“I hate Christmas!” I was sitting on my couch one September evening when I made this loud announcement. I had just done the budget.
We could either fix the oil leak on our car or travel down to Florida to see our families for the holidays. Otherwise the holiday trip was going on the credit card… again.
I came to the realization several years back that I didn’t like holidays anymore. I had turned into the ultimate bah-humbug. For years I had loved the holidays, waiting in anticipation for Christmas morning, cheerily decorating the house, listening to Christmas music through all of December humming the tunes under my breath.
Then a funny thing happened. I moved to another part of the country and there was an unrelenting pressure from my family to fly in for the holidays every year.
The pressure came from both sides, Steve’s family and my own. It wasn’t the only reason we’d racked up so much credit card debt, but it sure wasn’t helping.
The money factor wasn’t the only issue. See guilt is an insidious thing. Steve’s momma and my momma both wanted us at their homes for Christmas but they lived three hours apart. We could fly down to Florida (racking up credit card debt to do so) but we couldn’t clone ourselves and spend the day in two places.
We tried to bargain with them, one year at one house, the next at the other. No go. We tried splitting up, Steve spending the day with his family, me spending the day with mine. We only did that once. It was terrible not seeing the love of my life on Christmas morning. I cried. We never split up on Christmas again.
Then we implemented the total Christmas sacrifice strategy, we’d start out on Christmas morning on one coast of Florida, spend 3 hours there, then get in the car and drive for 3 hours to the other coast of Florida and spend the remainder of the day there. It worked… sort of.
The momma’s were appeased but Steve and I weren’t enjoying ourselves at all. We did the total Christmas sacrifice strategy for quite a few years.
Here’s how it worked: We used up all of our vacation time for the year visiting Florida for the holidays. We’d typically drive back and forth from one coast to the other a few times, driving the rental car across state to drop one person off so they could spend a week with their family while the other spent a week with their family.
Then a few days before Christmas one of us (whichever had the rental car) would drive across the state, spend a days there until Christmas morning, when the mad dash back across the state started all over again.
The whole time there were two momma’s using a full arsenal of guilt tactics to try to squeeze out an extra day or so in their favor. We’d fallen into the classic holiday trap, trying to be too many things for too many people and doing too many things at once.
We’d arrive home from our holiday vacation (also our only vacation of the year) feeling burned out, broke and exhausted. Christmas cheer anyone?
It was no wonder I sat on that couch proclaiming my never-ending loathing for the holidays. Steve, always the more sensible between us, said, “Maybe we need to redefine our holidays.”
So we did. We sat on that couch together and examined what we used to like about holidays and what we didn’t like now. It was time for some new behaviors. We wrote out a list of things we didn’t like, things that caused us stress. We also wrote out a list of how we wanted to celebrate instead.
1 Redefining Priorities: I knew what my biggest stress factor was: Spending the holidays separated from Steve. I never wanted to do that again. My other top stress factors were: Traveling at all on the holidays, spending money we didn’t have on holiday travel, feeling obligated to purchase so many gifts, going shopping in the mad crowds to buy the gifts, and decorating the house a la’ Martha Stewart style.
What I liked about Christmas was: Spending quiet time at home reflecting on the year past, eating a wonderful meal with people I cared about all around me, exchanging thoughtful gifts with people I loved, listening to Christmas music, and going on a snowy hike.
Making the changes from what my holiday reality was to my ideal holiday reality didn’t happen over night, it didn’t happen that first year either. I still bought just as many gifts and pulled out all the stops with decorations, but I stopped the money drain.
We both told our families we wouldn’t be flying down for the holidays but they were welcome to visit us if they wanted to. We ended up inviting a few close friends to our home for Christmas. Christmas dinner was cooked on our woodstove and our friends all brought along a dish as well.
We spent a wonderful day gathered around the coffee table (no dining table in our lives) enjoying the food, the drink, the companionship and the conversations. Afterwards, we all went on a hike around the 5 acres of our property.
It was glistening white from the snowfall and we could hear the crunch of every footstep. The forest was filled with stillness and silence.
It was the first Christmas in many years that I truly enjoyed. The funny thing about it is we didn’t exchange any gifts with our friends. We just exchanged companionship, good food, and the warmth of togetherness.
I can’t even remember any of the gifts that I gave or received that year. What I do remember is the magic of that simple day. The important stuff. What holidays (for me) are supposed to feel like.
2 Rinse and Repeat: It took us several years to completely redefine our holidays. It started with redefining our travel plans. It was the first step in our “take back the holidays mission plan”.
It’s been many Christmases ago that we first made that announcement. Since then we’ve moved back to Florida, so no more snowy forest walks. We traded it in for the beach which is where we’ll be headed after spending a quiet Christmas day at home.
Was it hard for the momma’s? Yes. It still is. Every year they do their special momma guilt guerrilla tactics, the difference is I’ve redefined what the holidays mean for me. They don’t mean getting in a car and driving for hours.
They don’t mean getting on a plane and battling the Christmas airport crowd. They don’t mean fighting tooth and nail for a parking space at the shopping mall. They mean tranquility, good food, good company, and a nice walk wherever I happen to be.
Moral of the Story
Frantically doing something you don’t want to be doing is a form of clutter. It’s not physical clutter, it’s spiritual, mental and emotional clutter. If you’re not happy with the way you’re celebrating your holidays, maybe it’s time to redefine them. Merry Christmas everyone.
The editor of Ethical Living, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.