Dear Dr. Andrea,
I am 37, single, have no kids and live across the country from most of my family. This year has been particularly difficult, not just because of the awful stuff that everyone is going through, but because I lost an aunt that I was very close to, and also a dear friend that I have had since childhood.
I have a good-enough circle of friends where I live, but it has been hard. I am not going to travel to see my family like I usually do for Christmas, given the pandemic, and some of my friends here are in similar situations, although most of them have partners.
For Thanksgiving I spent the day hiking, made a simple non-Thanksgiving dinner for myself and watched a movie. It worked out fine. I am thinking I want to do the same for Christmas — just not do it. I usually like Christmas fine enough, but I don’t feel like I have it in me to pretend to be in the holiday spirit. It’s not like I live with anyone who expects decorations. I also don’t feel like doing the gift thing either, because I won’t even be around people to give them.
I want to tell my parents that I just want to opt out of the whole thing this year — just skip it and hope for better next year. But my friends are also making noise about gathering too. I feel a little like this is taking it too far (cue jokes about canceling Christmas).
But seriously, is it that bad for me to just fast-forward through it this year? Or will my friends and family get concerned or, worse yet, hold it against me?
— Grinch life sounds good
If there were ever a year to free yourself from the stress of holiday pressures, it’s this one. Not only because it’s been such an off-the-wall and difficult time and people need to find relief where they can, but also because most people’s traditional plans need to be altered anyway, to stay safe, so why not throw out the rule book and start from scratch?
In your case, your losses compound the situation. I know how much the holidays can be particularly tough in the wake of loss, even in non-pandemic years. So, my first instinct is to say do (or don’t do) what you need to get through; you deserve nothing less.
But I also want to make sure that you don’t go all-or-none unnecessarily. It sounds like your Thanksgiving Day worked well for you, but that’s one day, not a whole month. You may find over the coming weeks you don’t feel the same from one day to the next — and that’s not only totally okay, but totally expectable.
Might there be an alternative path that would be more helpful to your healing, that’s a little less yes-or-no? Just as you shouldn’t feel pressured to go full-on fa-la-la if it’s painful, you also shouldn’t feel that if you don’t do A, you can’t do B, or that opting out of the holidays is an on/off switch that can’t be undone. There may be some middle ground that actually feels less constricting and more fulfilling than writing off the whole shebang.
For instance, are there other family members who are mourning the loss of your aunt? Might you find comfort in sharing the difficulty of this time and remembering her, together? Are there other people you know and love who are grieving the loss of the same friend? Might some of your local friends be struggling in their own ways and just want to exhale too? Might there be ways to come together, even over screens, that go light on the holly-jollies but heavy on meaning, support and togetherness?
This isn’t about worrying what other people think or following cultural mandates, but instead about allowing yourself to get the support you need. Maybe that doesn’t involve a Christmas tree or traditional gifts. But perhaps it involves reflection, remembrance and gratitude, which do tend to fit well into the holiday spirit — at least the noncommercial version.
Talk to your friends and family, and be honest with them. Let them know that you’re not in a holiday mind-set this year. And opt out of what doesn’t fit, compassionately but without guilt. But also think about what can bring comfort, and go heavy on that however you can, not boxing yourself into or out of anything prematurely.
And if it really does feel better to just check the box that says “Wake me in January”?
That is, of course, totally okay as well.