'My imperfect family is a blessing this COVID Christmas'
"Merry Christmas to you too … so, when are you getting married?"
"Will you ever have a baby?"
"Are you sure you're not a lesbian?"
These are just some of the many loaded questions I'm asked every year without fail when I go home for Christmas and why I dread spending the Christmas holidays with my family.
Yes, wine certainly helps make the repetitive and at times forced conversations slightly more palatable but it's nowhere near as effective in helping shake the looks of genuine concern that I'm given when I'm asked about my relationship status.
Somehow Christmas always turns into an opportunity for my siblings to scrutinise and judge my love life.
Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell was right, it's as if being single in your 30s is a sin!
No, this is not a pity party. I'm simply making a point, bear with me.
While I love my family dearly, the thought of watching my brothers-in-law play beer pong or listening to my uncle's COVID conspiracy theories just does not appeal.
Apparently I'm not alone. Research from non-profit Relationships Australia identifies Christmas as being "the most likely time of the year for many people to experience anxiety and depression" and indicates that "there can be added strain from spending time with family members" during this time.
Christmas is also said to be "one of the six most stressful life events, along with divorce, moving house and changing jobs".
My day usually starts off well, pleasantries are exchanged in the morning as we dutifully unwrap gifts under the Christmas tree, but, like clockwork, drama is soon to follow.
As soon as my extended family and in-laws arrive, the fireworks begin.
As we prepare to devour Mum's perfectly roasted turkey and ham (which my horrified vegan niece insists could easily be replicated using jackfruit), everyone brings a glass of their favourite drink, along with their insecurities, to the table.
The conversations are a consistent amalgamation of projection, bad storytelling and lame jokes.
Before dessert is even served, my sister is either tipsy, crying or both as she routinely brings up grievances she had from several years ago.
By this point, even the dog has had enough and follows the men (ahem, frat boys) to the beer pong table as Mum awkwardly tries to change the subject.
Look, I do love Christmas and I've been celebrating it since I was born.
I usually love nothing more than to sing along to Christmas carols (which are often blaring in the background at Myer while I shop for gifts for my nieces and nephew), but this year I struggled to get into the spirit.
2020 has been a tough year for most, between the bushfires and the global health crisis we're all fatigued and anxiously awaiting a 2021 reset.
Just as I considered skipping Christmas this year altogether, I learnt a very valuable lesson about the importance of family.
During an interview with former Australian Idol star Paulini Curuenavuli this week, I unexpectedly gained a fresh perspective.
The singer told me that she would give anything to have her father Isireli home for Christmas after he tragically died of prostate cancer several weeks ago.
"I just wish I spent more time with him, that's my biggest regret. It will be my first Christmas without him so it will be a hard one," she told me.
"Always connect with your family because you never know what's going to happen. You always think there's going to be time to kind of catch up with your family, friends and loved ones and suddenly things just change and you've lost someone or you actually aren't able to go and see anyone because of COVID."
Then it dawned on me that millions of families around the world, including Paulini's, don't have the same luxury that I have been taking for granted.
COVID-19 has claimed many lives and forced families apart during one of the loneliest times of the year.
As I considered this as well as Paulini's heartbreaking loss, I suddenly realised that the annoying antics of my family were trivial and petty. I decided in that moment that this year, I refuse to be the Grinch.
The tough year has given me even more reason to value my family (despite the craziness).
With COVID border closures around the country meaning countless people will be forced to spend Christmas without their loved ones, I'm aware that I'm very fortunate.
As I get to sit around the table with my nearest and dearest on Friday, I will be thinking of all of those who can't do the same.
All of the nurses, doctors and frontline workers who are working overtime to keep us safe so that we can celebrate the holidays in a COVID-safe way.
I will no longer complain about something that so many people wish they had and, instead, I will count my lucky stars and be grateful that I have a family who I can spend Christmas with.
Originally published as My imperfect family is a blessing this COVID Christmas