Christmas can be great. But, if you’re not feeling the spirit of the season, it can also come with a sledge-load of pressure to be sociable and ‘on form’.
Here, Stylist contributor Amy Lewis explains why she’s reclaiming her December 25 by spending it alone - along with some expert advice on what to do if you too aren’t down with the festive cheer.
Yes, that’s right, I’m not doing Christmas this year. Or at least, I’m not doing it the way cult films, books, Slade, Mariah Carey and department store TV ads want me to. Sorry Mimi.
Instead of riding the festive chariot that is Great Western rail to Wales this Christmas Eve, I’ll be hunkering down in my London flat, solo, preparing for a cosy day ahead spent doing nothing but wearing pyjamas, watching Netflix and eating oven chips. Possibly with cheese.
I may sound like your classic Grinch, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that I just need some festive ‘encouragement’. But please, stop with coaxing and firm urges.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate your wish to help me embrace the spirit of the season. And it’s not that I don’t understand that for some of you, it really is the Most Wonderful Time.
It’s just that for me it’s not, and that’s OK.
Whether it’s the loss of a loved one that’s taken the shine off (raising my hand), a battle with depression, estrangement from friends or relatives, there’s an endless list of reasons why, for some people, Christmas just kind of sucks.
For some people, Christmas just kind of sucks
This December will mark 10 years since my mother passed away mid-festivities, and though I have tried, both willingly and under duress, I just can’t feel joyous around this time.
Tinsel reminds me of sitting at home, having returned from the hospital, numbly trying to process what had just happened. Christmas carols (weirdly, since I always thought I was indifferent), conjure a feeling of warm, unified togetherness, that just highlights the gaping hole that remains in my family.
Seating arrangements around the dinner table still threaten to bring tears, whether somebody sits in that chair or not.
Instead of allowing myself to be floored by the pressure of appearing to be rosy-cheeked with glee – despite feeling utterly miserable on the inside – this year, I’m taking a stand and reclaiming my 25 December.
No tree, no tinsel, no itchy Christmas jumper, and no blinking away the blurry sting of tears while drizzling Bisto over yet another soulless turkey dinner. For the first time in a decade, it may well feel like Christmas bliss.
If any of this happens to be striking a chord, I’d encourage you to do the same.
It’s easy to feel like we need to ‘fall in’ at Christmas. But hiding misery is hard
It’s easy to feel like we need to ‘fall in’ at Christmas. Like we need to dust off the brave face and perform Yuletide perfection. But hiding misery is hard, and if you’re simply doing it for the benefit of others, they likely already know that you hate it.
Though the bell-jingling marketing machine will try to convince you otherwise, ‘Christmas’ doesn’t have to mean gazing warmly upon each of your Fair Isle clad relatives, as they sit, enveloped in a balmy cloud of mulled wine and festive joy, unwrapping a stack of impeccably presented gifts.
It doesn't need to mean sitting tensely around a feast-laden table, silently willing the hours and minutes away, either.
It can mean anything you want it to. Anything at all.
Even if that’s seeking some much needed respite in the comfort of your tiny box flat.
‘Tis the season to be jolly, after all.
How to tackle a tough Christmas
Struggling with the season? Dr Georgia Henderson, a clinical psychologist at the Priory Hospital in North London, shares her crucial advice for making it through, your way.
- Remember that your family are who they are - and not who you wish they were. At Christmas we are often desperate to see our family in the best light and imagine a completely stress free day. But try to use it as a day to see your family generously and realistically. Take note of the things they do to show they care, even if they are a little misplaced.
- If you’ve lost someone this year, Christmas can feel particularly tough. Plan a moment in your day to just let yourself be sad and wish they were there. But also let yourself be grateful for the time you had, and the lessons they’ve taught you. Even if you’re not religious, lighting a candle can be an important symbolic act to remember lost loved ones.
- Depression doesn’t take holidays. It’s easy to get into the trap of thinking that if Christmas is special enough, it’ll lift our mood and make everything easier. But unfortunately, the pressure of that can be enough to make the whole day seem overwhelming when it finally does arrive. Instead of putting on a happy face, try and balance meaningful obligations (family lunch, for example) with your own needs. If you know you’ve been having a tough time, say no to any non-essential demands from others sooner rather than later.
- Remember that Christmas doesn’t just have to land on the 25. Plan special meals with people you care about in the weeks around it, even if you can’t all be together on the day. Or volunteer with Crisis or a similar group. Getting in touch with your own vulnerability can bring new empathy and understanding to how other members of our society feel. Knowing you can brighten your day and theirs will help the season feel meaningful.
- Lighten the mood with some sideways fun. A group of my friends who are not religious celebrate “Festivus; for the rest of us” (as coined by the Seinfeld episode), in which they hold a big party on Boxing Day and celebrate non-Christmas over leftovers. The more honest we are about where we really fit amongst all the tinsel and carolling, the easier it is to find like-minded people who can understand us, support us, and maybe share a celebration with a little less pressure.