It’s December 1st, a date that used to hold great significance to me. Growing up, it was the day I was finally allowed to put up Christmas decorations. There wasn’t much – an artifical tree in the living room, a lighted Santa head that hung on the wall in the dining room, and stockings for my brothers and I. But come December 1st – or, at least, the first weekend after that date – I’d spend an excited few hours getting everything just right.
I loved Christmas when I was a kid. Or, at least, I loved the anticipation of it. The day itself never seemed to live up to the hype. I enjoyed opening my gifts and watching my family open theirs, but when that was done, I’d take my little pile of presents to my room and stay there until suppertime. (In recent years, I’ve realized that my father would always throw a tantrum at some point between Christmas and New Year’s, and that even though I didn’t realize it, as a child I clearly had some awareness of that fact and was hiding in my bedroom to be safely out of range of the inevitable explosion.)
As I got older, my disaffection grew. When I was old enough, part of my Christmas Day duties included helping with supper, both preparation and clean up. Turns out I hate to cook, and the number dishes required, that then had to be washed, seemed obscene.
Then in my teens, I got a job with Hallmark. And trust me, if you want to kill holiday cheer – any cheer for any holiday – working for Hallmark is the way to do it. I couldn’t explain how I felt about Christmas during those years. Not until the first time I heard Jack’s Lament from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Never has a song so neatly encapsulated my feelings – exhaustion and ennui and a general malaise at a time of year that was supposed to be joyous.
The beginning of the end came a few years after I’d moved to Nova Scotia. My husband and I split one summer, and a few months later, my mother called to tell me that the family “couldn’t be bothered” to do Christmas anymore. So there I was, living on my own for the first time in my life, having to return the gifts I’d already bought for everybody and looking forward to a Christmas alone. (To be fair, I’m not sure how much input the rest of the family had in the decision. When Mom came to visit that November, it was bearing gifts my brothers, “would have given you if we were doing Christmas.”)
In the end, I wasn’t entirely alone that Christmas, as I’d started dating Ron, and we got together over the holidays. We continued to do Christmas for a few years after that. But then, after a year where money was tight, stressing out as we struggled to do as much as we could while spending as little as possible, we came to a realization. We were both just going through the motions, pushing ourselves to partake in traditions that were important to others but not us.
So we decided to stop.
My fuck, it was freeing. That first year, without the work of decorating or cooking, and a solid avoidance of the mall from November on, Jack’s Lament didn’t become my theme song. Same with the next year. And the next.
It’s been almost 15 years since Christmas was a thing in my house, and I don’t miss it. The only negative has been dealing with the reactions of other people when they find out I don’t celebrate. To be clear, I never bring the subject up myself. But I also don’t hide it. So if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, I reply, “Thanks! You too!” But if they ask me if I’m ready for Santa Claus, I tell them I don’t do Christmas and ask how their preparations are going.
It would be lovely if they’d just answer the question. But they pretty much never do. I’ve been goggled at, berated, criticized, and had a multitude of assumptions made about me. I’ve had my feeling dismissed, and my history hand-waved away. I’ve heard everything from, “I’m sure you’d like it if you just tried hard enough,” to, “You’re being selfish,” to, “You’re nothing but an angry atheist who needs to find God,” to, and this is my personal favourite, “Oh. Then Happy Hannukah.”
Look, I understand that Christmas is important to a lot of people, and I respect that. It would be really nice if they could return the favour.