If Christmas is associated with negative memories or experiences then it’s unlikely you’ll look forward to it. In fact you may dread it, with its expectations of joyful family gatherings and goodwill to all.
If you’re happy not celebrating or enjoying Christmas, then don’t. Around 5% of people in the UK don’t, and not just for religious reasons; of those that do, there’s probably a significant percentage that could take it or leave it. There’s even a sub-Reddit called ‘I hate Christmas’ so by all means go and hang out there.
But if you’re reading this, the likelihood is you aren’t really comfortable not liking Christmas. Perhaps that’s because of family pressures, or a vague feeling that there must be something in it when so many people love it.
If you have trauma associated with Christmas then there’s little I can do in this blog to make things better for you. However you may not really know why you don’t like it. If you had rubbish Christmases as a child, it’s likely that you’ve retained the overall negative feelings without actually disliking Christmas in itself. In fact the issue may be that you’re jealous of all the people who have a wonderful time and the ‘cure’ for your negativity could be to throw yourself wholeheartedly into every aspect of the festival. After all if it doesn’t help, you don’t have to do it next year.
Why don't you like Christmas?
If you don’t know why you don’t like Christmas, there’s a simple exercise you can do to find out. Well, relatively simple. If you’ve read my blog on visiting family you’ll know it. I call it the ‘Because’ exercise. You take a large piece of paper and write ‘I hate Christmas because’ at the top. Then you write the first thing that comes into your head. Under that write ‘Because’ again and keep going until either you come to the real reason, or you run out of ideas. You’ll know when you get to the real reason because the answer to ‘Because’ will be ‘It just is’. If you run out of ideas, put the paper away and come back to it tomorrow, and the next day, until you get to the real answer.
As I said in that other blog, if this exercise throws up big issues for you then it may help to talk them through with a close friend or professional.
Why does it matter?
If you know what you dislike about Christmas you can avoid that aspect without being miserable about the whole holiday. Because the majority of people do enjoy Christmas, your family and friends probably do; and they’ll want and expect you to as well. If you don’t, some family will take it as a criticism of them and how they spend Christmas. That might not be the problem at all – but if you don’t know, how can you address it?
Let’s assume that the problem is more deep-seated than a dislike of commercialism or a prejudice against turkey. Negative associations from past trauma or grief can be very strong and because Christmas has such significance in our culture, and the social and emotional pressure to be happy is so prevalent, they can feel stronger at Christmas even if they’re not directly associated with it.
This is the first Christmas of the rest of your life.
The most important factor here is that whatever makes Christmas a bad time for you, it happened in the past. Your future doesn’t have to be constrained by the past.
Firstly, look in detail at your recollections of Christmas that prompt your dislike. Are you misremembering? Were things really as bad as you feel they were? It’s common when something happened many years ago for the memories to become distorted over time. Can you understand how the events came about, or why people acted the way they did, with hindsight? Journal about your feelings – write them down somewhere safe where nobody but you will see them.
Was the issue actually to do with Christmas, or was a more general issue like neglect or abuse that was there all year round merely brought into sharp perspective at Christmas? If the latter, then Christmas isn’t really the problem at all. If you work through the bigger issue then your dislike of Christmas will probably disappear; and you’ll feel better the rest of the year too.
If the issue is something like a Christmas bereavement or relationship breakdown, then the feelings associated with it will be there all year round but may be stronger at Christmas; either because it’s an anniversary or because it’s the period when you were most likely to spend time with the person you’ve lost. Grief is normal and you need to work through it in the way that’s best for you. It will get better. Number 4 in this 12 Days of a happy healthy Christmas series talks in more detail about grief and may help you.
Are you even still sad about what happened? Perhaps your partner left you at Christmas. You were angry, hurt, bitter, disappointed; and Christmas was ruined for all time. But if you’re now in a new, happy relationship, perhaps it’s time to let those emotions and the associated Grinch-ness go.
Talking about what happened, even if you don’t feel you want to, can be helpful. At least share with your current family or friends the main reason you don’t like Christmas. Celebrating isn’t obligatory, and you may find they’re not so keen either and are content to skip the whole thing or observe it in only a very low-key way. Don’t feel you have to pretend to like things you don’t, even if your family love them. Your feelings matter as much as theirs do.
Make it over new
What do you remember about the way Christmas was celebrated in the days that gave birth to your dislike? You can make this one different in lots of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Put a tree up in a different room in the house or decorate it differently, or don’t have one at all. Use different colours. If past Christmases are a blur of bright colours, have plain decorations in silver or white. If everything was cold silver, use red and gold in your decorations. Open presents at a different time of day. Have dinner in the evening instead of at lunchtime. Don’t have turkey. The more ways in which this Christmas is different, the easier it will be to find something to enjoy. If Christmas wasn’t celebrated at all, pick one thing about it that you like – or at least don’t dislike as much as other aspects – and observe that. Personally I can take or leave the turkey dinner and I’m not even that fixated on presents; but I do like a lot of lights and a big sparkly Christmas tree, so I always make an effort on that.
Whether any of that helps or not, the fact remains that whatever happened in previous years, this year is a new one. You can start setting up new memories and new associations now. If you’re on your own you probably won’t bother celebrating Christmas and that’s fine. But if you have a family, this is the opportunity to establish a new pattern of memories and traditions around them. At worst you can take pleasure in watching those you love enjoy themselves. I don’t mean enjoy it for their sake, but you like seeing them happy don’t you? If a great big Christmas tree covered in tinsel and lights makes them happy, then it can’t be an entirely bad thing.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. If you really hate Christmas, schedule in some time where you can get away from it. Go into the woods or to the beach where Christmas doesn’t show. Read a book instead of turning on the TV, or binge watch Netflix instead of Christmas specials. Stay off social media, particularly Instagram where every other picture will be about people’s beautiful decorations or happy children making gingerbread Santas. Tell people you won’t be sending cards and only buy gifts for people you would want to give something to at any time of year. Don’t go mad with socializing or family gatherings. Take the pressure off yourself. It’s the best way to #stayhealthy into the New Year.
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Caeredwen is a physical therapist, coach and counsellor based in Coleford in the Forest of Dean. If this blog has touched you and you would like to contact her in confidence, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website at www.magichandscalmminds.com.