The centrepiece of Christmas celebrations in our early years was the tree, beside which stockings and presents were hung.

Food was important, too — turkey, of course, and mince pies and Christmas cake, sugar mice and lots and lots of chocolate. It was a day — which started long before dawn — that was all about the children.

However, my daughters Bryony (now Naomi) and Naomi were late teens and only one of their brothers believed in Father Christmas. Our family celebrations no longer drew on childish enthusiasm. The girls were also beginning to drink alcohol. It started very gently, when the girls were about 15 or 16 — with them sharing the bottle of champagne, diluted with orange juice, that their father and I would open after their brother was in bed. However, as they entered university, their Christmases had a significantly higher alcoholic content.

When we opened the stockings we would see the champagne first, followed by breakfast. As the next bottle would be open we would move to wine until late lunch.

Jane Gordon admits she's nostalgic for the days before her daughter's sobriety effectively cancelled their 'fabulous family Christmases'. Pictured: Jane Gordon and her daughter, Bryony, who is now sober

Jane Gordon confesses that she feels nostalgic for those days when their “fabulous family Christmases” were canceled by her daughter’s sobriety. Pictured: Jane Gordon and her daughter, Bryony, who is now sober

Even the beverages — hot chocolate or coffee — were alcoholic, topped up with Baileys (apparently known as ‘Christmas Milk’).

It may sound outrageous, or shocking to some, but our family celebrations were so much fun.

Bryony, my beautiful, brilliant elder daughter was the heart and soul to our Christmases. We loved her as our joker and cheerleader.

She was the one who kept the laughter — and the booze — flowing into Boxing Day.

It was impossible to imagine a large day without her, which made us all laugh.

She was so kind and so happy to have me there. We were so much fun, that I didn’t believe she meant the bottles she encouraged each of us to open one after another. This was part of the event, surely everybody drank this way?

In my eagerness to keep this family day alive — a day that even included my ex-husband after our divorce when Bryony was 23 — I quashed my fears in a haze of fizz and red wine.

And I wasn’t the one who became neurotic. It was my obsession to get it right that I ended up being a total nervous wreck. For example, there was that year when my old cottage’s electrics melted with the half-cooked turkey baked in the oven. We finally got to sit down at 10.30 pm, after which the entire extended table fell apart under the weight all the food and bottles.

My tears were so heavy that I was hysterical and wept, and then I closed the door to the closet under the stairs.

Jane (pictured) said her own late parents raised she and her brother believing it was best that they were openly and gently introduced to alcohol at home as adolescents

Jane (pictured), said Jane’s late parents taught her and her brother that it was better for them to be introduced to alcohol openly as teens.

Only Bryony could coax me out by singing a medley of songs from the Frozen movie, in which the lyrics were slightly edited: ‘Let it go Mum/ Let it go/ we don’t want to hear you cry’ and ‘Mother/ Do you want to build a Snowman/ Please I know you’re in there/ come out the door’.

As our numbers extended with the addition of Bryony’s husband, Harry, and Naomi’s fiancé, Jerry — plus their now-grown-up brother Rufus — alcohol slowly but surely became the glue that held our dysfunctional family together.

Another year — back when the girls were in their early 20s — I grudgingly agreed that Bryony and Naomi could meet their friends for a couple of hours at the pub on Christmas Eve, insisting on a 10pm curfew (I took Christmas very, very seriously).

They didn’t take their keys. I was awakened at 2am by them. As I let them in, I screeched furiously: ‘Christmas is cancelled!’

Bryony made sure that the alcohol flowed into Boxing Day 

Bryony managed to calm my nerves and won me over with hilarious excuses. (‘Mum, Santa had got a late-night extension at The Bull and how could we say no to him?’)

It occurred to me that I should question the liberal parenting approach we have. My late parents were also not heavily drinkers and had raised us in similar ways. I believe it is better to have alcohol introduced at home when we are young.

It would not be strictly forbidden but encouraged. They believed we’d grow up with a more balanced approach to life than an excessive one.

It worked to an extent because, while I love a glass of champagne (as much for its symbolic link to celebration as its taste) and an occasional glass of red wine, I am — luckily, I now realise — one of those people who is physically ill if they drink too much.

Jane said a dramatic drunken incident in 2017 prompted Bryony to accept that she was indeed an alcoholic. Pictured: Jane Gordon (right) with her daughter, Bryony, and granddaughter, Edie, in 2015

Jane stated that Bryony was forced to admit she was an alcoholic after a shocking drunken incident. Pictured: Jane Gordon (right) with her daughter, Bryony, and granddaughter, Edie, in 2015

But, it is something I regret. I didn’t realize that Bryony had a problem when she was younger. Although I understood that she was an alcoholic party girl, I also knew that her drinking habits were not always so good. However, I did know that she could drink for several weeks at a time.

She wasn’t, I decided, an alcoholic, as they were people who drank all day every day, weren’t they?

It was not my mistake. In the late summer of 2017, a dramatic drunken incident at a 40th birthday party she attended — what Bryony would later term her ‘Glorious Rock Bottom’ — prompted her to accept she was indeed an alcoholic, and she embarked on a 12-step rehab programme that ultimately saved her life and her sanity.

Running was something she took up, and since then has completed two marathons. She is also a very influential and passionate advocate for mental well-being and an active member in good standing of Alcoholics Anonymous. She is kind, generous, smart, compassionate, loyal, and unprejudiced. I’m so proud of all that she has accomplished.

While I’m supportive, my empty seat at the table is saddening and makes me resentful. 

As a family we were — and remain — supportive and respectful of her sobriety. We still got together for barbecues and birthdays, but always in the daytime because then alcohol wouldn’t be involved, and that was the only time Bryony felt happy to socialise.

Of course it’s possible to have fun without having a drink. Bryony is still Bryony. He was the person who could always make us smile and lighten up our rooms.

But it wasn’t until her first sober Christmas that I realised how difficult it was for her, and how much it would affect our annual celebrations. The worst day for recovering alcoholics is December 25th, I understand now.

That year we had our festive lunch in a restaurant, and although Bryony didn’t expect us not to drink, it was awkward. The only glass we had to toast Christmas was one, and the rest of the table drank much more than what they were eating. They also made the same noises as we made during previous Christmases.

Jane (pictured) said it is not surprising that recovering alcoholics so often absent themselves from family gatherings

Jane (pictured) stated that it was not surprising for recovering alcoholics to be absent from their families gatherings.

Their voices sounded like they had the best time in their lives. However, our conversations were strained and jokes nonexistent.

It was my favorite day of the year, and it had been my heartfelt regret.

The second Christmas of Bryony’s sobriety, she and her husband and my little granddaughter, Edie, excused themselves from our family celebrations and flew off to enjoy a sun-baked holiday in Thailand.

I felt distraught but eventually accepted the fact that she would not be able to continue with family events. She needed to create new traditions and distance herself from temptations.

Recovering alcoholics are not uncommon to be absent from their families’ gatherings. There have been many friends of mine who were also affected by the absence of their adult child, who couldn’t bear to be sober for the day that even those closest had one.

My favorite day of the year was gone from my heart. 

In fact, as I thought how hard this must be, I started to feel angry on Bryony’s behalf about the way alcohol is pushed at us all as a vital part of the big day.

The December 2020 alcohol sales were at their highest level ever. However, over the last few weeks television commercials have placed selling spirits during this holiday season above the spirit itself.

For example, many supermarkets offer an alcoholic version of the BOGOF (buy One Get One Free) deal. What was the point at which alcohol became an essential part of Christmas joy?

Bryony was also in Covid restriction last year so I found myself in a bubble. She equates Christmas Day meals with alcohol and had beef Wellington.

Jane (pictured) admits that she is ridiculously nostalgic for the days before sobriety effectively cancelled their fabulous family Christmases

Jane (pictured) confesses to being ridiculously nostalgic for those days, before their wonderful Christmases were effectively canceled by sobriety

We shared half of a bottle of champagne with my son-in-law (Bryony was happy for us both to enjoy a couple of drinks), and my granddaughter added some old-fashioned magic. We briefly met her siblings, and their father for a short time to celebrate together while exchanging presents on Clapham Common.

So, here we are at the end of this year. Bryony called last month and asked me if I’d like to spend Christmas in Cornwall with her family at a luxurious Airbnb. You could take your dog along and you could enjoy long walks or delicious meals.

Part of me wanted to celebrate the occasion with my beloved eight-year-old granddaughter the same way that we celebrated Bryony’s birthday. It was a difficult decision for me.

It would be impossible for me to visit my children Naomi, Rufus and Rufus if I was to go to Cornwall. They are tied to London because of work. Also, I have to admit that I’m incredibly nostalgic about the wonderful family Christmases before sobriety.

I refused the invitation to Bryony because it was too hurtful and Edie who I love so much.

Naomi and her fiancé, Jerry, and my ex-husband, Jack, and I will attempt to have a merry time together in London. Alcohol will not play such an important role in our day — Bryony’s experience and our divided family celebrations have sobered us all up.

Jane (pictured) has lingering worry that in allowing alcohol-soaked celebrations when Bryony was not yet 20, she was in part responsible for facilitating her alcoholism

Jane (pictured) is still concerned that Jane allowed alcohol-soaked parties when Bryony wasn’t yet 20. This was partly responsible for her alcoholism.

We will pop a bottle of champagne at noon and will sit down, early evening, to turkey and all the trimmings (with a bottle or two of good red wine), but I know it won’t be the same.

My daughter’s sobriety was positive, but her seat at the dinner table on the most important family day will not be.

As sympathetic as I may be, the empty space makes me angry and sad. Her absence feels like grief. My wonderful late mother once said that Christmas is the capital of family. All mothers with grown-up children will relate to the fact that the onset of ‘in-laws’ can upset our dream Christmas Day — having our entire brood with us.

As mothers, we learn to compromise and share out our time with our children with their partners’ families. We may not like it — and privately we might feel a kind of competitive jealousy towards the ‘other’ family — but we accept it.

It is more difficult and painful to try to compromise when there are recovering alcoholics in the family.

Try as we might (and we have) to achieve a Christmas Day when we all come together without alcohol, it doesn’t work because Bryony, too, mourns the old times. Because she had never felt so safe drinking, she loved spending time with her family.

In my heart, I hope one day that Naomi and Rufus will have the opportunity to reunite with Bryony in the near future.

Meanwhile, I suffer from the lingering worry that in allowing such alcohol-soaked celebrations when Bryony was not yet 20, I was in part responsible for facilitating her alcoholism — the alcoholism that has ultimately resulted in us having such sadly separate family Christmases.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a free helpline: 0800 9177 650,