What to do when you hate the holidays

Jenna Birch
Contributing Writer
When you hate the holidays. (Photo: Getty Images)

Jingle bells. Carolers. Christmas trees, menorahs, mistletoe, lights, and decor you put up for just a few days. Presents and shopping lists. Families coming together, sometimes in chaos and conflict. Tons of snow. Expectations. If you don’t exactly like the holidays, this season is a lot. In fact, it’s pretty much an assault on your sanity.

Most people either love or hate the holidays; I fall in the weird, smaller camp that’s so deeply neutral I couldn’t possibly care enough to choose a side. As such, I can see the appeal and I can see the drawbacks. But I always seem to notice who’s swooning over songs like “Deck the Halls” at gatherings and who looks like they’d rather be anywhere else.

You don’t have to love the holidays, but you likely do have to participate in some form or fashion; if you don’t, it might create more flak than it’s worth. Here’s a quick survival guide for those who hate the holidays but have to show up anyway. (You can do this.)

Try to focus on the new, present holiday, not the old, the past, and the sometimes-depressing memories.

The holidays can bring back a lot of memories, and for some, those memories aren’t pleasant ones; perhaps you always went all-out on Christmas with your ex-husband, or you can’t help but recall your childhood each time you show up at your parents’ house (even if you’d rather forget it). Though you’ve probably moved on, sometimes it’s still uncomfortable to make these visits backward into the past every year.

Try to reframe what the holidays are, in your own mind. One of the beautiful things about each new year, about the present, is having new experiences that will eventually form new memories. If you approach the holidays with an open mind and embrace the new elements of each year’s celebration, you can begin to overwrite those memories from the past. So, shift your focus.

Maybe you have a new girlfriend or boyfriend to celebrate with (or you’re growing as a single person!), maybe you’re gathering at your house instead of your parents’ home, maybe you can try new recipes to replace the old or focus on creating new traditions. Focus on what’s new about each year, not reliving those moments better off lost to the past.

Find at least one reason to enjoy every single holiday event you need to attend.

While some memories are better lost to the past, not all traditions and rituals will be. Although the activities and events surrounding the holiday can be new and improved, you typically know the layout of your holiday season before it begins. One of the reasons I do like the holidays, even in my general apathy for the season, is that I get to do a few things each year that I don’t normally get to do. For instance, I really like the candlelit portion of the Christmas Eve services back home. I really like my mom’s sweet potato soufflé on Christmas Day. And I really like seeing my niece and nephew open presents on Christmas morning (because their pure, childlike reactions are just too precious).

I’d rather skip some of the mayhem. There’s a lot of prep and cleanup to be done (ugh), a lot of small talk to be made at gatherings (not my greatest skill), and a lot of expectations that aren’t always met (I wish they didn’t even exist). And often, that’s the focus among those who really hate the holiday season. I challenge you to focus (and live for!) those moments you enjoy the most. I know they exist. If you need to set aside some gratitude-journaling time to locate them, do so before you show up.

Recognize that this is the season of giving; even if you don’t like the season, participation is a gift in itself.

So, maybe you’re not “getting” much from the holidays. Maybe you don’t care, don’t understand, or don’t want to do the big, crazy celebration. Well, I don’t want you to think of the holidays that way anymore. ’Tis the season to give to your family, friends, kids, or significant other, right? No matter how much you don’t want to be there, often your presence is a present in itself — and sulking about how much you hate the holiday can ruin it for those you love.

When you enter a gathering or arrive at an event, you generally know who would appreciate your participation most — whether it’s your festive significant other, your parents, your grandmother, your kids, the list goes on. Focus your energy on making this one day or one event extra-special for them. Check your attitude at the door. Get the gift your son really wants, make conversation with those you barely ever get to see, put in face time with your partner’s family members. Be the gift. (You can do it; it’s literally a handful of hours.)

Be fully present, but find a compromise that preserves your sanity.

I do know some people who struggle with the holidays for emotional reasons. Perhaps you have terrible related childhood memories that are triggered each year, or the burden of revisiting traumas from the past seems too much to handle. If that’s you, I’m sorry you’re in this position each year, and I do think preserving yourself is important.

If you really struggle with this season, or a holiday itself, be open with those closest to you about the feelings you’re experiencing. There’s usually a balance of events you’d be OK with and some boundaries you can put in place in advance so that you can feel dramatically better about the overall emotional load. You can tell your family the exact time you’ll need to leave the Christmas festivities, for instance. Or you could take separate vehicles to the holiday party, so that you can leave if you need to and your partner can stick around if he or she is having fun. Or you could ask to plan a low-key celebration at home instead of anything too crazy with expectations and work.

The most important element here is early honesty. So many people are not honest with those they love when they have trouble with the holidays, which typically explodes in conflict when emotions reach a boiling point. Know thyself, speak up well in advance, and then don’t feel bad when you state your needs and parameters.

And now, let me wish you happy holidays — even if you hate them.

Jenna Birch is author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love (Grand Central Life & Style). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to jen.birch@sbcglobal.net with “Yahoo” in the subject line.

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