Living on a remote little island, our Christmas celebration is not typical.
Most of us don’t watch TV, so we don’t get bombarded with Christmas commercials. There is no mail-service either, so we have no Christmas catalogues piling up on our kitchen counters (nor can we receive or send Christmas cards).
No billboards all over town to convince us that we need to buy something. A few grocery stores sell some clothes, toys, and household items too, but just the basics—and we all have those already. No department stores, gift shops, or bookshops with enticing shop windows, no Christmas markets to browse.
It makes life very simple: we don’t even think about Christmas presents or Christmas trees in our house. Most of us don’t think about Christmas at all. (I know this sounds appealing to quite a few of you!)
How many people around the world celebrate Christmas only for the religious tradition of it? Only to celebrate the birth of Christ and nothing else?
That number is probably quite low.
Then why do we really celebrate Christmas?
I first asked myself that question when I began dreading Christmas by mid-November, years ago. My then-boyfriend and I always felt obliged to visit our moms for Christmas, since they were both widows and would otherwise sit home alone.
We also wanted to spend Christmas together, so each year we ended up wasting most of our Christmas on windy stations, with long waits between trains and buses because of the limited holiday schedule. Travelling for hours, we were lugging backpacks full of gifts and the cat in a carrier (try to find a cat sitter over Christmas), from one mom’s house to the other. A lot of stress for a few hours of “Merry Christmas.”
When I would finally make it back to my own apartment, my lonely Christmas tree seemed to smirk at me, as if it was pointing out its uselessness of having sat there by itself over the holidays.
I asked myself: why am I doing this?
Why do we put ourselves through all the stress and anxiety of spending weeks of our lives to prepare for only two days of “celebration” every year again and again?
Why do we spend a fortune on Christmas cards, decorations, gifts and food, all gone or useless the day after Christmas? Why do we put up with our nagging mother(-in-law), our always criticising sister, and our annoying uncle, to “celebrate Christmas?” Why do we want to overeat, drink too much, and be broke by the end of December, only because “it’s Christmas Time!”
We do it because everybody else does.
Because we have always done it, since we were little.
Because our parents expect us to.
Because our children expect to get a ton of presents.
Because we feel obliged to be the good son or daughter, the perfect parent, the impeccable spouse.
Because we all get time off from work, traditionally, to celebrate the holidays—so we’d better celebrate them.
Because advertising is bombarding us for months with the visuals of smiling families in beautifully decorated homes gathering over a delicious and copious dinner, with good conversation, not a stain on the table cloth, not one tired wrinkle on the parents’ faces, not a bad word uttered, and the kids playing happily with their pile of new toys.
They make us believe that Christmas is just wonderful and “merry,” heart-warming, and cozy.
And we’ve all bought into that.
We put ourselves through an unreasonable amount of stress, anxiety, and long hours of traffic jams and lines in shops, just because that’s how we’ve been conditioned. We also put ourselves in danger of near bankruptcy—what a great way to start the new year!
Of course, many of us do have a great time during the holidays—not every family is dysfunctional, and good food equals pleasure for most of us—but many of us suffer a period of stress and anxiety in the weeks prior.
But does it have to be like that?
What if we let go of that idea that we have to celebrate Christmas on the 24th and 25th of December. What if we let go of that obligation of forced merriment, of copious meals, fancy outfits, and expensive gifts, just because everybody else does it, or because it’s always been done that way?
What if we let go of the idea that we have to please our parents or kids, organising a mandatory celebration just because it is expected from us?
What if we let go of the idea that we have to impress with our Christmas decorations, the size and beauty of our Christmas tree, the elaborate menu, our pretty outfits, our expensive presents, just because the neighbours do?
What if we celebrate the bonds with our family and friends every day instead? All the extra time spent on Christmas preparations could be taken throughout the year to create special moments with our parents, our kids, our friends, and neighbours. Choosing with purpose how and when we want to celebrate something—anything!—makes it so much more meaningful than just celebrating because everybody does.
How about decorating the dinner table on a Monday evening, just because it was a rainy afternoon and the kids were bored so we sat all down together to do some crafts? Who cares that we’re having spaghetti and meatballs?
Just for the fun of it, put on a fancy dress. Why not? The kids will love the unexpected excitement!
How about sending multiple cards on random days of the year, letting someone know that you think of them, instead of that one mandatory and meaningless Christmas card?
How about showering the people close to us (and this can include our colleagues, or the girl at the checkout) with the gifts of love and undivided attention every day, instead of doing it forcefully over Christmas? How about a little less scrolling through our news feeds, year round, or running around all “busy” with daily life, and instead create more quality time with and for them?
How about gifting our attention to our loved ones in the form of small gestures like these, unexpected and, therefore, more convincing than the mandatory Christmas gifts bought hastily with little forethought: a little note or treat tucked into their pocket, a flower on their pillow, a home-baked pie just because it’s Wednesday, the lawn mown without having been asked, a surprise visit, a phone call when they least expect it.
How about saving all that time and money—not preparing for Christmas—and use it on a course to learn a fun craft or to play the guitar? With our new skills, we can do something special for and with the people we care about!
How about instead of dreading the holidays for the fear of sitting home alone while everybody else is having their “Merry Christmas,” celebrate the fact that we don’t have to run around all stressed out about the preparations, and can spend that time however we choose. How about feeling good about not having to waste our Christmas bonus on meaningless gifts, knowing that now we can afford that well-deserved vacation in January?
How about seeing Christmas for what it really is: one gigantic money-making mechanism, the most wasteful event of the year, totally unsustainable, and a major source of stress?
How about letting go of that idea that we have to do something, just because everybody else is doing it?
I was quite scared for my mom’s reaction when I told her all those years ago that I was going to stay home for Christmas, but she heaved a sigh of relief, because she actually didn’t care much for Christmas either. She had just been afraid to express that, thinking she would offend us!
It turned out that our aversion to Christmas stress was mutual. I “celebrated” Christmas in a spa that year without making a single Christmas purchase. Living on this little island now, we barely celebrate Christmas. Are we unhappy about that? Not at all. Actually, most of us are quite happy to be relieved of the pressure of Christmas planning, shopping, preparing, cooking, and cleaning.
If anything, we might do a potluck dinner and ask our friends to bring their guitar.
Ahh, what a relief!
Author: Leontien Reedijk
Image: David Krovblit
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis