for my grandparents, one for the neighbours and one for the homeless - my mother can finally have a stress-free day where a scrumptious three-course Christmas Grand Buffet meal will be served to her in the luxurious surroundings of The Plaza on Fifth Avenue, before we head to a Broadway showing of Jersey Boys. We're going to sip hot whiskies and eat mince pies with no arguing or filling up anyone else's glass. We'll head to a bar and sing Christmas songs with the locals, and the next day, we'll avail of the winter sales in Macy's and Bloomingdales. Glorious.
So if you too are sick of battling with tangled fairy lights, making four different types of mash just to please the in-laws, or just want to get away from the family, here are our top tips for how not to do Christmas, in style.
The guilt will start to creep in as December 25 draws closer, but this is when running away matters even more. All those presents you bought for your siblings' kids and friends' kids? Unless you have your own kids, you're never getting them back, so screw them. Spend the money you'd usually spend on Lego and Roald Dahl books on a plane ticket abroad instead.
Would you rather sip a margarita on a sun lounger, chatting up the hot foreign waiter, or chug a mulled wine while spurning Uncle Harry's advances? What Eva did: Booked a three-course meal at The Plaza, where we'll choose from traditional turkey or ham, or Cabernet braised beef short-rib rossini or seared salmon for mains, with mandarin orange white chocolate buche de Noel or Three King's Cake, baked almond and pear puff pastry for dessert, £115 each for three courses.
It's always more budget-friendly to book things in advance so look up your hotels and flights the summer beforehand and you'll bag yourself a good deal.
If you're not heading abroad, consider a staycation - a number of hotels here will cater for large groups for Christmas meals and if you want to keep some Christmas tradition, most are offering turkey and ham dinners.
However, if you don't fancy indulging yourself, but want to get away from all the hassle at home, homeless charities are now taking volunteers for annual Christmas Day dinner. Or you could donate to the Christmas Shoe Box appeal and fill a box - collections take place at local churches and the Samaritans and other worthy organisations and schools also run them.
- Simon Community Northern Ireland, tel: 0800 171 2222 or visit simoncommunity.org.