It’s hard to admit, but I used to hate Christmas. I don’t mean that I mildly disliked it – I really hated it. And I bet if people are honest, there are some others out there who dislike it for the same reasons I did.
It didn’t have anything to do with being anti-religious or anything like that. It was simply the pressure.
And the expectations.
And the obligations.
And the expense.
You get the idea. The entire Christmas season brought out my inner Ebenezer (Scrooge, in case you’re wondering).
So why would anyone dislike such a joyous season? After all, it’s meant to be a time when families are brought closer together. People are supposed to be thinking about peace on earth and goodwill towards men, loving thy neighbor.
You know the drill.
But is that always how it turns out? Let’s be honest, for lots of folks, the holidays are not a time of celebration and joy. They’re filled with family drama, financial concerns, over-scheduling and depression. Many of us have suffered from at least some of these issues.
So let’s look at each one.
Family drama during the holiday season
Let’s get real here for a minute, okay? For many, life is not like a Hallmark movie where everyone gathers peacefully. For many families, the tug of war over who spends which holiday where begins almost from the moment a couple says “I do”. Her family expects that everyone be available to open gifts on Christmas morning. Meanwhile, his family demands that Christmas Eve dinner is mandatory. Let’s not forget that these two families frequently don’t live anywhere close to each other, which means that one side is going to be upset and have their feelings hurt.
This, of course, means that there is also going to be a big heaping helping of guilt to deal with. Not a particularly appetizing dish at any time of the year.
For working moms, this reality can cause stress that begins with seeing those first Christmas decorations in stores.
The truth is that for most working moms, unless their own mothers worked, their mothers and mothers-in-law have no clue how hectic their lives are. And when someone else has no clue about your daily life, it’s too easy for that person to put demands on you.
A lot of the older female relatives in our lives didn’t hold down jobs outside the home. They didn’t have to hoard sick days. They didn’t start in at night doing the chores that their stay-at-home counterparts had all day to work on (and they’re busy too, I know), and they simply can’t comprehend how little fuel many of their daughters and in-laws are running on.
So when the holidays roll around with one more family demand, it often feels like the last straw. At least it often was for me.
Now I admit right up front that I was luckier than most. My job as a teacher, and then administrator, meant I had more time off than most working moms. The downside was that since I had “all that time off”, people felt very free to tell me how I should be spending all that free time. It just made me want to pull my hair out!
I found this excerpt from a diary I’d kept back when my kids were younger. It sums the situation up.
“Command performances to visit parents and in-laws are once again taking over my time off. They have no idea how hectic and stressful life is for a working mother because they haven’t experienced it. By the time a vacation rolls around all I want to do is lay on the couch and drool. Not to mention that there are home and personal projects that have been piling up that beg to be finished. When on earth will I get them done if I don’t get some time at home? These competing demands on my free time make me feel pulled in two. They also make me feel resentful that once again my needs seem to be the last item on anyone else’s concern list. Hubby and the kids want to celebrate Christmas at OUR house. They’re also tired and they don’t want to travel so now everyone is unhappy and I’m caught in the middle. And it’s not enough that we’ll see them DURING the holiday, they want us on a specific day or it doesn’t count. Someone else can wish for peace on earth: my own Christmas wish is for peace and quiet.”
Yep, now that’s a woman who’s really looking forward to the holidays.
Financial concerns during the holidays
As if family drama didn’t create enough stress, money concerns are huge at this time of year.
There’s no doubt about it, Christmas is one of the most expensive times of the year. A 2012 survey showed that approximately 45% or respondent would prefer to skip Christmas completely simply because of the financial drain.
I knew I wasn’t alone.
Not only are there gifts to buy for your kids, but working moms are getting co-opted into donating for gifts and activities where they work.
Many workplaces are encouraging everyone to participate in Secret Santa exchanges, gifts for co-workers, and of course, the big gift for the boss.
At church you’re expected to buy gifts for less fortunate children on the angel trees. And you can hardly find a store that doesn’t have a bell ringer standing at the door expecting you to make a donation. It’s enough to make you want to avoid even the necessary shopping you have to do.
Then there are those additional people you’re expected to buy gifts for in order to show your appreciation. There are gifts for your child’s teachers, the mailman, your hair dresser. The list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, the money does not. Lots of folks are barely getting by during a normal month: the financial demands and expectations at Christmas time are often beyond their reach.
Another diary entry read:
“I heard about a mail carrier who actually left envelopes in mailboxes to remind people that a tip was expected! Peace on earth should be changed to ‘piece of wallet’. By the time December is over I am so upset over financial issues that I can’t enjoy the good cheer that is supposed to be in the air.”
I’m not saying these aren’t nice things to do – they are. IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT. But too often, it becomes an expectation that puts a burden on people who are already financially stressed.
Of course, there’s always the pressure to indulge and create the perfect holiday whether you can afford it or not. This might solve the temporary problem, but the debt waiting for us as we ease into January is always lurking in the background (and probably creating resentment).
Over-scheduling during the holidays
Let’s not forget the many social occasions that are scheduled during the holiday because they can become a source of stress if they’re not managed.
There are work parties, neighborhood parties, and parties with friends. Then there are our kid’s activities: band and choir concerts, athletic events, school plays, and church programs.
That’s before you add in the activities required to get ready for the actual holiday. Personally, I hate shopping for gifts (I’m not a big shopper anyway). While I don’t mind the wrapping too badly once the gifts are bought, I hate standing in line at the post office, and I’d rather face a firing squad than the line to actually return gifts once the holiday is over. By the way, I refuse to even venture into a store on Black Friday.
Let’s not forget about the decorating. There’s the tree, the house, and the outside. Will the neighbors point to our house if it’s the only one on the block that’s not decked out?
Depression during the holidays
I never was sure exactly how it happened. It would creep up slowly after Thanksgiving and be at its worst by December 23. You may know the malady I’m referring to: the Christmas blues. I was supposed to feel joyful. But I didn’t.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone
According to an article in Psychology Today, depression during the holidays is common. This time of year also brings an increase in suicides and suicide attempts. Unfortunately, for too many people, the most wonderful time of the year….isn’t.
In addition to the factors I’ve discussed above, social isolation contributes to depression when those who do not have adequate family and friend connections feel left out of the festivities. So on one of the continuum you’ve got people who are pulled in too many directions by social obligations, and at the other end are those who crave more social interaction. Both contribute to unhappiness.
The over-commercialization of Christmas is also a factor in the Christmas blues. There is so much emphasis on the “perfect gift” and the “perfect family” and the “perfect everything” that it’s difficult not to focus on any deficiencies in your own life. Madison Avenue creates a mighty high standard to live up to.
Perhaps the timing of the holiday also has something to do with the higher rates of depression. As the year grows to a close, it’s natural to look back and evaluate the year’s events. For too many, this evaluation may cause them to find themselves lacking – whether literally or figuratively. Those who have suffered loss may be lonelier during the holidays, and those who have dealt with misfortune may be tempted to dwell on those events even more. While some are singing carols and kissing under the mistletoe, others are remembering traumatic events suffered during the year. These may feel magnified as they’re compared to the joy they see others experiencing.
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Tips for enjoying the holidays no matter what your situation
So how did I get over hating Christmas? I’m sure that time and changing circumstances helped. But the following tips were the real key to allowing me to enjoy the holidays. Hopefully they might help someone else as well.
- Set priorities that are right for your immediate family!
- Decide on your budgetary and time constraints and stick to them.
- Quit comparing your situation to others. After all, the neighbor who is buying extravagant gifts for her kids may be carrying debt that she’s regretting in January.
- Focus on what you DO have instead of what you don’t have.
- Find ways to do for other people that don’t cost money.
- Focus on the sentiment behind the gifts you give rather than their cost.
- Remember that there is no “perfect” or “right” way to celebrate the holidays.
- Focus on whatever meaning the season holds for you personally. If you’re a religious person, focus on that aspect. If you’re non-religious, focus on what you enjoy about this time of year.
- The Mayo Clinic has a list of other suggestions to hep people cope with the stress of the season that may be helpful as well.
“We need a little Christmas, right this very minute!”
Well, I guess that’s debatable. What I do think we need is a little LESS Christmas frenzy and a little MORE peace on earth. So during this holiday season, here is my wish for you:
- Spend time with people who make you happy.
- Do the things that bring you joy while taking a pass on the things that don’t.
- Show your love for others without taking on additional debt or experiencing any financial hardship.
- Give yourself – and others – a break. Goodness knows we all probably need one.
I’m sure there are those who will view this post as one big downer. That’s not the intent. By sharing our difficulties and our honest emotions, we’re better able to deal with them. And it never hurts to know that you’re not alone in your feelings and that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.
I just stumbled across this post about how John Lennon saved Christmas for one woman. And my friend Sue has some great advice on enjoying the season when you’ve got blended families.
How do you deal with the stresses that can accompany the holiday season?
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