If you’re actually enjoying this on Christmas Eve, there’s a very high possibility that somewhere in the world right now – well, my home – I’m enjoying a glass of Baileys.
I want to tell you a little story about Christmas tradition, then we’ll head into the territory of social pressure, before rounding up on a more mildly uplifting message than usual towards the end.
Sound good? Great.
When I was 16 I was lucky enough to have what some might see as both a drain on mental health and a positive blessing– two distinct sets of friends. With a Christmas Eve evening of drunken folk-dancing planned with one, I decided to arrange a daytime walk along the beach with the other. That’s the thing about a Cornish childhood, no matter how many bars turn you away, there’s always the beach.
I don’t remember if I bought a bottle of Baileys or plundered it from my family’s kitchen, either way we drank most of it (all of it) while walking up and down the shore. We hugged, laughed, and swapped presents, then I headed home and slept off my drunk in an armchair until it was time to head out and get drunk again.
The next year we went back to the same beach, although it wasn’t really the same, just a vain attempt to replicate or catch that feeling on the sand from the year before. Maybe we knew it would be one of the last times we’d try to be that close together. Maybe we didn’t. We drank Baileys again.
The following year, with different friends, the beach was never a plan and neither was Baileys, although it was still a fresh memory, in the way that “this time last year” always seems to be clearer than yesterday. Then at 3 a.m. in some house party liquor cabinet before the most hungover Christmas Day of all time, there it was – a single measure of Baileys.
That’s three years in a row, and enough in my mind to call something a tradition. Pigs in blankets was suddenly a tradition one Christmas despite my never having had them before, so three years seems like a pretty strong footing.
Still, over the years – and I don’t want to think just how many there’s been since I was 16 – distractions and obstacles came and went and Baileys stopped being something I thought about at Christmas. Only in recent years, when the brand has been reinvigorated as something (supposedly!) classy and sexy has the idea of the tradition come back to me.
[The love letter to this specific brand of Irish Cream Liqueur is over now. I’m not being paid for this but oh how I wish I was!]
So something struck me this year while I was buying the second-smallest bottle available. I don’t see any of those friends anymore. I don’t even have those we should all get together sometime long-distance conversations with them.
A sort of sadness washed over me while I put down the bottle and picked up the gift pack with the two presentation glasses in instead. Could it still be the same tradition without the people who helped make it?
No. But also, yes.
When I hold that glass in my hand I’ll feel a swell of nostalgia for the things that we did in the past, for the places I’ve been that are no longer the same and the people I knew who are no longer there. But will I miss those people? Probably not.
None of these friends have died. We weren’t separated by war or diaspora, and we didn’t have a major conflict that drove us apart. We just stopped talking. Sometimes it’s sad, when lives and responsibilities get in the way of seeing each other and things fall apart, but sometimes it’s just the natural progression of a friendship through an acquaintance to well, nothing.
Calling them up might be interesting, even a little revealing, but it won’t reactivate those moments on the beach or at the 3 a.m. house party liquor cabinets, only reference them. No matter how much is marked and remembered, those will be new friendships, strangers pulled from the past that look a little bit like someone you used to know.
I feel like this modern world tends to pressure us into holding onto the past. We leave town but can always afford to fly back. Friends we’ve lost sight of geographically are always just an email away. People we used to go to school with add us on social media then invite us to like their new business page before even saying hello.
These people and places develop without us, and when we’re forced to reconnect we often find ourselves facing in different directions entirely. This doesn’t make us bad people, it makes us different people.
Social media is a stalling or slowing in the natural process of social entropy. Sometimes things fall apart, because they’re supposed to.
You aren’t a bad person for letting the past be just a memory.
You aren’t a bad person for failing to connect with people you used to stand beside.
You aren’t a bad person for getting a glass of Baileys at 10 a.m. with the thin excuse of needing a nice photo for your member’s community, but ultimately using one of the bottle instead.
You aren’t a bad person.
Have a great Christmas and a fantastic New Year.
I ho-ho-hope you are well.
P.S. Remember that as a member of this community, only you will get the opportunity to pick up 500ish Days In The Quiet Room at a scarily low introductory price, and after launch only you will get a digital copy of the companion collection All Better Now for absolutely free!