How To Have A Sober Christmas (And Actually Enjoy It)

Yes, it really is possible, says Laura Antonia Jordan.

Woman at a Christmas party

by Laura Antonia Jordan |

If I were to be visited by the ghosts of my Christmases Past, they wouldn’t by mysterious Dickensian apparitions but gobby drunks with red wine-stained mouths. They’d be walk of shaming home, possessing no sense of personal space and indulging in lavish demonstrations of emotion. What they would lack in decorum they’d over-compensate for in volume, most likely screeching ‘I’m fun’ until you felt bullied into agreeing with them. Haunting indeed.

‘I’m fun’ was the familiar refrain I bellowed at the dinner table on Christmas Day 2015. So ‘fun’, in fact, that my parents escorted me to bed at 3pm as everyone else shook their heads and made eye contact with the turkey. There is something sad about seeing anyone too sloshed to stand, smashing a glass and sobbing because they weren’t allowed the word ‘sooo’ (as in ‘I am sooo drunk’) on the Scrabble board, but it takes on a particularly pathetic quality when that person also happens to be dressed in a Smiffy’s ‘sexy Santa’ outfit, eyes, limbs and floppy hat askew. I’d tell you it was all monumentally embarrassing – if I remembered, which of course I don’t.

Barely four weeks after this early exit, I stopped drinking completely (not a direct result – the sexy Santa showdown was barely a bumper scratch compared to the car crashes I used to cause). As in, I haven’t had any alcohol since. Not for ‘special occasions’, or with food, or in private – not a sneaky sip or single shot, not a dram, drip or drop.

Over the course of those early sober months I had to do a lot of firsts: my first sober birthday, my first sober wedding, my first sober date. But nothing filled with as much anxiety as my first sober festive season, which loomed just off stage for 11 months, ready to bring the mood down. ’Tis the season to be jolly? We all known that’s a euphemism.

If you’re newly sober, or just trying it out for size, it can feel particularly awkward when everyone else is launching themselves into drunken oblivion.

Besides, even if I could do it, did I really want to? Real life is an arduous grind, and then along comes December like Friday night on a four-week long loop. I loved the get-out-of-jail free pass you get handed come party season. Copping off with a colleague? It’s Christmas! Out until 4am on a Monday? It’s Christmas! Drinking before noon? It’s Christmas! My season of permissible sinning used to start in October, just in time to pick up the bad behavior baton from summer. Everyone says Christmas is getting earlier and earlier, not for me.

But here’s the funny thing, in my experience, it’s also getting better and better. Unbelievably, being sober at Christmas comes with a raft of benefits. You’re not emotionally, physically and financially bankrupt come January; going into a New Year clear-headed and bright-eyed is a revelation. I bet even the Ingalls family fought like crazy over the holidays, but those Eastenders-grade holidays rows are downgraded without alcohol to spur them on. The risk of saying or doing things you regret is also lessened (not cancelled, something about this time of year can still make you giddily irresponsible), and December doesn’t become a write-off month of never-ending hangovers.

Still, that’s not to say it’s easy. But there are tactics you can implement to make it easier. First of all, have a plan. No, it isn’t the sexiest concept, but it’s a lifeline. For instance, think about what you would actually like to drink. If you’re going to someone’s for dinner or a drinks party, bring something you’ll actually enjoy drinking (it’s amazing how many people can only offer tap water) – and boredom is likely your enemy. If it’s a party-party you might also want to consider assuming the role of your own bartender to avoid the risk of being accidentally served something alcoholic. It also means you avoid those potentially awkward conversations about why you’re not drinking and the pressure to knock one back that’s often implicit – and sometimes explicit – in them.

Indeed, I feel no sense of superiority about my sobriety, but being dry can make others feel uncomfortable. If you’re picking up on that vibe, then simply go undercover. Who’s to know whether you’re drinking a G&T or just a tonic? Furthermore, who’s to care? Answer: absolutely nobody once they get past a certain point of drunkenness (which is approximately the same time they start telling you the same story over and over and over).

I understand that if you’re newly sober, or just trying it out for size, it can feel particularly awkward when everyone else is launching themselves into drunken oblivion. Again, planning comes in handy here. Align yourself with someone you trust, a friend who has mastered the magical art of ‘drinking sensibly’ or who knows what you’re doing and has your back in doing it. Have your white-lie exit strategy ready too in case you need it. Shocker: drunk people can be really, really boring (don't hate me). If you’ve reached that stage then stop people-pleasing, press eject and get out of there. And remember, all of these situations become easier the more and more you do them. I was the first person to dance at our work Christmas party spurred on by nothing more than Diet Coke, a hefty serving of festive cheer and a great dress (another tip: embrace the party wardrobe, I swear that going a bit extra with your clothes can have a glorious effect on your attitude and outlook).

For those of you, like me, who were or are problematic drinkers, it’s tempting to start romanticising what it was like and to feed yourself a ‘just one’ lie. But keep a lowlights reel of your worst moments ready to play in your mind should you need it. It will remind you why you’re doing this in the first place.

If it’s your first sober season, I understand the temptation to call the whole thing off, and either cave completely or hit hibernation mode until January. But you’d be missing one of the biggest joys of an un-drunk Christmas: there is something wickedly entertaining about watching chaos unfurl around you, safe in the knowledge that you are not the cause of it. Cheers to that.

READ MORE: Things You Only Know If You're The Adult Child Of An Alcoholic At Christmas

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