“What are you doing for the holidays?” people ask.

“Mmmm,” I respond with a smile, “Absolutely nothing. Chilling out at home. It’s a very relaxed holiday.”

The common response: “Oh, god–I wish I could do that!”

Then they share the hectic weeks ahead of them, of catching planes or people flying in from out of town or the social events they have lined up, one after another, that they “have to” attend.

And I remember what that was like, and I nod, and I’m glad that I’ve chosen differently.

* * *

“Did you beat the crowds, this year?” people ask me. “Almost done with your Christmas shopping?”

The question always takes me almost by surprise. My brain has to catch up: “Oh, yeah, it is that time of year, isn’t it?”

I explain that I typically shop online, or give gifts via charities like care.org or charitywater.org, donating in people’s names.

The common response: “I wish I could do that” or “I wish I had thought of that.”

Then they tell me about how the stores were terrible this year, or how they got up early to make it to a special sale and how tired they are, or some other thing they “had to” do.

And I remember what that was like, and I nod, and I’m glad that I’ve chosen differently.

* *

“What are you making for Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner?” people ask.

Nothing!” I say, with delight. “We’re going to go to Whole Foods, get some takeout, and come home and watch movies, drink tea or apple cider, stuff like that.”

“I wish I could get away with that,” someone confides, before she explains that if she did, people in her family would judge her endlessly.

“Every year, I tell myself that I’m going to do that,” someone says, “But then it’s Christmas and I just feel like the kids are missing out if I don’t go all out.”

“Your plan sounds sooooo nice,” someone says, before outlining an entire day spent in the kitchen, cooking, and not with the enthusiasm of someone who actually likes to cook.

And I remember what that was like, and I nod, and I’m glad that I’ve chosen differently.

* *

“Glad that I’ve chosen differently”?

I’m not being sanctimonious. I am, simply, glad.

I used to do all of that–catch a lot of planes, spend a lot of time in airports, wait in a lot of lines, succumb to obligation about how I’m supposed to participate in this or that event or gathering, spend money on junk just so that someone wouldn’t take offense, and generally exit the holiday season feeling like the “break” had taken me to the point of “breaking.”

Finally, after a particularly disastrous Christmas, I said: “Enough.”
 

  • No more flying anywhere for Christmas. It’s a terrible, awful time of year to fly, in every single respect.
  • No more running around, getting junk gifts for people, purely out of obligation.
  • No more pressure to be part of some all-day cooking-fest, when cooking is something I don’t like to do.
  • No more cramming three families into one house for a week straight, which always made my HSP/INFJ body shut down or start to get sick, all in the name of “We’re supposed to be together for the holidays, aren’t we?

 

So I experimented for the first time with the quiet, pressure-free holiday season.

It was a smashing success.

I emerged from that holiday season feeling well-rested, healthy, sans resentment, and at least $600 richer, because I didn’t “have to” spend money on a plane ticket.

Instead, I spent money on plane tickets to visit family at less expensive times of the year, or they came to my neck of the woods. I donated more money to charity. Where I did buy gifts, I bought better gifts, because I could afford to.

A curious thing started to happen: I began to look forward to Christmas.

My husband caught me singing “It’s the MOST! WONDERFUL! TIME!, of the YEAR!” in a store.

When we were invited to a holiday party, I put on makeup and a nice dress, instead of reluctantly throwing on jeans and a sweater and wishing I could just stay home and rest, in my pajamas, because I was so tired from going, going, going.

 

The Point of Sharing This

The point is this: if it’s important to you that everyone is together on Christmas, and if you don’t mind the crowds or the lines, and if you feel no pressure about getting gifts for people, and if your idea of a good time is hanging out in the kitchen all day to prepare a meal for others, then–Bravo!

I completely support you in those choices.

But–after more than a decade of Christmas seasons where I tried, very hard, to fit into that model, I finally realized two years ago that for me, it just didn’t work. It didn’t make me feel happy, and it definitely didn’t have me feeling connected to anyone, least of all to myself.

If the point of the holiday season is to celebrate, to feel connected, to be merry–and the things that the culture at large has told you to do don’t actually have you feeling happy–why, oh why, would you continue to do them?

I know why–I was living the “why.” Because people will be upset. Because people will be offended. Because people will take it personally. And, the real kicker–because that’s how you show people you love them.

It wasn’t until I got out from under those ideas that I realized that there are a hundred other ways to show people I love them, none of which I felt very inspired about when I was wrestling with the weight of obligations that the holidays seemed to bring, and the heavy sickness and fatigue that always seemed to accompany it.

If the traditional model doesn’t work for you–if the thought of a holiday season spent mostly around the fire with a stack of books, and the kids playing, and hubby watching football and apple cider in a pot on the stove, and not having to spend an hour scouring pans at the end of the day all sounds like a pretty nice way to live…

 

  • …then attend fewer holiday parties. Only go to the ones that light you up like, well, a Christmas Tree.
  • …give fewer gifts. Or donate money in people’s names to deserving charities, and have a heart-felt conversation with them, after the holidays, about all the good that that money did for someone in a country where first-world problems like “I feel so overwhelmed waiting in long lines to spend hundreds of dollars” don’t exist.
  • …plan ahead–shop in October, hide it all in the garage, and then don’t step foot in a department store during the month of December (trust me, you’ll feel ever so slightly…rebellious!).
  • …arrange a joint gift-unwrapping via Skype, and use call recording programs and the dual-window feature to simultaneously record two families of children tearing into their gifts and shrieking with delight. Replay the video, later.
  • …designate specific days that are just for resting and staying close to home, and refuse to get on social media, check your email, or get out of your pajamas, during that day. Plot for such days by going to the library and getting a big, fat stack of books to peruse–books on fashion or home decorating, something that’s not too overtly cerebral.

 

Tweak and experiment, until you find the thrilling combination that leaves you joking with cashiers at the grocery store, bringing hot cocoa to the Salvation Army bell ringers, and saying, “Merry Christmas!” to your relatives with true joy and excitement.

Remember: if it’s not leaving you feeling fully-alive, it’s not truly living. What will you do with your one, precious life?