Last year our house was full of tradespeople and come Christmas our house wasn’t in a secure enough state for us to leave it unattended. So sadly we couldn’t journey down south to spend the festive period with family as planned.
Our Christmas was spent on a building site and despite some SERIOUS reservations before hand we had a lovely time. We set up a make shift table in our old bathroom (which is now a bedroom), complete with freshly plastered walls, boarded floors and copper piping sticking out of the wall. We sniffed out some fairy lights and tinsel from our storage unit to drape over fireplaces and cement mixer and stocked up on booze. And we thanked God we had water (although no hot water or heating, no bathroom sink), a working oven (but no gas – so no functioning hob) and a microwave in the cellar. The kitchen had no functioning sink (or tiles or sealed worktops or flooring or back door or roof at the back…) it was basically just an oven in a room. So we ferried dirty dishes back and forth to the bath or cellar and most of our meal prep occurred on a chopping board balanced atop our old microwave down in the cellar too. It was hard work but hilarious.
Evenings were spent huddled in bed to get away from the cold (we spent the majority of 3-4 months in one room) watching OITNB and The Fall on our computer which was precariously balanced on a chest of drawers at the bottom of our bed (which is where I perched to do all of my work for 12 weeks). Friends popped by with booze, chocolate and warming meals but because the house was so exposed (3ft gap under back door, no alarm system, no roof for parts of the downstairs) we didn’t venture out much. It was bliss and we learnt a few things thanks to our building site Christmas.
What we learnt spending Christmas on a building site
1. It doesn’t matter what the food is and it needn’t be expensive
It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the traditional food you are used to, it doesn’t matter if it isn’t the best cut or from the fanciest range. It doesn’t need to be turkey and all the trimmings, it doesn’t need to be that thing you have every year – the world won’t stop turning if you don’t get pigs in blankets (scrap that one, that would be a disaster.) What matters is getting to eat that meal with someone you love. Oh and you can cobble your Christmas lunch together the day before, it is possible to find turkey etc. on Christmas Eve.
2. You can survive Christmas without TV
For many of us Christmas is about the big name shows splashed across our screens having been hyped up for months and months. And whilst we watched our fair share of Netflix and DVDs we completely skipped the big hyped up shows and constant hum of the Christmas specials in the background. We didn’t miss them one bit, in actual fact it felt good to not even know what the Radio Times had billed as THE BIG SHOW to watch in 2014.
3. You don’t need a tree
We had some fairy lights, a few cards dotted around and a bit of tinsel. We didn’t have a tree and it didn’t matter. I was sad for a few short seconds about the prospect of no tree and then I laughed whilst I tied pound shop tinsel to a power drill.
4. You don’t need to wrap gifts
Try wrapping presents when the only surface in your house not covered in brick dust and plaster splatters is YOU. I just barely managed to wrap a few bits and bobs for friends whilst in the car but Mr Thrifty and I just didn’t bother to wrap our gifts to each other.
5. You can microwave sprouts
Pop them in a microwavable dish, cover with water. Place the lid on your dish and microwave for 4 mins – take them out to check how much longer they need before popping back in for somewhere between 2 and 4 mins.
Then throw them away. Well obviously don’t throw them away but just don’t give any to me.
6. You don’t need a fancy new outfit
I’m not sure where the “I need a brand new outfit for each and every Christmas” thing came from but I certainly remember just wearing my favourite clothes as a child (maybe with a nod to the colours green and red) and that was that. In recent years many people have decided they need a brand new Christmas outfit (and I’ve fallen into that trap) but nope, no, it’s not essential. I had a new Christmas jumper but mainly because I’m the idiot who didn’t bring enough jumpers with her to spend winter on an unheated building site.
7. Strangers are amazing
Having, a year ago, only lived in our home for about 9 months we weren’t familiar with all of our neighbours but once they learnt how we were spending Christmas they came over, introduced themselves and offered help. One couple gave us their house keys so we could have a hot shower and make work calls in peace and quite, another couple gave us an electric fan heater and a family down the street invited us for Christmas lunch and we had more drinks invitations than we could shake a stick at. We have had some problem neighbours in the past so it was amazing to receive such generosity and kindness from people who were effectively strangers up until that point.
8. Blankets and lamps make a difference
By Christmas we had spent a month living on a building site with ever increasing amenities (at the start we had a mattress, a loo and errr…2 sockets) but little touches make all the difference. When we realised we would have to stay at the house over Christmas I insisted we fetch our bedside lamps and some more cosy blankets from our storage unit. As we ate, slept, socialised, generally lived and I worked in this one room it sent us a bit stir crazy. We were grateful the other bedroom (where we ate on Christmas day) was ready-ish on Christmas Eve but we thought it best to keep to one room for the majority of our time in order to stay warm in the plunging temperatures. The extra blankets were draped over the crap we were storing in our room (essentials like food, suitcases of clothes, bikes etc.) to just dull the feeling of looking at the same crap every day. The lamps merely made things a bit nicer than being lit by a bare bulb (still bare, by the way). It was like a Christmas sensory treat.
9. You don’t have to go to Church to understand the true meaning of Christmas
We couldn’t leave the house vulnerable for those few short days whilst the builders were off. So rather than go to church we hunted down a great nativity on YouTube (it doesn’t currently appear to be on YouTube but here is the link to the Wiki page, so hopefully you can track it down) and read aloud some bible passages. These simple steps were incredibly important to us and show you can have a faith centred celebration without leaving the house.
10. Time out from the ‘norm’ is good for you
I am a ‘traditional Christmas’ lover but time out from ‘normal’ Christmases was good for us. It made us so appreciative of all the easy, convenient Christmases we have celebrated throughout our lives. Renovating our home is our choice and it is a privilege, sitting in our bed in the cold was our choice. For some it isn’t a choice, for some they are freezing cold without gas or hot water or the trappings of a ‘normal’ Christmas every single day. We are incredibly thankful for everything we have.
Now I can’t say we don’t ordinarily love most of these things, because we DO. We love our traditional stuffing, and crap TV specials and y’know leaving the house but it felt so good to have it confirmed that we could have a fantastic Christmas without the hype, without dozens of people and without splurging.
Oh and another thing I learnt, when you are drunk on a building site you might think it is fun to make ‘snow angels’ in plaster dust. It isn’t.
P.S. To all you lovely people who have contacted me to tell me you will be on a building site this Christmas, don’t worry there is light at the end of that tunnel. Make sure you have a hot water bottle (or 4) and a bottle or two of gin. Good luck!