Feeling Excluded During the Winter Holidays
I love the idea of what “the holidays” are supposed to be about, but the season has started to feel less inclusive to me. Over time I realized it was better if I didn’t celebrate Christmas. I recognize the exclusion goes both ways. To live a more simple lifestyle, I’ve come to avoid some of the hallmarks of the season. I sidestep traditions that no longer support the values most important to me: Simplicity, inclusion, diversity, gratitude. I’ve tried starting some new traditions with those closest to me. Beyond them, it can be tough to explain my change of heart and point of view so others will both understand and not assume judgment. And it can just feel so darn lonely.
I grew up fervently celebrating the holidays religiously, spiritually, culturally, socially, and commercially. Technically, one holiday: Christmas. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t really know there were many others around then until I was nearly out of elementary school. But I loved Christmas. I loved the decorations, music, food, shopping, gifts. I made lists, wrote letters, sent cards. I got dressed up and went to mass, meals, and parties. I did it all, all the way through my young adult years. Then, something happened.
An Unforgettable Scene
Once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it: Kids opening present after present in a Christmas frenzy, literally tossing them aside to tear through the next one. Absent of surprise, wonder, and gratitude. These were usually exceptionally warm and sweet kids, but something about its ritual all had lost those qualities. And it wasn’t in one specific home or family; I noticed it increasingly, devastatingly often.
Whenever possible, I brought up the idea of a simpler but more meaningful exchange. I thought, How special would it be to share a gift with one particular friend or relative each year, even if within a budget! But, it never manifested. And the intensity (and the stress) of the season continued unabated.
The Holiday Blues
Of course, I wondered why I felt this way. Why was I having such a sinking feeling about a time of year I’d once loved? Had I just become disenchanted with the whole lot of it? Could I only see so many videos of shoppers trampling each other for a big-screen TV so many times before the feeling of peace on earth and goodwill towards man got a little murky?
I didn’t have the stomach for it anymore. The materialism, debt, excess, waste, and traditions for tradition’s sake. The idea that Santa wouldn’t bring you enough stuff if you didn’t prove your goodness between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. The idea that struggling friends and family would take on extra jobs to make more money, to buy more things for — but miss out on more time with — loved ones. The idea that while consuming blissful holiday stories where everything works out in the end, untold numbers of people are battling mental, physical, and financial crises that made it feel impossible to live up to standards and pressures made only more daunting by the season’s constant expectation of good cheer.
My growing discomfort led me to eventually begin bowing out of gift-giving and stepping back from outward celebration altogether. Until eventually, I just didn’t celebrate Christmas.
I’m sure those around me thought I would get over my misgivings when I became a parent. But in fact, they got worse. As I thought about the kind of environment I dreamed of for my child, I realized I hoped he would cherish memories over materials. I hoped he would yearn to know more about others’ customs and individualities. I hoped the season would highlight learning about others and bringing people together. I hoped it to be about the growth of heart and mind, not the growth of ownership, or worse, of debt.
A Holiday Wish
So I don’t celebrate Christmas. But I suppose I do celebrate “the holidays.” Thanksgiving and New Year‘s are my favorite holidays, and there are plenty of occasions to acknowledge in between. I keep an eye out for Kwanzaa and the Winter Solstice. I like going to the movies on the 25th. I say “Happy Holidays” to one and all as they do their own things. We let our son celebrate Christmas with grandparents and cousins (and we even sneak a few thoughtful gifts to him here and there). Right now, that’s the way that works best for me.
And I’ll keep holding out hope that more people (whatever they do or don’t celebrate) adopt a more inclusive mindset this time of year. My wish is that they search for opportunities to learn new things and connect in new ways. Then, “the holidays” will go a lot further in representing what they’re meant to, for everyone.