I'm doing sober Christmas and frankly, unless you have to, it's the worst thing ever
I’m sober-not-by-choice this year (I'm pregnant) and here to offer a rebuttal to all those who evangelise on the joys of sobriety at Christmas. It might work at other times of year but like most people, prior to this one, I’d long consigned alcohol-free Christmases to the same dustbin as Tough Mudder and wild swimming. What’s the point? Now, with first hand experience, I can confirm that festive sobriety is just as boring and futile as an eleven mile assault course on Clapham Common (and can be just as confronting as a wintertime dip in the Thames).
I’ve so far endured three Christmas parties, two festive lunches and even a twinkly winter wedding — all sober as a judge while everyone around me became gleeful, Champagne-charged versions of themselves. I’m not saying I had a bad time, it’s just that, if I’m going to debate the merits of a ceasefire in Gaza with a man who's got a tie around his head (as happened at the tail end of one lunch) then I’d rather be a bit drunk. One thoughtful lunch host did sit me between a recovering alcoholic and a person on Ozempic. “I can’t drink at the risk of sh****** myself,” the Ozempian told me, “but I have lost 15lbs” — by the end of the meal we’d all developed a lovely sense of camaraderie.
The thing is, the festive period is a particularly good time for intimacies to be shared and for secrets to slip out. Who didn’t make it home from last year’s Christmas party; which head of department once shared a beery snog with which assistant — lubricated by a few mulled wines, it all comes sliding out, in vino veritas and all that. "For the gossip" might seem like a bad reason to punish my liver but, as a 2021 study by neuroscientists at Dartmouth College found, gossip plays a critical role in social bonding and for me, at least, lifelong alliances have been forged over a bottle of mulled Merlot (witheringly few people, in the sober light of day, would admit that their husband’s erectile dysfunction has actually been a welcome development in their relationship. Given a few wines, though, and maybe a tiny tequila…)
I’ve missed the camaraderie of being hungover
I’ve missed the camaraderie of being hungover almost as much. Most people tell you that pregnancy is a valid excuse to eat the thing — even if the thing is an entire box of Miniature Heroes but actually that’s a myth. You’re not meant to indulge every craving, irrespective of how rabid with lust you feel for that particular foodstuff, at the risk of a stern telling off from a midwife. As mine told me recently, after prescribing "more salads", “gaining 10kg in four months really isn’t anything to be proud of.”
A hangover, though, is a valid — nay, celebrated — excuse to gorge. A bacon sandwich made from 12 rashers of smoked streaky, smushed between two pain au chocolates, washed down with a cheese toastie and an xxxtra-thicc milkshake? Oh you absolutely must! You’re hungover! Your mental health depends on it!
Obviously, sobriety has become increasingly popular in recent years as image obsessed younger generations look at their booze addled older counterparts and rightly surmise that hard living gives you wrinkles and a paunch (or potentially worse depending on how hard the living — if there’s any image more likely to turn a generation on to sobriety than that of Shane McGowan right before he ascended to the big Irish bar in the sky, I’m yet to see it).
And it’s never been easier to be sober — most drinks menus now carry a zero alcohol section and there are whole off licences dedicated to alcohol-free spirits and wines. But, as my mum once told me about losing my virginity, just because something is easy and "cool" doesn’t mean you should have sex with it, especially at Christmas (that was the gist anyway).
The trick, of course, is to be moderate — drink to the point where you’re fizzy, delightful, just loose enough to say something outrageous but not offensive; problems — physical, mental, social etc — only really occur past that point. If you don’t have the willpower to stay within those boundaries, then fine, whatever, you probably should stay sober — but leave the rest of us to our good cheer. I certainly won’t be repeating the experience again.