Colorado mountains, snowy mountains

Struggling with the Holidays

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Dan's sheep watching me
Treating the holidays like sheeple or following our hearts?

I’m not a big fan of Christmas. It has sometimes been lonely, always a financial burden, and occasionally emotionally hurtful. The best Christmas of my life was in 1997, as I anticipated the birth of my third daughter. It is now the yardstick by which all other Christmases are unfairly measured. With the rose-colored glasses of hindsight, I forget the things that made that year a little tough. Each year, I grieve a little that everything isn’t quite as wonderfully as it was in 1997, even as I recognize that things are still good.

It’s hard to reconcile the season’s tradition of spending with the season’s spirit of spreading love. Some people may perceive receiving a gift as receiving love, but I’m not one of them. If you love me, spend time with me, talk to me about things close to your heart or mine. Emotional intimacy is what I most believe demonstrates love, but it’s hard to come by. So the commercialization of Christmas doesn’t feel like a celebration of love.

Christmas tree
Our little tree. I haven’t had a chance to wrap presents yet — maybe when we get snowed in later this week.

I’m not a fan of doing things because that’s the way they’ve always been done, so if a tradition isn’t fulfilling, I don’t perpetuate it. I loved the year we didn’t put up a tree and only gave donations to the recipient’s favorite charity. The older kids all hoped the youngest would protest, but she was with me the whole way. The economic downturn had just hit hard (was that in 2008? 2009?) and charities were gasping for breath. So we did what we thought was right, helping a variety of worthwhile charities for animals, people, and the planet. That Christmas felt right for me, but some of my family didn’t feel the love.

I looked around the house last week and saw no “holiday spirit.” There was the usual grousing of the amount of effort required by Christmas, mainly from my husband and I. So, I had a long talk with myself. If there was no Christmas spirit in the house – no honoring of the yule or Solstice – then the fault was mine. As the mom, it’s my duty to get the ball rolling, not to whine that no one else is doing it.

I pulled up my big girl panties, and found a way to the holiday spirit. Several of us put up the Christmas/Yule tree this year while listening to seasonal music; next we hang a garland of greens. We’re planning to observe the solstice on the 21st and take a day-trip to the mountains just to hang out together (weather permitting). We’ll give modest gifts to our family here, donate to charities, share a meal or two, and play some games.

Pertroglyphs-albuquerque 224
This petroglyph in Albuquerque, N.M. reminds me of a family. Since In honor my family’s desire to keep their identity private, this was my way of illustrating the thought of “family” If you notice, there are animals among the hands….

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember what’s really important. One part of me sees the holiday as major time-suckage – and I’ve got things to do. But when it gets down to it, and I think about what the family needs as a whole, I see something different. I’ve worked hard to protect my family from those who don’t recognize us as the special people we are. It’s as if our love for each other is a shield against the negativity of the rest of the world. To keep that shield strong and alive, we have to spend time together. I have to make a home that they want to return to, a place where they know they are loved regardless of what they do for a living, who their partner is, or how much money they make. They have to know that I still value them, even when their beliefs are different than mine. We grieve the family members that aren’t with us this year, carrying them in our hearts. The events in Connecticut have sharpened the focus on my own family — because I can. They’re still with me, and I’m lucky they are.

Mountain peak w snow 5What about y’all? I just can’t believe that the holidays are beautiful, happy times for everyone. Am I the only one that struggles every year, not to run screaming into the night? Am I the only one that has to work to find why we do this, year after year? I don’t think so. What are your stories? Your non-traditions? What do you do instead of the Norman Rockwell life? I’d genuinely like to know.


  1. The year my husband died (2009), Christmas came around bringing a leaking roof, a broken heat pump and a shattered ankle requiring surgery. The following year, my mother died on her birthday which happened to be Christmas eve. I’ve never been fond of all the Christmas frenzy, but these days I just hibernate through it. Of course I realize that’s a lot harder to do when you have kids.


    1. Yes, but as the kids get older, we have a lot more choices, and a platform from which to advocate living our values rather than our advertising. Generosity with love isn’t the same as material giving, right ? Sounds like Christmas is worse for you. I’m sorry.


      1. Honestly…? my husband used to be the one who seemed to need all the Christmas frenzy. I humored him a lot in that respect, but these days I rather like the option to keep it all low key. I’m not sure if I needed those two horrible Christmases to give me permission, but it’s nice to ‘celebrate’ this holiday with rest and reflection and relaxation. I much prefer spreading the love year round as some of the other commenters have suggested. Thanks for the sympathy though. 😉 My mom had had dementia for quite a few years and had lost her ability to talk through a series of strokes. Her dying was a strange mix of sad and relief. The timing was just utterly odd since Christmas eve was her 96th birthday.


  2. So many expectations, so much room for disappointment!
    Christmas Eve service is a special tradition, and my homemade cinnamon rolls.
    We stopped with big gifts a long time ago. Our grown kids still say they like the stockings best, so we take turns each opening one stocking stuffer at a time. For the six of us, this can last close to half an hour and we all get a kick out of it.
    We have the cinnamon rolls for breakfast and I deliver some to a few friends in town.
    It’s pretty low stress this way, and we enjoy it.


    1. I like that; it sounds pretty reasonable. Part of my frustration,I think, is that some of my kids adults – but not all. I can’t do less for the adults without being accused of playing favorites. I like the stocking-gifts-only approach. And a food gift too. Hmmm. You’ve given me some great ideas to change our “normal.” Thank you!


      1. That is so funny! My kids (25 & 23) still pull the ‘favorites’ card now and again, too! It’s gotten better since they’ve gotten married, but I never know when it will show up! Kids! They really know how to lay on the guilt!
        Wishing you and yours a great time together!


  3. Thank you so much for your honesty (as usual!). I grew up in a very religious home and Christmas was a big deal. Even back then there was such dissonance between the reverence and celebration of love vs. the over-commercialization. It’s weird. I no longer celebrate Christmas at all and the only thing I feel about it is relief. It does seem like there’s a lot of unconsciousness around the holiday. Personally, I’m mystified why so many non-Christian people go through the motions. I don’t get it.


  4. I enjoyed reading your story, Karel.

    For my husband and I, xmas is totally non-stressful. We do not celebrate the religious aspect of the day but we both enjoy the live tree with lights and brightly colored ornaments. We seldom buy gifts because everyone we know has everything they need. I cook a nice meal and we enjoy our food and a cocktail or two, listen to music, watch a movie or play a game, and just enjoy the day.

    This year we are going to Northern Va. to spend 3 days with my son and daughter-in-law. They go all out for the holiday so we get to enjoy treats and family fun when we are with them.

    Personally, I believe the spirit of the holidays is something that works best when we carry the love and compassion for humanity in our hearts every day of the year. It does not make sense to me to set aside one day to be kind to people and to give gifts. My celebration of the season focuses on solstice and yule and is not centered on a religious being. There is nothing wrong with that belief, it’s just not mine.

    I look around and I see so many who are overwhelmed with “trying to get ready” for the holidays. And then there are those I hear saying how glad they will be when it’s all over. Remarks like these lead me to think that perhaps they’ve lost the meaning of the holiday they are celebrating.

    I am not a nay-sayer nor am I a bah-humbugger, but if they took xmas away I’d be okay. If I had small children around perhaps my feeling about the holiday would be different.


    1. I love your approach! My husband and I are all for it. I was surprised to see how negatively my children reacted when we tried. Are they greedy little buggers? Maybe so. I love your celebration style — all year long. Thanks for posting.


  5. It’s a funny business isn’t it? I used to love Christmas when the children were little despite having little money. We all made presents and I still have some of them! Many were eaten at the time! I’m finding it harder and harder in many ways – physically as we are older and now the ‘children’ arrive on Christmas Eve and we have everything to do instead of it being family fun to get the house decorated and I get tired – and spiritually too as much of it seems so commercial. We celebrate the solstice too and are not religious – but then, in many ways, neither is Christmas much any more either. I do, however, love singing carols! We’ve cut down on some food this year and have taken a big box of supplies to the Food Bank. Next year we hope to persuade all the family to do as you have done and to give what they can to a charity instead of buying presents. Bit of a rant from me too but thanks to Meme for pointing me in your direction.

    All the best to you and your family. I hope you have a warm and happy time 🙂


    1. Thank you. It helps to know that I’m not the only one getting tired of this. I’ll enjoy the Solstice at any rate– no pressure there to do anything but what I feel is right!


  6. Hi – I am so pleased to have found your blog via Mixedupmeme – I totally relate to this post and I am really looking forward to keeping up with you! I was beginning to wonder if there is something wrong that I am not particularly feeling the holiday spirit this year, even though I am trying my best!


    1. It’s good to know I’m not alone. I’ve seen so many bloggers and friends who are REALLY in the spirit, that I thought there was something wrong with me. Welcome here. I took a quick peek at your blog, and I think we’ll be seeing more of each other! Thanks.


    1. Thanks, meme. Some of your friends dropped by, and they’re pretty neat! Thanks for the introduction. It’s nice to know I’m not alone, but wish others didn’t struggle too.


  7. I’m so glad to see that I’m not the only one with these feelings and conflicts. Every year the feeling in me gets stronger that all this buying and decorating and craziness isn’t what Christmas was meant to be, and if we all celebrated it for the right reason, none of this would exist. In fact, I think that even the loneliness some people feel (and aren’t we all bound to face this in our lives at some point?) wouldn’t exist if the focus was on the spiritual rather than the physical, on the real rather than the facade. Since when is our worth based on how many holiday parties we’re invited to or how many gifts we get? Where in spiritual teachings does it say that the number of gifts you give show your degree of love for another? I absolutely hate it when I hear myself saying “I don’t have enough gifts for this person” because I know that person will be utterly offended if they get only a small number of gifts – it’s crazy. It’s all feeling so choreographed, so phony. I’ve always felt that simpler communities have it right – the Amish, who worship simply and faithfully in each other’s homes rather than spending endless billions on bigger and more ornate churches like big organized religions; small communities who worship together all year round and truly believe in helping and loving their neighbors all the time, not just for a couple of weeks around Christmas; and those who independently do good all year without expectations. I know of families who are in total discord yet go through the ritual of having horrible holiday dinners together because “it would look terrible if they didn’t”. We have one family member who makes the holidays so very dark for everyone if we can’t travel 1200 miles to visit, and blames it on us rather than our unfortunate circumstances. How is this celebrating the true spirit of the season? It just doesn’t make sense. I’ve been saying for several years now that I’d love a small Christmas where we make each other one gift – one *heartfelt* gift – then spend the day enjoying each other’s company, playing games, watching a special movie, etc., or visiting nursing homes or hospices with small gifts and conversation – it would be the richest Christmas of all. In fact, I’ve asked for other gift-giving traditions to be stopped, like Mother’s Day. My daughter gives me gifts every day all year round in the form of a million little yet very important things that move me deeply – honest conversation, closeness, thoughtfulness, consideration, and true love – why do I need a tangible gift once a year to prove her love? I don’t, and it felt so wrong that I stopped it years ago and have been so much happier. Unfortunately with Christmas, we can’t recondition others and have to keep up the traditions in order to maintain the relationships. It really doesn’t make any sense. I wish we lived nearby, I’d love to have good conversations with someone like you about these types of things. Sorry for such a long response, but you’re the first to echo my feelings and I got carried away!


    1. Thanks for venting here. After all you’ve been through with your home, I’m surprised you’re thinking Christmas thoughts at all. We haven’t traveled for a major holiday in about 12 years, and that has increased our sanity right there! It’s just too hard, and the expectations are unrealistic. So we don’t travel. We usually play games in the evening, and make it a family day. I like that part. It’s just some of the other things. Vent here any time; it’s safe. I like your idea about stopping the madness on the Hallmark holidays, like mother’s day. Although, sometimes being a mother feels like I deserve combat pay, because I have to work so hard at it! Thanks for stopping by.


  8. I find comfort and strength in the rituals surrounding the holidays and have made (or in the process of making) all the gifts I am giving this year. I’m not going all out, and my life is far from a picture postcard, but for me it is a time of remembering and reaffirming what I care for and value. I put up a small tree and I am working on finishing a blanket for my father. I’m also grieving, which I think is appropriate too. Remembering lost loved ones, friends, memories bot sweet and painful


    1. I like your idea of homemade presents, but I’m not crafty. At all. Two left thumbs. So I’m grateful for a store. You, however, make beautiful gifts that I’m sure your family is pleased to receive. I’m a bit jealous….


  9. Karel
    Your tree is lovely. I am glad you made a family time of putting it “up”. It is up to each of us to determine how to find peace and contentment in our hearts whether it is for a holiday season or for everyday. I think every day is important. All the emphasis on feeding the hungry on the holiday and the people we know who feel so holy for going to help in the food lines on the holiday, rather disgusts me. What do think those hungry people did for food all year? Charity is not for holidays. It is for every day and for all the time….not just for when we have time for it. You know that. That I know and I am proud of you for knowing that and living that.

    Christmas evolves over time for all of us. It will mean different things to each of us at different times, depending not only on our circumstances but also on our ever evolving mental/emotional self. My favorite thing about Christmas is hearing from all my friends. I still hear from friends I have had since I was seven years old and now I am 75. I still hear from several of my high school friends and one of my college teachers. All my other wonderful college teachers are now deceased and the teachers that mentored me in childhood are also deceased. But I think of them often and always at Christmas time. That is the best part of Christmas to me…thinking of my friends and family and knowing that they are thinking of me. The most important gift I give is the box of brownies and nuts I fix to send to your dad’s friend from when he worked when we lived in Abilene in the early 60s. . Now that friend is 90 and in a nursing home. Last year I made a quilt for his bed. Instead of putting it on his bed he put it on the wall so all the other residents could see it. That is the way he enjoys it.

    I am so pleased that you separate the superficial customs from your holiday and give sincerity to those customs you do observe. Honoring your family and friends with gifts to charities is a wonderful way to observe the gift of giving. We hope you have a wonderful holiday and do find some joy in your heart from it. It is a time to remind ourselves of what is important and renew our focus on those things.

    Keep up the wonderful growth



    1. Thanks for understanding that for us to travel for a holiday like this just seems insane. It’s so hard that it takes the fun out of everything. I admire you for keeping up with old friends. I find that pretty difficult. Some of the ones I keep up with, I wonder why. We are so different now that there’s nothing to discuss.


  10. I can really relate to everything you say here. I have never felt so ghastly about Christmas (which I used to love) – haven’t sent a single card, haven’t put up the tree or cleaned the house or paid the bills – argh.You are doing a lot better than I am.


  11. I am seeing so much anger and hatred and bigotry this season that it’s almost overwhelming, It’s taking all of my strength to get through it. I am not feeling the holiday feeling.


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