The holiday season is officially upon us. Some of us have been counting down the days until the radio stations play nothing but Christmas music, start putting up our tree the day after Halloween and already have plans for New Year’s Eve. It’s the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” after all, right?
But what if it’s not? What about those of us whose anxiety levels start to rise mid-November and continue to climb until after the start of the New Year? Those of us whose cheeks start burning with the effort of fake smiles somewhere around the time our kids open the first door of their advent calendars?
Many of us have ornaments we hang on our Christmas trees every year to designate some sort of memorable “first:” our first Christmas together as a couple, the first Christmas after we got married, each of our kids’ first Christmases. Fun holiday firsts that fill us with joy when we remember them.
But there are other “firsts” that some of us are dealing with this holiday season that we don’t necessarily want to remember next year—“firsts” that won’t be commemorated with a dated ornament.
Maybe it’s your first Christmas…
…after the loss of a family member
…after a divorce
… after a job loss
… after a difficult move
… after setting boundaries with loved ones
… after a bankruptcy
… after a spiritual shift
… as an empty-nester
… after receiving a difficult diagnosis
This list is far from complete, there are a million “first Christmases” that make holiday cheer a little harder to create, or even tolerate. Maybe this holiday season isn’t your first after a significant change or a loss, but the pain is still there and made more intense from the emotions and events surrounding the holidays.
As much as Hallmark and Hollywood would like us to believe, we’re not Ebenezer Scrooges if the holidays just aren’t our jam. It’s okay to say no to parties, to happy hours and to gift exchanges. It’s completely understandable and even commendable to stay home in your jammies on New Year’s Eve and be asleep by 11pm, if that’s what feels right and good to you.
The holidays can be overwhelming, be kind to yourself. The holidays will go on if you choose not to throw on an ugly Christmas sweater and sit in a packed car with your in-laws to drive through neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights. Maybe your mom or Aunt Martha will act like you’re ruining the holidays when you choose not to show up for the Annual Family Holiday Movie Watch and Charades Night, but you’re not. They will go on without you or they won’t, and that’s their decision, not yours.
Holiday traditions can be wonderful. They can connect us to great memories of the past and remind us of the love we share with our friends and family. They can also be stifling and divisive, creating unwelcome pain and trauma. Even the best of traditions can long outlast the reasons they were created in the first place and cause anxiety and animosity for those whom they no longer serve. Don’t risk your sanity to save a tradition. And don’t feel the need to participate in activities that don’t bring you joy.
If you’re feeling more Grinch-y that usual this year, give yourself the permission for that to be okay. Give yourself permission to say “no,” to decline invitations and to only participate in traditions that are meaningful and special. Give yourself permission to do what you can, when you can. Don’t suffer through the holidays trying to keep everyone else happy or trying not to step on toes.
You are not going to ruin Christmas, it’s historically impossible. Jesus tends to show up every year right on time regardless of whether or not you do. Give up the fake smile, put yourself at the top of your gift-giving list and say “no” more often. Whatever you can do to get through the season with your health and sanity intact is the right thing to do. Turn off the music, refuse to watch the movies, bypass the presents. Take care of yourself in this season. It’s not selfish, it’s self preservation.
Hang in there, my Bah-Humbug friends. January 2 is waiting for us!