How To Survive Christmas

Photo by Andreas Avgousti on Unsplash

It was Rod Stewart that did it. Up until then, I was doing okay.

This isn’t my season. The lack of light. The shameless commercialism. The weaponized nostalgia. Everything harks back to some fanciful past that, if it ever existed at all, certainly wasn’t mine. I don’t have good memories of Christmas, or of much else prior to adulthood. Given the suffering that goes on every day in this world, I’m not going to harp on mine. Let’s just say that I don’t like Christmas and leave it at that.

But I was doing okay. I sat through a party with a smile on my face, making small talk and playing the host. After all, these are our friends. Sometimes I think the hardest thing for people to understand about introverts is that not wanting to always be around people doesn’t mean that we don’t love them. It just means you need a break. I love my family. I love my wife. I love my mother-in-law, the smooth worn old jokes notwithstanding. But I can’t be around anyone — anyone — without some time for myself every now and again.

And Rod Stewart was the final straw.

The grating voice of the world’s most inexplicably successful Tom Waits tribute act dragged me straight back to 1993. Songs I haven’t heard in decades, with words I still know by heart, collapsed all the years between then and now. I was back in the house I grew up in, my parent’s favorite CD spinning out those same horrible tunes. Baby Jane and Maggie May droning on while I twisted the wire branches of our artificial tree into hooks to hold decorations that even back then were falling apart.

No, I don’t enjoy Christmas. Before I was married, my holidays mostly involved locking the door and binge-watching movies while sullenly drinking. And they were glorious. But now I’m married, and I have the feelings of another to consider. Two others, in fact. This is the first Christmas since my father-in-law died, and set against that, my own issues become astonishingly unimportant.

But I have my limits. As one Rod Stewart song followed another, I felt my breath growing short. A kind of panic set in. Everything I’ve seen and done in the past 26 years evaporated as though it had never been. I was once again a confused and miserable kid, trapped in an environment he had no control over, celebrating a festival that meant nothing to him in a home that had suddenly become alien. So I left. I jumped in the car and took off for the forest. In the silence beside the steel waters of the lake, only a solitary raven spoke to me. It was there I wrote this.

Live like you

Christmas is bullshit. If you’re a Christian or some form of pagan devoted to the solstice, then, by all means, enjoy your holidays. But for the rest of us, this means nothing. The sun will rise again; there’s no need to lure it back with a feast. Sticking a cut tree in your living room won’t make Spring come any faster.

Humans need holidays, and there’s nothing wrong with marking the passage of the seasons — if you want to. But no law says that you have to. You’re under no obligation to celebrate Christmas the way anybody else says you should. Have McDonald’s if you want. Decorate a potato. Better still, do nothing at all. This is your life, and no one else’s. It’s your Christmas, just as much as it is theirs.

Take care of yourself

Even before I got to the lake, I was feeling better. Just being alone, moving, listening to my music, not the same songs we force each other to hear each and every year until the heat death of the universe. But not everyone can cancel the holidays completely. If you have family who love this most hackneyed of festivals, you may not be able to opt out completely. But stepping outside, even for a short time, can help you to reset.

If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that’s not too cold, time spent in nature will restore your calm like nothing else. But even going for a drive by yourself can do wonders. If you have to, tell everyone that you need something from the store and go see a movie instead. Whatever it takes to carve out some time for yourself, doing what you want instead of what you’re supposed to want.

Ignore the Whos

Grinch. Scrooge. Fictional characters that people who rarely read will liken you to if you don’t care for Christmas. No other holiday has the same stigma around it. But Christmas, often marketed as a time of love and joy, brings out our worst natures. To be anti-Christmas is to be opposed to joy or good cheer or togetherness, it seems.

Of course, a quick trip to the nearest shopping mall on December 24th will easily prove that Christmas isn’t about anything of the sort. It’s about money. It’s about forced fun. It’s about conforming to a certain idea of what constitutes happiness and making anyone who doesn’t agree feel bad about it.

Understand that the people around you don’t mean to do that. They genuinely believe that you’ll have fun — their fun — if you ‘loosen up,’ if you ‘let yourself go,’ if you ‘stop being a Grinch.’

But you are the world expert on yourself. You don’t have to justify your likes and dislikes to anyone. If Christmas isn’t for you, it isn’t for you. And anyone who loves you, rather than just the idea of you, will respect that. If they don’t? Fuck ‘em.

Hit the road

If you’re blessed with time, money, and not too many responsibilities, there’s always the nuclear option. In most of the world, Christmas barely exists. Maybe this is finally the time for you to explore North Africa or southeast Asia — though you should probably stay away from the Philippines. Make your own Christmas tradition of getting far away from the schmaltzy celebration of all that is worthless.

Be yourself

You don’t have to justify your distaste for Christmas. Perhaps it stems from some ancient trauma. Perhaps you just don’t care for this frankly bizarre festival. Either way, it’s fine. If different people didn’t like and dislike different things, they wouldn’t be different people at all.

So make this Christmas whatever you want it to be. A debauched carnival of booze and sex, or a day of mindful meditation. A chance to catch up on some books and movies you’ve been meaning to experience, or just a random Wednesday off work. You don’t need anyone’s permission, and you’re not a bad person for not buying into this midwinter foolishness.

And if you do have to plaster a smile onto your face and pretend to be merry for the benefit of others, try to at least find an hour or so for yourself. It’s the only gift you really need.

Written by

Novelist. Essayist. Former entomologist. Now a full-time writer exploring travel, art, philosophy, psychology, and science.

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