It’s Okay Not To Holiday

A whole lot of people are celebrating holidays right now, and it seems like the holiday season is a source of stress for many of those people, particularly people with disabilities. Stress about attending family events and dealing with judginess or inaccessible houses. Stress about being required to go to holiday parties for work. Stress about being forced to observe religious traditions you don’t follow in the interests of not causing ‘a scene.’ Stress about hosting events and cooking and making sure everyone’s happy. Stress about buying presents. I see the stress everywhere; everyone I talk to is unhappy, everything in my RSS is exploding with holiday-related stress, and it seems more like the season of misery than cheer for a lot of people.

Maybe that’s not the case for you! Which is awesome. If you love the holidays and look forward to every single aspect and are just bursting with excitement, well, you  might not like this next part very much: I don’t celebrate the holidays. I don’t buy presents, I don’t send cards, I don’t put up ornaments, I don’t attend parties, I don’t cook mammoth amounts of food, I don’t travel to be with family. This is in part because I’m not religious; we celebrated Christmas when I was a kid but it was purely secular and as soon as I grew old enough not to resent the fact that everyone around me was getting presents, we stopped. The last holiday event I attended was a Passover Seder a bunch of friends hold every year.

But it’s also because I hate social gatherings, I hate the fraught social minefield of handling cards and presents and things, I can’t deal with large crowds of people and Smells and all of the things that are usually present. So I pretty much check out during the month of December, when the United States is caught in a flurry of Christmas, 100%, all the time. People seem shocked and horrified that I don’t celebrate even a little.

And, you know, a lot of people seem to view me with pity when they find out I don’t have plans for Christmas dinner or what have you. They seem to think that I must be really sad about this, about ‘not having anyone to celebrate with,’ and I’m usually deluged in invites to attend events, which I politely turn down. It was only very recently that I realised very few people are willing to come out and say something I think is pretty important:

It’s okay not to holiday.

If you don’t want to celebrate at all, for whatever reason, that is okay. It’s also perfectly okay to decide that you want to limit what you do during the holidays, again, for whatever reason. Maybe you have limited energy and you want to budget it to do something you care about, like lighting the Yule Log, and you’d like to politely turn down things that will be drains on your energy. Maybe you just plain don’t want to go to the holiday party where everyone will stand around drunk and talk in increasingly loud voices about nothing in particular. Maybe the thought of dealing with family makes your hair change texture and you really just want to spend a few quiet days at home, perhaps alone, maybe with partners or friends. Whatever. It’s okay.

You don’t need my permission for any of those things, of course. But I know that sometimes I find it helpful to be reminded that it is actually okay to take care of myself. I can request or refuse things and not explain them. I can make choices designed to protect myself, whether it’s from really indifferently cooked turkey or from relatives I can’t stand being around. And you can do that too; you don’t owe anyone your time, or your energy, or anything else.

Writing in November, I talked about the pressures many people experience around food and the holidays:

It’s hard, I know. There is no one easy solution; not all of us have the choice to opt out of obligations, not all of us can speak up at the table, not all of us have a choice about where we eat and when and how and what is in front of us. There may only be small, small things you can do to assert your space and your right to exist, and I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. I’m not going to say ‘just don’t go to holiday dinner if you don’t want to’ because I know it’s not that easy, and I know you’re a grownup, and you can make that choice if you want to. But I am here to tell you that I support you in whatever choice you make, in any choice you can make that will increase your happiness levels at a time of year when things are often grim.

You are allowed to do whatever small things you need to do to make the holidays, whether you celebrate or not, easier for you. That might be politely suggesting that you cannot host the family holiday party this year even though you really want to because it eats a lot of energy. It might be offering an alternative to something you cannot or do not want to do; ‘gosh, I would love to attend dinner at your house but I think it will be a little overwhelming, why don’t just you and I go out for lunch the day before to catch up?’ It might be asking your family to please respect the fact that your identity is not up for debate or discussion. Whatever small or large action you decide to take, remember that you, too, are a human being with boundaries and limits and that you deserve to be treated with respect.

By 17 December, 2010.    life changes, normality, othering  , ,  



11 Comments

  1. Awesome blog post! I’ve got 2 kids, and we celebrate Winter Solstice as well as Christmas. Over the years I have pared things down to the very basics that we all enjoy. For example, both kids are picky eaters, and the husband doesn’t care if he eats cereal. So we might just eat a frozen pizza on Christmas. I’m over feeling guilty about that. Yule log is a Duraflame log. etc. When one does celebrate, I say pare it down to the things that really MAKE the holiday for you, and only do those parts. If that is still too much pare down even more. Eventually you will reach something that works for your body / mind and your holiday expectations. Once my kids are grown I hope to light that Duraflame log for Yule, eat some pretzels and cheese, and take a nap 🙂 That would be an awesome holiday too.

  2. Suzy Turquoise Blue

    Thank you for this post.

    I moved cities this year, so my family are 2793 km away in one direction, my closest friends are 1,204 km away in another direction, and I don’t have the spoons/energy or the money to travel.

    My boyfriend is very much of the opinion that Christmas / New Years etc is just another day.

    So many people have been saying “What are you doing for Christmas?” “Please tell me you are doing something special for Christmas?” and it has just felt like this big overwhelming, unsolvable obligation.

  3. As someone who suffers from agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, and general depression, this season is especially difficult. It’s hard enough the rest of the year, but with all of the social obligations, I find myself reaching for my tranquilizers more often than I’d like to admit. I’ve suffered with these issues since early in my life, and there are people (my mother, for example) who still don’t seem to grasp the fact that it isn’t something I can just change at the drop of a hat. The season does not make me any more comfortable in social situations, if anything it makes it worse.

  4. I used to feel very pressured to somehow be “in the spirit” in December, even though I’m Jewish and have no interest in celebrating Christmas at all. There’s always a lot of talk about how it’s a “universal” holiday that “everyone” can (read: should) enjoy. Um, no. I mean, you can take universal meaning from any holiday, I suppose, but that doesn’t make Christmas a Universal Holiday That’s For Everyone.

    Anyway, a number of years ago I was in a second-hand store a couple of days before Christmas, and the cashier said to me, “So, do you have all of your Christmas preparations done?” When I said, “No, I don’t celebrate Christmas,” she sighed and said, “You’re SO lucky.”

    After that, the pressure was off and I gave myself permission to detach from all the goings-on. I enjoy lighting the candles at Chanuka and making latkes, and giving my daughter a small gift, and that’s the extent of my December holiday. I sit all the rest of it out. I don’t go shopping unless I absolutely have to because I can’t stand the crowds, and the stress, and the feeling like everyone’s got their fingers stuck in a light socket and they’re completely buzzed. The main thing I like about Christmas Day is that everything is closed and that means that everything is finally, totally, blessedly quiet.

  5. I like ‘doing the holiday’, but I don’t like that it now lasts all December. Thinking about how stressed it can make people, I’m now not surprised that basically everyone checks out and is ON holiday all January.

  6. I get asked what I’m going to do a LOT when I tell people that I’m going to take a break from work. Of course not so many people understand when I say I just want a break from work (without going away on holiday), or that I just want to play computer games. So I emphasise that staying at home is cheap, that I just want to relax, that I want to catch up on some things at home (omitting that ‘things’ means sleep and games, not housework or renovations like they might think), or mention that I’m having ‘me’ time. Perhaps some of you could use these suggestions for people that want to innundate you with invitations? You could also say that you can’t discuss your plans for the holiday, with a wink to imply that your plans are not to be discussed in polite company (though I realise a lot of people won’t want to use this one, you can see that I don’t). Often just mentioning that you have a quiet day in planned can be enough for people, as at least they will accept that you have plans (maybe).

  7. Since I’m not the only autistic one in my family, we’ve always done a subdued version of the winter holidays. We don’t really celebrate christmas at all, and never have, though we usually had a tree to decorate because it looks nice, and did one “nice” dinner, with special foods and a dessert (it’s pretty unusual to have dessert with every evening meal here, or at least in our circles, not sure about elsewhere). There is Sinterklaas, but that is usually an event only for parents+children anyway, no extended family. I’ve never really participated in christmas or Sinterklaas celebrations in work or school.

    My own family is easy to spend time with so it costs me nothing, which I’m glad for. Partner’s family is harder, but I don’t have to spend a lot of time there, an afternoon or an evening tops. Luckily they’re also not the kind of people who throw huge parties and get loud and drunk. They’ve also gotten more used to having things planned out longer in advance and notifying us of it in time, though one person is in the habit of inviting random strangers (to the rest of us) with no ahead warning to every family gathering, which is stressful for me but not something I can do anything about unless they try it on my birthday.

    Unfortunately November+December also have a lot of birthdays for us, and I have to opt out of most of them, and don’t mind usually, but I hate that I might not be able to go to my little niece’s birthday tomorrow (she’s turning 5). I’m still trying to pull spoons together to see if I can do it, but really I already know it’s a bad idea.

    I wish it was possible to opt out of New Year’s, but though I can avoid the social stuff, it’s impossible to block out the rest of it even if I close all the windows and tape off the edges (and I do). At least our housing agency is really good and has taken it into their own hands to make sure no one is abusing fireworks or even bothering other people with it, if we’re at all bothered by anyone using fireworks outside of the assigned time we can call a number (yeah, they should also have e-mail, but I’ve never even seen any initiative like this before so I’m still happy and I have someone who can make calls for me).

  8. I would love to opt out and celebrate how *I* want to celebrate, to enjoy holidays how *I* want to enjoy them. At this point in my life, I don’t have a choice, and I resent it and get frustrated and break down in tears every year. I just hope that someday it’ll be up to me.

  9. I do Christmas with my family because I actually like gift shopping. (I do what I can in weird local stores and do the rest online, so I don’t really set foot in malls.) My boyfriend and I tend to do our own Thanksgiving thing, though. His family’s in another state and I’m rarely super eager to see my family both at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My family used to do big gatherings with grandparents when I was younger but they became rarer as kids grew older and I don’t miss them that much. (I miss my relatives, but not really driving super far to see them. The whole thing was pretty draining.) My mom seems to have quit trying to guilt trip me into visiting so I’m happy with things the way they are.

    When I hear people saying they’re thankful to be with their families at Thanksgiving, I think how thankful I am to be away from my family.

  10. Wow, I admire you! We stopped exchanging presents with my side of the family several years ago–multiple people were too old, too poor, or too ill to shop. And I enjoyed the holidays with them more, esp. knowing that time with some of them was very limited and valued. Plus I had guilt for spending too much money or not spending enough–I was either harming our budget/family needs or hurting someone’s feelings. We still buy for the kids and still decorate but I really want to pare back on the decorations–too much work.

  11. This is such a good message for the festive season.

    About 10 years ago I moved to the other end of the country from where I was brought up – and where my family and many friends still live. The first year, I went ‘home’ for the holidays, and it was a nightmare – the expense, the stress of travelling so far in bad weather, the crowds, the delays, the obligation to see ‘everybody’ (but stressing out over having to fit with everyone else’s conflicting timetables, because ‘it’s such a busy time of year’) … the list is endless. The next year, I gave myself premission not to celebrate the holidays – or rather to celebrate them in the way I wanted, by which I mean ALONE – and I’ve never been happier.

    At first the family were horrified – “You can’t spend Christmas Day alone!” – until I pointed out that I spent nearly every other weekend and holiday alone – because I like it that way – so why should Christmas be any different? Now they accept it – parents have even said they’re glad I’m not putting myself in danger by travelling up to see them.