We’re always under pressure to give our children the perfect Christmas, but is it really an expensive gift or extravagant meal that really matters? We asked adults who were raised in single parent families about their favourite memories of Christmas and what was really important to them.

Christmas always started for me when we went to watch a local Nativity performed by a local Secondary school. The event was free so that the whole community could attend which usually meant that there wasn’t even standing room left and people would listen from outside. Singing some Christmas carols made it feel like Christmas time had begun.

I was 9 and my mum had finally left my abusive dad. We had a council house lined up, but they had to put us in a temporary place over Christmas- the town’s old ambulance station! We washed at the kitchen sink and took hot water bottles to bed as the floorboards creaked and frost patterns formed inside the windows. All stress for my mum but an Enid Blyton adventure for me and my siblings – there was even a ghost!

As the school holidays started, my mum left us while she went to work. On Christmas Eve she came home and praised us for being so good, presenting a gargantuan tin of Quality Street. We dug our hands in and threw them in the air in the warm glow of pleasing my mum. And being free.

As a child I remember loving decorating our Christmas tree. We had lots of old decorations from when our mum was a child. My favourite were bells, some of which still rang. I always had to hang the bells and would go around the tree ringing them whenever I could.

My favorite Christmas memory is going to my gran’s. When it came to Santa visiting, my gran and mum went all out. In the morning I wouldn’t just find half drank milk and carrots, they would squish raisins to make it look like reindeer poop! 30 years later it still makes me laugh.

Growing up in a single parent household I remember that money was often tight but that our mum would always do her best to make sure we had a great Christmas. One year in particular stands out to me from when I was 10. On Christmas Eve that year my mum took me and my sister to the supermarket and told us that for dinner that Christmas we could either have the traditional roast or whatever else we wanted! 

Me, my mum and sister all went round and picked our favourite meals, my mum had sweet and sour, my sister Peking duck and I chose a chicken curry, then we chose a big chocolate pudding between us. 

That Christmas was the best meal because we all had exactly what we wanted.

One of my fondest memories of Christmas was the first year it was just me, mum and my brother. Mum had worked right up to Christmas Eve, and we hadn’t even put up decorations. But I woke up to a full stocking and we all headed downstairs and put up the tree on Christmas morning together, listening to music and dancing round the living room. We ate pizza for dinner and stayed in our PJs all day and it was so happy, relaxed and beautiful family time.

I remember watching my mum sitting with a pile of that year’s Christmas cards, cutting out the pictures from the front to make them into gift tags for next year. As I got older I started to help her and now I do it myself. Each year I love looking back at the pictures from the cards I was given last year.

The first Christmas after my dad passed away was not something I looked forward to. Having had such great memories of Christmas with my dad, the idea of celebrating one without him was something I couldn’t fathom. I remember being at one of the Christmas assemblies in school, and just starting to cry, my year 6 teacher taking me outside to talk to me and console me. But bless my mum, she tried her hardest to make Christmas like it used to be, she was never the biggest fan of Christmas dinners, and every year it would be my dad who made it, but she made the effort and made a Christmas dinner from scratch. 

For the 10 months while my dad was in hospital, I would spend a lot of time at my neighbour’s home, while my mum would go to the hospital. So for Christmas, my mum arranged for them to come round and coordinated what gifts they were going to buy me, so I got some wrestling figures, and then played with them most of the day. Having other people there made it feel special, and of course they just wanted to make sure I had the best day possible under the circumstances. 

My mum tried to keep as many of the usual traditions in place, so we definitely watched both episodes of Eastender and Coronation Street, we called both sets of grandparents, and my mum even made an extra effort with the Spanish Christmas treats that my grandparents, putting on a little spread and ensuring it was always topped up. And in the days following, she arranged for us to see family and friends, many of whom were grieving themselves still, but we all came together in a time of sadness to be there for each other. That first Christmas was always going to be different, and when I asked my mum about it, she said of course it was such a sad time, but my mum tried her hardest to make sure I enjoyed it anyway.  

The following years, my mum would continue to go above and beyond, even when she got a job that meant she would work Christmas Day. It meant we might celebrate on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day instead and our Christmas dinner became a curry, which was easier for my mum (and arguably tastier). I never felt like I went without Christmas, and of course as I got older and looked back, I became so grateful for the lengths my mum would go to.

If you have a single parent Christmas story to share, we’d love to hear it! Get in touch using the Your Christmas Story page. You can find also practical tips for Christmas on our Christmas advice pages.

Merry Christmas!

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