I don’t celebrate from a religious perspective, nor do I tend to get swept up in the commercialism of the season. We grew up poor, but the memories and associations I have with the holidays are incredibly fond, warm and glowing with happiness. No matter how old I get or how chaotic the world might be, I look forward to December every year with all the joy and enthusiasm of a child.
Which is why I find it so challenging to understand how others might not enjoy, and may even dread, the coming of the holiday season.
Take my friend John, whose own childhood left much to be desired. Poverty was the least of his many real concerns growing up within an extremely toxic home and family environment. Christmas for John brings up memories of struggle, disappointment, and loneliness. As a result of his terrible experiences around the holidays, he generally avoids any merry-making, deliberately eschewing those traditions and activities that mark a time of happiness and connection for others.
This year, I thought I’d try to help my friend find a way through the holiday season that didn’t involve a 3 litre bottle of wine and a take out pizza, and maybe even spark a little Christmas joy.
Here are some tips if you or someone you care about struggles to get through the holidays:
For those who have negative associations with Christmas, simply reframing the holiday season to avoid or eliminate triggering terms or dates can help. For example, you might choose a different day within the week of festivities to celebrate and focus on, such as Yule or Winter Solstice (December 21st), or even New Year’s Eve.
You could even try inventing your own name for a Winter celebration. How about Winter’s Feast, Happy Chrimble, or Festivus for the Rest of Us? (ok, I may have borrowed that one).
Don’t Hide It
I know one of the pressures my friend John experiences is having to keep up the pretence of ‘being like everyone else’ around the holidays. Many people feel they will be pitied, or judged a Scrooge if they admit that they just don’t enjoy Christmas.
Finding a way to be honest without raining on anyone else’s Santa Claus parade might be as simple as responding to those difficult questions of what you’ll be doing for the holidays with something like “I’m not a big fan of Christmas, so I’ll be keeping it low key”. Of course, you may choose to share more personal details with those close to you, in order that they can understand and respect your reluctance.
It may help to realize that you are not alone, and that many others find the holidays challenging or downright miserable. By having the courage to share the truth of your feelings about the season, you may find that others open up with similar experiences of their own. In this way, you help others feel a little less separate and lonely when faced with the holidays.
Many people who don’t like Christmas find they are triggered by the more showy, commercial aspects of the holidays, or by events that focus on big get togethers with family and friends. This is especially true for those who have lost a loved one or have other negative family experiences associated with the holidays.
Pick and choose those activities and events that are least triggering, and that don’t feel overwhelming. You might choose to avoid the office Christmas party and that big family dinner, and opt instead for a holiday egg nog with a couple of close friends, and a Boxing Day brunch.
Whatever activities you choose to engage in, keep it simple and manageable. Don’t risk exhausting your limited holiday spirit before you make it through the whole season.
Many people who aren’t fans of the holidays cite over-commercialization and the pressure to spend money as a major source of stress and loathing. And with good reason; our materialistic society places an inordinate amount of emphasis on buying mounds of gifts, purchasing expensive decorations, and imbibing and over-eating as the main elements of a ‘Merry Christmas’.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a growing movement of people interested in bringing back the subtler joys of the holidays, such as spending time with loved ones, exchanging handmade gifts, and simply enjoying the sights, smells and tastes of the winter season.
If you are someone who dislikes Christmas and are surrounded by family or friends who insist on celebrating it with you, let them know ahead of time what you are, and aren’t, prepared to engage in. Suggest alternate ways of celebrating, such as exchanging names for gifts instead of buying for everyone; limit the decorating to one room and the front porch instead of the entire house; let them know you won’t be staying up all night on Christmas, but that you’d be happy to make everyone breakfast in the morning.
Take Pleasure In It
This one might feel counterintuitive, but give yourself permission to enjoy a little of what the season has to offer. Working to maintain a sense of curiosity and childlike wonder may allow you to see and experience the true delights of the holidays.
My friend John admits that much of his reluctance and resistance to celebrating is the fear of disappointment that hangs over his memories of holidays past. By allowing himself to enjoy some of the little things – sipping a hot mug of cocoa, sitting by a cozy fire, walking in fresh fallen snow, or stringing popcorn and cranberries for the tree – he is allowing a little joy to creep back into Christmas.
Whatever the reason you find yourself dreading the upcoming holidays, I hope these tips encourage you to keep your heart and mind open to the possibility of finding a little genuine joy and comfort in the Christmas season.