NEW YORK CITY — The ubiquitous holiday music. The Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa decorations strewn all over every store you enter. The Christmas Eve dinner. The Christmas Day lunch. The company holiday party. The Hanukkah party. SantaCon!
If all of this sounds like too much for you, don’t fear! Just because you don’t want to leap into the holiday whirlwind doesn’t make you Ebenezer Scrooge. Here’s your guilt-free guide to celebrating the holidays only partially this year, or for opting out entirely.
Why Opt Out of Holiday Celebrations?
For many people, the holidays are not the happiest time of year. Oftentimes people make the choice to forego a holiday party, or not host a Christmas day dinner with a sigh of relief at not having to “pretend” to be in a good mood, or risk being accused of “ruining” the holidays with their personal stress or sadness.
There are legitimate reasons to opt out of celebrating with family and friends. Oftentimes, we are stuck in negative communication patterns with our loved ones, and despite efforts to reach out and work on the issue with them, it's been met with frustration and little effort from the other party. If seeing these people will only exacerbate the hurt, then opting out is a fine choice. Sometimes it’s an acknowledgement of the way things are versus the way we wish things could be.
The Difference Between Opting Out and Avoidance
However, if you prefer not to mark the holidays at all, particularly when it comes to family gatherings, take a minute to check in with yourself about your motivation.
There’s a difference between making a conscious choice to not partake in the holidays, and making the unconscious one just to avoid conflict or discomfort, known simply as avoidance.
This is not a fine line, but a distinguishable one. The decision to have a holiday-free Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa ideally comes from a place where there is no ill will, resentment or envy of the ones who do celebrate the holidays.
Ask yourself if you’ve already tried to improve your dysfunctional relationships. Have you ever had an honest exchange with those in the fraught relationship about how you feel? If you have and if those efforts have failed to make any progress — meaning that the person you are being honest with acknowledges your issues, and is discussing how to remedy the relationship — then telling them you are not coming by this year is an acceptable choice.
The Partial Holiday
There are plenty of people who, on religious or other grounds, don’t celebrate the holidays much or at all. Obviously, we are not all Christians and Jews, and many African Americans do not connect with the holiday of Kwanzaa. If you're an atheist, this can be a particularly difficult time of year, with religious symbols in full display.
But it’s hard to be in the world at this time of year without being invited to some form of holiday function, so what do you do?
If you decide to celebrate at one party or one relative’s home, that doesn't mean you have to have an “all-in” approach to the holiday. How much or little you participate in the holiday season is totally under your control.
Embrace the freedom from “black or white thinking” and look for the middle ground where you know what you believe, and are comfortable being around others who celebrate different beliefs.
Just because you choose to join a friend or a relative at church on Christmas Day, doesn't mean you have to hand in your atheist card. We live in a world where there are a diversity of beliefs and you can join friends or family who are choosing to celebrate a holiday their way without making it your own.
You can also come up with your own way to celebrate the season. It’s an old cliche that Jewish people mark Christmas Day by going out to the movies and eating Chinese food while other people prefer to honor the ancient celebration of the winter solstice.
Whether you temporarily join other people celebrating traditions that you don’t share, or whether you create your own holiday traditions, you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to holiday festivities.