Opting out of the holidays

My mother is an events organizer and often takes the same [dictatorial, no-ifs-ands-or-buts] approach to her family. As a result, we ended up squeezing an abbreviated form of Christmas into Thanksgiving break. No decorations, no stockings, no cookies, just a bare bones gift exchange in which no one really got anything she would have bought on her own. (See this economist’s excellent take on why you should never give another gift.)  I wasn’t happy about having so much less time to find and make presents this year, but now that it’s over, I am officially disconnected from everyone else’s mad holiday rush for the first time in my life. I love it.

Winter has two faces for me. There’s the tinsel-laced juggernaut up to December 25, and then the solitary, reflective January. The problem is that by January, I’m already tired of winter. This year, I get to indulge in wintry solitude while still reveling in the delicate powdering of frost outlining leaves in the morning, still relishing the unfurling of warm breath in cold air, still loving the stillness of a [mostly] dormant world. (It is California, after all.) I’m so much less distracted this year. I guess I never realized how much headspace buying and making presents and getting everything ready really takes.

I haven’t truly opted out, but I’m getting a good sense for what it would be like. I’m drifting an inch or two above family squabbles, shopping deadlines, conspicuous overeating, advertisers’ enticements, and the visual discordance of red and green (surely two colors that were never meant to be together). I’m realizing that I participated for all these years, not because I necessarily wanted to, but because I didn’t think I had a choice to sit it out. I do. So do you. The price is seeming ungracious, unsociable, and disrespectful of tradition. The results are not trashing the planet with unnecessary consumerism, making time for yourself and your brain, and enjoying winter without the clutter of the holidays.

Is it worth it? Probably not every year, not wholly, not for everyone. But some years, in part, for some people? Absolutely.


10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Bob on 12/04/2010 at 15:26

    Hi Alianna,

    I saw your Tweet about finding my blog, so I thought I would check out what you are doing.

    I really like this post. Why? Because you are doing what is best for you. You are managing to sidestep the incredible pressures on most of us this time of year to celebrate in a prescribed way. I imagine you will pay a price for your willfully act of individualism. But, so be it. And, more power to you.


    • Hi Bob! Thanks for visiting. On Friday, I left you a comment on your blog (the entry on appreciating small things) under my real world name Jennifer. Although we’re at very different points in our lives, I think we might share an appreciation for leading unhurried, meaningful lives. 🙂 I’m a little nervous about opting out of future holidays, but I’ve spent most of my life so far refusing to do things just for the sake of doing them, so I might as well.


  2. I used to stress about the holidays and giving gifts … would I have time to find something meaningful for everyone … would I have the money … etc. Then we just stopped. And, as with everything else I’ve given up in recent years, it was totally liberating. Luckily, my entire family stopped with me. Rather than do all the gift giving, etc. … we try to spend time together … and if time together isn’t possible (we live long distances from each other), we get on Skype and visit in that way. It is refreshing … and you’re right … it allows one to enjoy winter and all the non-holiday treats it has to offer.

    Enjoy this year’s “opt out”. 🙂


  3. Thanks for the positive spin on what I’ve been stuck with every winter. My family disowned me when I was fifteen. I have no family and one friend and a social disability that precludes me having the large circle of friends and family that I see normal people enjoying.

    Winter is just winter to me, with a little bit of background awarenes that others are having big family dinners, others are having gift exchanges, others are singing carols together, playing games together, having parties together, going to see the Nutcracker performed together. When I see the president speak on television, I see opulent and beautiful holiday decorations behind him. The rest of the world is focused on beautifying their spaces, striving for peace and goodwill toward others, and connecting with people they often don’t get to see the rest of the year.

    I can’t indulge in spending too much time thinking about it because I just get miserable when I think about family members gathering for a warm meal that I cannot come and share. I get lonely and miserable and depressed if I spend too much time thinking about all those other people out there celebrating while I sit home eating my chickpeas alone.

    Rather than being like the fox in Aesop’s fable and declaring that those grapes must really be sour, I like your alternative: focusing on the quietness and stillness of the earth, reflecting, meditating, enjoying my peaceful solitude.

    Thank you.


    • And thank you for reminding me that the ability to opt out is, too, a luxury. I’ve been ungrateful towards the family that has always put up with my lack of demonstrativeness and indifference towards observing family time. (Actually, I hear ‘large family dinner’ and immediately start thinking of ways to get out of it.) My sister, fresh off her rotation in the psych ward, has unofficially diagnosed me with schizoid personality disorder. She’s only half joking. I think you may find that a lot of people don’t actually enjoy the holidays as much as it looks like they do — many of them are stressed, having to put a good face on what might really be a pretty dysfunctional family, worried about outdoing the neighbors, getting the best deals, or paying off their credit cards later.

      Regardless, I’m sorry this is such a rough time of year for you. I hope you’ll find some solace this year.


  4. […] not easy to be green.  It’s not easy to suddenly engage in mindful consumption.  It’s not easy to be […]


  5. Posted by Emily on 12/10/2010 at 08:58

    I’ve been “opting out” for most holidays since high school. Halloween and thanksgiving are tolerable holidays, but I hate Christmas. Because my mother has a compulsive shopping disorder, I grew up getting so many Xmas gifts that it would take all day long for me to unwrap them. In high school, I got to the point where I wasn’t even excited by my presents, it just made me sad to think of the money my mom was foolishly spending, all of the factory workers who were being abused, all of the environmental damage consumerism causes, and how I was getting so much junk while others can barely stay alive. I was a anti-present for many years, but for the last few years I’ve been making my own very modest gifts. I’ve given away homemade jam, homemade note cards, homemade advent calendars, and last year I made my parents beautiful albums featuring my photography. I feel much more morally-just giving away thoughtful, homemade gifts and its not as scrooge-y as giving nothing.

    P.S. Don’t get me started on Xmas lights or Xmas trees. What a waste of resources!


    • Hey, stranger! Glad to see you around. I think you’re a few years ahead of me in your gift giving, but I’m getting there. This year, I gave away some of my pottery, made a mix and sent it out with cards to friends, and did my best to get antiques and artisan made things for the rest. I didn’t totally succeed, but next year, if I start earlier, I think I’ll be able to make more of my own presents and slowly shift expectations away from large, expensive gifts.


      • Posted by Emily on 12/10/2010 at 11:44

        I’m trying to get back on the blog circuit and finally posted a new blog. Its great that you’re making a switch in your gift-giving and perhaps you’ll encourage others to do the same. I think ESTY is a great place to buy gifts for others because you’re supporting individual craftspeople and not big corporations.(But as you’ll see in my new blog, I’m a hypocrite!).


  6. Posted by Jennie on 12/15/2010 at 10:30

    Hi Ailanna,
    You won one of my giveaways!


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