What Chosen Family Christmas means to Gen Z

It's the most wonderful time of the year, so why can't we spend it with the people we choose to be our family?

Hero image in post
Hero image in post

It's the most wonderful time of the year, so why can't we spend it with the people we choose to be our family?

By Ryan Cahill12 Dec 2023
8 mins read time
8 mins read time

Wake up on Christmas morning with a horrible hangover without fear of judgement.Opting out of both King’s Speech and endless hours of board games, only to let your younger sibling win on the last round. You can have a Stella for breakfast, a pot noodle for dinner and a Daim bar for dessert. Sounds like bliss? This is the reality when it comes to spending Christmas with your chosen family.

For those who don’t know, your chosen family are the people around you who aren't biologically related but to whom you hold in the same regard as your bloodline. They provide the same love, support and kinship as a stable and functioning blood family. Your chosen family could be a large group of friends, or simply a couple of friends and their own blood families. The idea of a chosen family comes in all different shapes and sizes, but the one constant within every chosen family is the love, comfort and joy that we all crave and deserve, especially during the festive period.

Over the holidays, the notion of a ‘Chosen Family’ becomes more important than ever. With Christmas typically marketed as a time for celebration amongst blood family, there are many who aren’t able to do this for a plethora of reasons, whether that’s broken family ties, having little family left, ticky geographical logistics or even because it’s unsafe to return to the people you grew up with

Here, four individuals who are spending the upcoming Christmas Day with their chosen families reflect on the importance of having an alternative unit to spend time with during the holidays.

Zoe McCluskey, 29

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I have a confusing relationship with my Dad. I love him, he is there for me in many ways and we get on well, but when it comes to Christmas, it brings up a lot of complex feelings to me about our relationship. In the past, he has planned Christmas with his wife's family without communicating this to me and my brother. I always feel he isn't excited to spend time with me at Christmas and sees it as an inconvenience in a way. I have tried to communicate with him on these subjects, but with no real resolution. I believe I have a second family in my friends, so I’ve decided to spend Christmas with them this year. My friends have been a constant in my life in different ways. I love them as sisters. One friend invited me to there house and I just thought “fuck it”. Why should I put myself through a negative mindset to get through one day? I am happy with my decision and feel excited to spend it with my chosen family. I can feel relaxed and my whole self. There are twelve of us getting together. I have said I can help with cooking, I have organised a quiz, and really want the day to be as enjoyable as possible. I think the notion of “chosen famil” is important for many reasons. I think families are difficult and don’t always share your views and you may not always feel fully accepted. With chosen family, you can be yourself, feel comfortable bringing things to the foreground, have more regular communication so there’s less anxiety around the day – which already has such pressure to”‘have a good time”’. I feel so much better that I have taken control over what I want to do – and I feel like I will enjoy the whole festive period and space events out. I am finally looking forward to Christmas!

Bailey, 24

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At the heart of it, it’d be a bit awkward settling at one partner’s family house and leaving the other with no gays. As neither of us drive we can’t hit up both in one day, so staying put in the middle seems like the fairest option. Our other friends have immediate family that’s away or have other things going on, so we thought it best to band together. Our first time [doing this] was last year and it was a very small affair. One of my best friends lugged his PlayStation over from Greenwich and we watched the classic BBC comedy Motherland for the first time, so it was a truly life-changing night to say the least. This year, we’ll definitely do a canal walk and maybe stick our heads into a pub for a drink before heading home and unleashing the most insane array of picky bits on our oven for a lovely dinner, lots of games too (UNO, Scrabble, the Rizla game), and then sticking Love Actually on. To start with, lots and lots (and lots) of Buck’s Fizz. We’re all fairly recent UNO converts, so drunk board games are going to be gorgeous.That’ll eventually lead to watching our favourite pop-girl performances all snuggled on the sofa, and doing dad jokes until someone's side splits totally open from laughing too much. It’s a different kind of kiki than you can have with your family. It doesn’t replace childhood tradition but is instead its own thing entirely. You speak to so many people who are totally daunted at the prospect of a giant family Christmas where there are 10 cousins on each side and about 50 aunts and uncles all crammed around the table, Home Alone style. But obviously that’s not the reality for everyone, people have really complicated family dynamics and that’s magnified tenfold when you compare to those around you at this time of year. So to have a kind of respite, or other place, where the people who you are around constantly for all those emotional things you need in life can rejoice with you is pretty lush. And as someone who has a super tiny family who aren’t really bothered about the holiday anyway, it’s just nice to do something different where I wouldn’t be chilling alone in my room all day.

Sophie Davenport, 33

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I only have my grandparents around now and with them being so elderly and immobile, they will only be watching Star Trek and acting like it is any other day. It’s quite sad to see that Christmas isn’t the fun time that it once was, so I choose to go and spend Christmas with friends instead. This is not the first year. I have done so several times and to be fair, usually have invites from a fair few different groups of people. In the spirit of Christmas, my friends can’t bear to see me alone and want to get me involved which is nice. This year I’ll be going to my friend’s family home. Her dad will be making a big Caribbean-style Christmas dinner and they will have all the family round which I enjoy massively, as this is something I’m not used to. I’m looking forward to the family environment, playing board games, and not being alone. As an only child with only my elderly grandparents as family, a chosen family is so important. Having other people to rely on other than blood is essential, or I’d find it difficult to cope, especially at Christmas time when the onus is on family values and togetherness.

Alex Thidling, 25

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My family lives internationally so spending Christmas with them is difficult to organise, especially at the most expensive time of the year to travel. My chosen family feel very much like an extension of my family, which I feel very blessed to be able to say! I’ve spent Christmas with my chosen family twice before, but this year I’ll be heading over to Glastonbury to spend the day with my closest friend’s family. I expect the typical Christmas shenanigans, party games, boozy Christmas cocktails and indulging in delicious food. I usually don’t plan too much other than spending time with people I love. It’s so lovely to have a couple of days where you’ve got nowhere to be but in the present. In the summers we all spend a lot of time stomping around festivals, so I think fancy dress is a non-negotiable at any party, so that will definitely be a highlight! I think having a chosen family is such an important part of life. I believe that the people you chose to love are a reflection of who you are as a person rather than who you were brought up to be. It’s significantly symbolic as they are often the ones you’ll spend the rest/ most of your life with, and that’s something to be celebrated together, like at Christmas.