Holiday Angst Redux – Opting Out

canstockphoto4885238Ever since giving up smoking and drinking, the holidays have not been fun. Having a child¬†was supposed to cure that, but now that the elf has developed her own brand of cynicism (and adds whatever on the end of every sentence), there’s no reason to pretend. Let the snarling begin.

For years, I’ve grumbled over the machinations of the in-laws around this time of year. I’m an introvert, so I generally look like one of the characters of Bring Me the Head of David Dixon at family gatherings. Add an eye roll or fifty, a sullen slump to the shoulders and you have me at the height of holiday gaiety.

When people guffaw, I wince. I look on disdainfully through the flying shreds of wrapping paper, thinking about consumerism and wondering if there is a recycling bag nearby. In the words of one of my favorite comedians, Maria Bamford, I’m “an anvil wrapped in a wet blanket”. A real downer.

Perhaps if retailers hadn’t started piping in “Silver Bells” shortly after I’d inhaled the leftover Halloween candy, I wouldn’t feel so entirely fed up with the holidays before they arrived. Or if I hadn’t received family email directives for where I should be and what gifts I should bring, before we’d even had Thanksgiving dinner, I wouldn’t be so resentful. Maybe.

When I begin this conversation with friends or people standing in grocery lines, everyone nods their head in agreement, muttering about lists and exhaustion. Yet nothing ever changes. This year I’ve changed, but it isn’t easy. No holiday is complete without tinsel-covered guilt and passive aggressive garlands. We’ve come to mistake obligation for celebration.

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The Holiday Sloth. Now commonly seen in North America.

For the last two years, I’ve been practicing saying “no” to a lot of things. I’ve stayed home while my husband and daughter have gone to parties. I’ve stopped doing gift bags of goodies for every passing acquaintance. Last year, I didn’t send out holiday cards. I’ve stopped donating to every cause that crosses my path. It may sound counter-intuitive to the generosity I wish to practice, but I donate more when I pick a couple of charities and do lump sums than being nickeled and dimed by cashiers and bell ringers. Retailers have jumped into the charity game, giving themselves the veneer of benevolence.

Essentially, I’ve given up the things that drain my energy to little benefit for anyone else. It’s not easy. Guilt is a constant companion as I practice saying “no”.¬† Sometimes I have to look outside myself for reassurance. I asked my daughter what her favorite part about the holiday was, bracing myself for the answer.

My favorite part is Christmas day, when we make cinnamon rolls and we hang out in our pajamas, open presents and have a nice day together.

So simple and profound when I look at the vast array of obligations and advertising directed at this one holiday. How easy, how joyful! Yet when we buy into (literally and figuratively) all the ideas and traditions, it becomes a joyless duty that needs to be followed by a nap and isolation.

I fully recognize that there are people who live for this holiday. They start shopping at clearance sales in January for the next holiday. They have a storage closet solely for holiday decorations. Their houses look like Santa threw up candy canes and glitter in every room. Who am I to suggest their joy is any less valid than mine? But I meet too many people who are depressed, not because of the stereotypical reasons of loneliness or poverty, but because of the peculiar first world problem of buying into a program that wrings every bit of joy out of the season.

So here is a gift from The Green Study to your corner of the world. It’s okay to say no to:

  • Holiday cards
  • Family Photos and matching sweaters
  • Holiday parties and/or driving 4 hours to see people you dislike
  • The plate of cookies Shirley brought to the office
  • Perfect place settings
  • Yule logs (aren’t the trees enough?)
  • Marriage proposals
  • BOGO deals
  • Giving your child a Burl Ives’ Christmas
  • Secret Santas, Elves on Shelves and Fruitcakes

Say yes to:

  • Things that give you pleasure and joy
  • Small comforts
  • Nourishing food
  • Spending time with people you really like
  • Making your own traditions
  • Giving to causes that really matter to you

If the no list and the yes list all apply to your holiday celebration, consider yourselves doubly blessed. For my own part, I can only testify that this has been the best holiday season ever. Enjoy yours, my friends.