Drinking alcohol isn’t the only way to have fun at Christmas

Sober Gals Wales is creating a safe space for non-drinking women to celebrate and socialise without booze, this festive season

Emily Power, 29, founder of Sober Gals Wales, said: “Sobergals Wales is all about enjoying life without booze, and proving that it’s possible.” Photo by Sophie Colson.

A well lit room, crowded with women of all ages, laughing and chatting. The walls are covered in tinsel and bright twinkling lights, Christmas music is playing, and decorated trees stand in every corner. The bar is filled with snacks and mugs of warm mulled wine. It’s a scene recognisable to most people as a Christmas party. The only difference? There’s no alcohol in sight. 

Sober Gals Wales is a community of some 700 women who are at different levels of sobriety and who host events like this one, Christmas wreath-making, to meet like-minded women. 

It began in 2022 as a way for founder, Emily Power, 29, to make more female friends who could relate to becoming sober. “It was initially my way of finding my own sober network, but now it’s me providing that for others as well,” she said. 

Power had begun by trying to meet women on the Sober Girl Society, a social media group with 210k Instagram followers, but struggled to arrange meet-ups with local people. So, she created Sober Gals Wales with those in the area who seemed willing to meet. 

Katie McMenamin, 29, was one of those women added to the initial group chat. She said: “When I joined I was trying to meet new people.”

I’m completely teetotal. I don’t see myself ever drinking again because I don’t feel I can moderate. My life’s better off without it

Emily Power

The ‘non-drinking’ generation

Power explained she used to drink at the park when she was 16. Her drinking habits were normalised when she went to university, and began binge-drinking. She said: “I’ve always had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. I was aware of that for a long time before I accepted it.”

Current beliefs around young people’s drinking habits are very mixed. The UK generally pictures university students as binge-drinkers and recognises that drinking at 16 is common. Yet, it’s also a popular belief that the current generation of young adults are non-drinkers. 

According to DrinkAware, 16-24 year olds are more likely to be non-drinkers (21%) compared to the rest of the population (13%). That’s one in five young adults, according to the report made in November 2023. 

Despite this, adults aged between 18-34 in Wales who do drink are more likely to binge. Almost three in four (73%) of people in this age range report binge-drinking in the last year compared to half (50%) of those aged 55 and over. 

“I’m completely teetotal. I don’t see myself ever drinking again because I don’t feel I can moderate. My life’s better off without it,” said Power.

Katie McMenamin, 29, realised sobriety was the right decision for her when she went out with her friends at Christmas and returned having spent less than she used to on a taxi home. Photo by Sophie Colson.

Sobriety and mental health

Another reason Power became sober was for her mental health. Hangovers would last two days, and leave her feeling anxious for up to a week. While at university, she was seeing a counsellor who suggested alcohol could be a factor for her anxiety and she could try giving it up. “I genuinely laughed,” said Power, “because I didn’t think it was possible. I just couldn’t imagine life without it.

“It took me a while to accept that it was alcohol that needed to go, and then to have the guts to actually do it took me a while too,” she added.

McMenamin’s journey to sobriety also began because of the health benefits it offered. “I was a binge-drinker so if I went out, I went out,” she explained, “ I wouldn’t say I had a problem with alcohol, it was just always there. Social events always focused around it, you didn’t see the girls unless you were going for bottomless brunch.” 

She explained that it was a bottomless brunch that convinced her to try sobriety as it prevented her from running a 10k the following morning. According to DrinkAware, this is a common problem for young adult drinkers (aged 16-24) as they are twice as likely to experience memory loss and twice as likely to fail to do what is usually expected of them, compared to older drinkers. 

McMenamin said she never would have got her dog if she hadn’t become sober. She would have felt guilty skipping walks when she was hungover, and now her pup is the Sober Gals Wales mascot.

“It’s just so nice to know that she exists for me because I don’t drink anymore,” added McMenamin. 

Tifa the dog, photo by Katie McMenamin.

Misconceptions and safe spaces

McMenamin said misconceptions to being sober include alcoholism, religion or being boring. Power explained she still liked going to the pub with her friends and it was common for people to assume she wouldn’t. Despite this, both women agreed that there seemed to be more alcohol-free options available now, and that the attitude towards sobriety seems to be improving.

Power emphasised that Sober Gals is a safe space for women who can relate to each other because of their shared sobriety. “For a lot of us in the group, some of those issues that might’ve led to us drinking are quite gender specific,” explained Power, “We are also very welcoming of non-binary and trans women. We don’t want it to exclude anyone but we also need it to feel safe.” 

Can you be sober in Cardiff and still have fun at Christmas?

Sober, according to Collins dictionary, can have a few meanings; not drunk, a serious and thoughtful person, and when in relation to clothes, plain, dull or subdued. It seems there’s a lot of connotations to the word, but this event couldn’t contradict them more. As women welcome newcomers like old friends, they twine fir tree branches with orange slices and pinecones. The walls are covered in tinsel and bright twinkling lights. Christmas music is playing and they’re singing along. There’s no alcohol in sight. 

  • Chance and Counters or Scaredy Cats, board game cafes 
  • Peggy’s Pots, Pottery painting
  • Mini golf in St David’s
  • Light trail at Bute park
  • Ice skating, food and games at Winter Wonderland 
  • Comedy night and other shows at Cardiff Christmas Festival: In the Spiegeltent
  • Curling, candle-making and wreath making at Tiger Yard’s Winter Wunder-Yard 
  • Or try one of the activities with Sober Gals Wales