Christmas is a time for family. Family meals, family fights, and now―it seems― a time for finding out your family may not be your family after all.
Last Christmas, sales of at-home DNA tests soared. It seemed people could not give their DNA to companies fast enough while paying for the honour. Many bought it for fun, or to scratch a small itch of curiosity about their heritage.
This year looks set to be no different. Alongside a considerable Christmas-time discount, Ancestry currently boasts that their product is ‘a gift as unique as their DNA’. Meanwhile, the BBC has described at-home tests as “The Christmas present that could tear your family apart”.
How did DNA tests fast become a go-to festive gift and, more importantly, whoever thought it was a good idea? By very design, the painless swabs have the potential to uncover a wealth of very painful family secrets ― proof of adoption, infidelity, romantic affairs. Perhaps it all ties into the festive theme of the season — Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ real father after all. Although, he never needed a DNA test to tell him that.
I’ve been signed up to the UK’s main DNA testing websites ― Ancestry and 23andMe ― for almost two years now. I am part of the UK’s first generation of IVF babies, and my sperm donor was anonymous, so I signed up to try and discover close relatives, and quickly discovered a half-sister.
To make it clear― I am not anti-DNA testing (although I know many people are for privacy reasons, to god-knows-how-my-DNA-will-be-used reasons). Matching with my sister was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
I actively wanted to find her, and it took me half my life because I had no resources to help (bar selling my DNA to a major corporation and hoping they don’t use it to clone/frame me in the near-distant future).
But while it brought me answers and joy, it was so emotionally draining that I’m terrified of ever going through it again. Therefore, it’s not something that dominates my Christmas list.
Which is why these days, I look towards this festive bump in the sales of such tests with somewhat wary optimism. Crucially, I have no idea how many times my donor donated, so I don’t know how many siblings I have.
Rather than socks or a shiny new gadget, my Christmases now offer vulnerability and promise in equal measures ― will I find another sibling? Will I find 5? Might I even find my donor?
Of course, the surge in home DNA tests is not just a phenomenon confined to Christmas. But between Yule time, New Year’s sales, and Black Friday, it’s a busy period, as companies get paid to collect and test people’s genetic data