Back in 2006, I think, I was looking for something at Walgreens. It was a few weeks before Halloween, as I was shopping, I became vaguely aware of the Christmas decorations all around. Then the most horrible things happened, the store music was Christmas music! Wait, what? There are still two holidays before that chaos should start. I mean seriously I only want to panic and freak out for a month or less a year. I want to only cry myself to sleep and drink myself into a stupor for 30 days max.
During my childhood, my mother was a fanatic about Christmas. I think maybe the fact that her birthday is two days after has much to do with her obsession. We got our tree up early every year, except one. My father would never make that mistake again! EVER! He waited until two weeks before Christmas in 1977, my mother refused to take it down until mid February. I remember that was the year with the Valentines dead tree. My mother had so many decorations that storing them was just impossible. No other holiday was ever decorated for, just the big one. I used to love Christmas.
We usually got an advent calendar and these silly coloring pads with Christmas decorations and ideas in them. Our Christmas was extravagant. My mother literally spent the entire next year paying off the credit cards from the Christmas before. My first year away from home was the same year my dad left my mom. Her Christmas was ruined by me, she told me years later. She still sent me gifts, as the years went by, I realized that I did not really even want gifts anymore. Some of my mother’s obsession was passed on to me. The only saving grace for me is that I completely hate the winter. I do not want the season to last forever, I want it to end as soon as possible so the summer will come back.
I spent a ton on gifts and decorations when my children were little. I insisted on a large real tree every year. The first Christmas after my divorce, I found myself obsessed with a color themed Christmas. I insisted on blue and silver/white ornaments and lights. I had no money for presents, but somehow I managed to give a nice Christmas. My brother helped that year, which has been a cause of disagreement between us.
Since I became an adult, I have always been broke. My ex was terrible at money, thought he was a genius and I have struggled to build it back up, with little success. Those Christmases after the divorce were difficult. I insisted I get the kids for Christmas, my ex’s family did a huge Christmas Eve party, so the division made sense. I stressed myself out trying to give gifts to my kids when I could barely put food on the table. It was this huge stress in my life. A very disabling stress to be sure.
In 2006 I began to question my motives for everything. I was concerned about things that I had buried deep in my soul. These concerns began to bubble up to the surface. I had become very aware of how ugly Christmas made me feel. I had this feeling of anger at the malls and stores. I just wanted to be able to have a stress free day. Is that too much to ask? Why do we all bend over backwards to make one perfect day a year? I know that once I stopped going to Thanksgiving with family that day became so much more relaxed and enjoyable. Why couldn’t Christmas be the same way?
My best friend at the time was also struggling about what to do for Christmas. I had been reading blogs and statistics on how much waste Christmas generated. I was very aware and ashamed of my waste stream at the time. Then I came across a blog about a waste-free Christmas! What? No really What? I began looking into it and found the most awesome idea ever. Having just come back from Christmas music playing in the middle of October made the paradigm shift all the easier. I came home one day and announced to my children, “We are not going to do Christmas this year!” They both stood there shocked and the looks of disappointment were devastating.
I could have caved, but I stood my ground, explained why and told them we would do something very special that year. Most of you with children are probably thinking what a cruel thing to do to children. I am certain that when they told their dad the news, he relished in slamming me behind my back. I know he did it often, until my daughter told him to stick it! She also told me the same thing, which I deserved for dissing her dad. Touche`!
I spent the next month or so trying to find something to do instead of Christmas activities. I discovered the ice rink in the Seattle Center. We went often that December. I also found that Zoo/Aquarium memberships were around $50 for the year. I could also get Pacific Science Center memberships for about $35 and the Sci-Fi museum for about $50. Holy crap, I could get them the gift of things to do all year round. Wow! The zoo was open for Christmas, which I used to think was rather odd to take your family to the zoo that day. That year we went to the zoo on Christmas. It was not crowded like normal. It was fun and we all had a great time. We went out for Chinese food that afternoon. My best friend and her son came with us as guests on my brand new memberships. It only cost her dinner for her and her son, which for both of us was much easier to handle financially.
My children told me it was one of the best Christmas’s ever! Sadly that was the last year the zoo was open on Christmas. The next year I was a little bit lost about what to do, when my daughter asked if we could see a movie. I cannot remember what movie we went to see, but that has been our Christmas since. My daughter picks a movie and my son picks the restaurant. I asked if they wanted to switch and they both agreed that no they liked the movies Jess picked and the restaurants Taylor found. I did inform my son that no matter what it had to be a new restaurant each year. We stayed with Chinese because I knew we could find an open one that day.
I no longer have the stress of finding a place to store my decorations. I no longer stress about money. I no longer stress about my carbon footprint. I took a stand, stood by my conviction and it turned out to be the best decision in my life. My mother still blames me for ruining Christmas for her, and frankly I do not care. You cannot let someone else ruin things for you. She has not learned that yet, and that is sad for her, but I will not be guilted. I did finally get her to understand that presents were not what I wanted. If you really want to get me a gift, send me a gift card to Safeway so I can put food on the table.
A few years ago my children informed me that their dad did not do anything for them for Christmas. They were both a bit disappointed. That was the year they could not get to their dad due to the snow. There was just no way to get anywhere that year. They went to see him one weekend in January, expecting a few small gifts, but there were none. They were both a little upset, and I informed them that he likely thought that since you had accepted my refusal to do Christmas you would accept his as well. I think if he had just explained to them that he was no longer able to do Christmas or that he wanted to do something different, it would have made the transition easier. You cannot just make a decision that monumental and not tell the kids. They need time to accept it, and get used to it.
I think the main difference is that I told them ahead of time, I gave them reasons and explained my feelings. Sure they were not happy about it. They were however, accepting because I simply changed my paradigm and it wasn’t like I pretended Christmas doesn’t mean anything. I simply decided to give it a new meaning. Last year was the first year my kids did not go with me to the movies. I am certain Jess and I had drinks, but I feel like Taylor avoided me. I know that the people he lives with, buy him anything he wants, so therefore he chooses them over me. It saddens me a bit that my son is so materialistic, but I cannot let it ruin anything in my life. I accept that he is different from me and that is alright. He is just now starting to communicate with his sister again, maybe I will get a call from him one day.
Over the years, we have added friends to our little group of anti-shopping Christmas celebrators. We all agree on a movie and hope to find a restaurant that can handle a group of 12-20 people. We have found that Dim Sum is the easiest way to have a large group on such a busy day. If you are wondering how to stick it to the man, or to walk away from the consumerism of our society, I highly recommend ditching Christmas! Go out do something fun and be sure to have a few drinks with friends. I no longer suffer from depression during the season. I make the mistake of going into a department store in December every once in a while, but for the most part I simply avoid them! It makes my life so much more enjoyable.