How to cope with the holiday blues?
November 29, 2012 5:12 AM   Subscribe

My little family doesn't care for Christmas like they used to, among other things. How can I avoid or learn to cope with the holiday blues this year?

I am a 30 year old only child raised in Canada. I have a very small family, and I have always been the youngest, by far. I had no cousins until I was 20 years old. I have no children.

Christmas dinner this year, if it even happens, will consist of my parents, my aunt and her husband, and my grandmother - all between the ages of 65 and 94. Both of my parents are immigrants from outside of North America (one British and one south East Asian) and a) came from extremely humble beginnings, and b) although they are both Christians, neither of their families ever celebrated Christmas... at least not the way it's celebrated here in North America.

My childhood was full of Christmas cheer, bustling family dinners (all of my grandparents were alive, my only uncle was still living in this city), gifts, stockings, everything. All of my memories are extremely fond. But over the last ten years or so, Christmas has basically become just any other day. I realize now that my parents only really went through the Christmas motions when I was a kid because... well, I was a kid. Now that I'm older, they seem to have stopped caring completely as seem to have stopped seeing the point in celebrating at all.

My dad doesn't care about Christmas at all. My mom cares more, but only very slightly. She no longer wants to make Christmas dinner. The last few years, she has consistently suggested that we don't invite my aunt and her husband over for Christmas and have "just us"... meaning my parents, myself, my boyfriend and my grandmother, who lives with my parents. This upsets me because how rude to not invite part of the family over, when they've been spending every Christmas with us since I can remember, and probably have nowhere else to spend it with! Not to mention the fact that dinner "just us" is basically a normal dinner I might have on any weekend when I visit my parents.

My mother is 71 years old. I don't expect her to make a big Christmas dinner after doing it and stressing about it for twenty something years (I only realized it stressed her out as an adult). In fact, I would be even happy with no dinner at all. We could just go over and eat premade snacks and sip eggnog or whatever all night, as long as we're all together enjoying ourselves. However, even this kind of low-key gathering doesn't seem to appeal to anyone.

I made Christmas dinner at my apartment one year because I wanted to relieve my mother of the responsibility of taking care of everyone. What happened was that my mother ended up criticizing the way I cook which made me feel totally bitter, and it was generally inconvenient because my grandmother is quite on in the years and doesn't really take to being at my place for very long (when we're at my parents house, at least she can excuse herself early when she gets tired and go straight to bed), my parents get immensely stressed out trying to find parking around my apartment because I live downtown and parking isn't easy to come by, especially during the winter, and my aunt is an extremely nervous driver who normally only drives very short distances to buy groceries in the suburbs where she lives. All of these things made everyone on edge for the entire evening, and it wasn't really a good time for anyone, especially me, who slaved away all day cooking only to serve a group of miserable people who didn't seem to appreciate it or the fact that it's Christmas and not a time to be stressed!

I'm not a super gung-ho Christmas lover myself, it's not like I'm trying to force my family to sing carols and wear Santa hats and give extravagant gifts. I'm not into the material part of Christmas, or the immense sense of obligation that comes with the holiday season. I am my parents' daughter after all, I'm really low key on the Christmas thing. However, I still enjoy and really miss the feeling of being part of a loving family that enjoys spending time together - all of us - not just me and my parents. There aren't many of us... we should cherish what we have, right?!

My parents usually decide that our family won't trade presents at Christmas, and I have absolutely no issue with this whatsoever, as my parents are extremely generous and emotionally supportive year-round.

This always makes me feel really blue for most of December. On one hand, I feel relieved that my family expects virtually nothing from me, yet at the same time, it feels so lonely and depressing. Most of my friends have moved to other cities. People will inevitably ask me what I'm doing for Christmas, and then they'll react with shock and pity when I tell them that I'm doing... nothing. My wonderful boyfriend will invite me to his huge and friendly family's great Christmas dinner on the 24th, and even though I get to be part of that celebration, the reality is that being at someone else's Christmas dinner and seeing THAT family enjoy being together so much makes me feel even more alone. In fact, I'm actually really dreading it and I really wish I didn't have to go (nothing against his family, they're great. They're just not MY family).

All of this combined with the fact that I live and work downtown, where it gets unbearably frenetic during the holiday season, and that we have excruciatingly cold winters here and it's just getting colder and colder, leaves me with a pretty severe case of the holiday blues. People always seem so happy and excited this time of the year and I don't feel like a part of it at all. Some days I'm filled with holiday cheer, and other days I feel like the grinch and wish that I could just go to sleep and wake up mid January.

I keep telling myself that I'm incredibly fortunate to have parents who despite not really very enthusiastic about anything, are generally extremely supportive and generous with me (and each other). On a darker note, I realize that they're all senior citizens now and have a lot less energy and patience. Though I try not to think about it, in the back of my mind, I can't help but think about how this is the only family I have left and that I might not have very much time left with them and I want us to enjoy being together as much as possible.

How can I best deal with all these feelings?
posted by ohmy to Human Relations (39 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have friends who are into christmas?

If so, why not organise a big christmas dinner with them - you each pick a dish to cook (someone does potatoes, someone does greens, etc), do a secret santa, all bring booze, eat till you think you might die, and then play a stupid board game whilst drunk or watch a cheesy christmas movie.* Even the ones who have moved to other cities might come back for it, especially if they can crash.

Then, on actual christmas, go have a nice dinner with your folks, and don't worry about how festive it is because you already got all that out of your system.

*I do this with my friends. Hint: having some sort of forfeit where the penalty is being the one to dress as santa and give out the presents works well.
posted by greenish at 5:27 AM on November 29, 2012 [11 favorites]

Being around kids at Christmas time really helps with the "it's not so special anymore" feeling, because their enthusiasm is contagious. Can you find some way to spend at least part of the day around kids? You might be able to volunteer at a children's hospital, or at a women's shelter, although be aware that many places have more volunteers at Christmas than they need, and would rather have your support the rest of the year as well/instead.

Alternatively, do you have friends or colleagues with kids who will be in town? Drop by (ask first) with a few small gifts for them - maybe on Christmas Eve if they spend the day with family. Go out somewhere where you will see kids having a good time with their presents. But not just to observe. If there's somewhere nearby where you can ice skate or sled or whatever, take your boyfriend and do that.

Another option is to agree with your family not to do Christmas together this year - sometimes a half-hearted attempt is worse than none at all. Then round up other strays, even if you don't know them super well, and have your own Christmas dinner. We did that one year with a bunch of international students who couldn't afford to go home for Christmas. We learned a lot of new Christmas traditions and foods that year!

Finally, make Christmas about the whole month. Choose some traditions that are meaningful to you - drinking hot chocolate, decorating a tree, going carolling or to hear Christmas music, etc, and schedule to do them on different days in December. Don't see it as a build up to a single day, but rather a season with a lot of smaller special things in it.
posted by lollusc at 5:27 AM on November 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

However, I still enjoy and really miss the feeling of being part of a loving family that enjoys spending time together - all of us - not just me and my parents.

Work on cultivating that feeling outside of the context of Christmas.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:30 AM on November 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is one of the benefits of being in a longterm relationship or getting married - to have traditions of one's own. You're almost there!

In the meantime, why not join a carol group or something?
posted by KokuRyu at 5:36 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Start a new tradition of doing something special with your aunt on some other day close to Christmas. Bring food to her house or go to a restaurant.
posted by mareli at 5:37 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I agree that you should make this more into a season instead of just a day. Walk or drive around and sing along to Christmas music at the top of your lungs and search for houses and shops with the best Christmas lights. Or visit holiday fairs -- I love the ones around where I live. People spend MONTHS getting their crafts ready for these fairs and they take so much pride in their work that just talking to them and asking about their work makes me very happy. Volunteer. Bring meals to the homeless or home-bound or doughnuts to the fire station. Tie jingle bells to your cat. Use the month as an excuse to buy anything with peppermint in it.

One more thing: Don't focus too much on formal moments with your family. The more tightly wound you get, the more people can sense it, and it puts people on edge. One of my favorite family holidays, I mostly spent the day doing crosswords with my dad. It was totally impromptu, and I don't remember a single puzzle or clue, but I'll never forget those hours.
posted by mochapickle at 5:38 AM on November 29, 2012 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Oh the holidays. They are wrapped up with so many expectations.

It sounds like you are on your way of letting go and learning to accept that your parents aren't going to celebrate in the way you would like. The good news (as you have noted) is that they are emotionally supportive, they love you, you love them. Once you fully accept that your parents aren't going to celebrate in a manner you think they should, you will enjoy your boyfriend's family celebration, and your own celebrations and activities, more.

I am 40 and I used to be immensely wrapped up in how my parents behaved, especially when it came to holidays and my kids. I wanted them to be a certain kind of parent and grandparent they were never going to be. It still bothers me at times, though mostly I have learned to accept and let go. Instead of focusing on how I think it should be, I accept what it. I enjoy my in-laws, my parents, and my little family more.

Most of my friends have moved to other cities. People will inevitably ask me what I'm doing for Christmas, and then they'll react with shock and pity when I tell them that I'm doing... nothing

Really? I would not react to shock and pity and I doubt others will either. Going to a big family celebration with your boyfriend and having a nice day with your parents -- what is shocking about that? I think you need to view your holidays differently. You are viewing them as shit, when they are quite normal and nice. Make your own fun and forget the Hallmark version of how you think Christmas should be.
posted by Fairchild at 5:45 AM on November 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: My wonderful boyfriend will invite me to his huge and friendly family's great Christmas dinner on the 24th, and even though I get to be part of that celebration, the reality is that being at someone else's Christmas dinner and seeing THAT family enjoy being together so much makes me feel even more alone.

Really? If a boyfriend's family invited me to spend Christmas with them, I'd be grateful that they considered me to be that much a part of THEIR family. Yes, you're seeing that family enjoy being together, but what you're not getting is that they think you are PART of that family now.

You're not alone - your "in-laws" have adopted you and asked you to join them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:52 AM on November 29, 2012 [35 favorites]

One November my grandmother canceled thanksgiving. She was in her 70s and didn't want to cook, and didn't want anyone else to cook, so the holiday was done. My father was having none of this. So instead of typical thanksgiving, he made a big batch of taco meat from ground turkey, and got all the fixings for tacos and we brought those over to Grandma's house to have thanksgiving. It was different, but it was still the holiday.
posted by garlic at 6:22 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Why not enjoy your boyfriend's family's Dec 24 celebration more? I have a similar situation with my husband's family - my own family is lukewarm about Christmas, especially the food. In particular, my mother never liked cooking the dinner, and stopped as soon as my older sister-in-laws could take over. The last several years it's been a hodge-podge of potluck items like lasagna and casseroles and for one sad Thanksgiving - KFC for the whole family.

On the other hand the first time I had proper, classic traditional holiday fare was at the first Thanksgiving and Christmas I spent with my now husband's family. Three choices for pie at Thanksgiving! A plum pudding soaked in brandy and lit on fire for dessert at Christmas dinner! Although I already knew I loved my husband, and really liked his family, I fell in love with the whole clan and their love of food and tradition. I guess I could have compared the two families, and I'm sure I did a little, but I quickly realized that I have a good thing going here and choose to enjoy the awesomeness (and ask for turkey and pie leftovers).

There have also been a number of years due to geography that we didn't get to experience my in-law family awesomeness, and that's when "orphan Christmas" started. If it doesn't happen right on Christmas Day, that's cool - but it's a chance for people to get together and share their traditions.

One of my orphan Christmas traditions started when a friend and I shared our frustrations over cooking full turkey dinners for family members who didn't seem to appreciate the effort or seem to be very much into Christmas - and it has now turned into a happy, joyful pre-emptive strike against possibly disappointing celebrations elsewhere.

That also ties in with the suggestion to make the whole holiday season a celebration rather than focus your energy on December 25 - try to take the emotional charge out of that particular day. I enjoy the first clementine, the first gingerbread cookie, all the decorations - houses, stores, office buildings. I'm not religious - I focus on the "fuck you winter!" energy - all the lights, candles, mulled wine and warming spices as defiance against the long dark nights and cold temperatures. What's nice about that is that feeling doesn't get stuck on a particular day. You can curl up with a great book and a hot mug of something nice with a blanket whether it's December 5 or 30th.
posted by champagneminimalist at 6:27 AM on November 29, 2012 [10 favorites]

I'm not really a big Christmas person myself (although my husband may slowly be changing that), so I'm probably not the best person to be giving advice, but it seems to me that you're putting much too much weight on Christmas(TM). For so much of our lives, we're spoon-fed these ideas of what these perfect family holidays should be. Thanksgiving gets a lot of this, as well. It can be a lot to live up to... not to mention, for some people, truly exhausting.

Reality, however, is usually pretty different—especially as people go their separate ways (or depart from this world), we get older, and, as you've noted, people may start making less of an effort to make everything super-magical-Christmastime. Traditions we've known our entire lives start to change, and it hurts.

The thing is, that's okay. I've experienced a lot of this in the past 10 years, for a variety of reasons, and I know how hard it can be to let go. But this is your opportunity to create new traditions. True, you can't force your family to go along with it, but surely there are other people in your life who you love dearly who feel differently about the holiday season. As you've noted, you still have your family's love and support (and, apparently, the love and support of another family on Christmas Eve). Really, a simple dinner with the folks isn't a pathetic Christmas at all, and I'd be surprised if anyone actually thought that of you.* As long as you're spending time with your loved ones, that's really what it's about—even if it's not with everyone you love. Try to focus on the season, rather than one specific day, and make that season as magical as you want/need it to be.

*If they do, then they probably need to take a step back and re-evaluate their own issues with the holidays.
posted by cellar door at 6:37 AM on November 29, 2012

Best answer: When my Dad passed away, and my family reduced to just me and Mom, neither of us felt very jolly, and couldn't get in the Christmas mood. (For a LOT of people, Christmas can be a lousy time of year.)

Instead of doing up the house and having a huge dinner, we just went out (the Casino is always open, but other hotels probably are, too). No hassle, no pressure, and the start of a new tradition. It worked out much, much better than we'd hoped.

I would suggest something similar for you. With ageing adults, removing the hassle is very attractive. No pressure on them, no pressure or criticism on you and how you do your thing, and everyone is together in the most low-key manner possible. You still have the big, traditional dinner with the BF's family, you have a meetup for drinks and snacks with your family at a neutral but nice location, and everyone is as happy as they're going to be.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:38 AM on November 29, 2012

I have one family member with whom I'm on speaking terms (other than a Christmas card once a year) - and that is my dad, who has dementia and is in a care home. I am not married and have no children. I do have friends, but they have their own families and many live far away. Therefore, any Christmassing I do is something I have to do myself.

I'm a total sentimental fool about holidays and I just love all the tinsel and glitter and decorations and all the fun of Christmastime despite having no family. I go all-out decorating the house (I have three Christmas trees, albeit small ones - two are silver tinsel Vermont Country Store kitschy ones!), I have Christmas stockings for the cats monogrammed with their names and I fill them with kitty toys. I listen to Christmas music. I go downtown and enjoy the holiday displays. I go to Macy's San Francisco and coo over the cute puppies and kittens up for adoption in the store windows. I go to crafts fairs. I immerse myself in the season, marinate myself in tinsel and spice, and have fun. I enjoy the whole holiday season (as other posters have suggested), not just Christmas Day itself.

And on Christmas itself I go out for a nice restaurant meal. Somebody else is doing the cooking and washing all the dishes, hooray!

Basically I do not let my unfamilied state get me down or interfere with my enjoyment of the season. Sure, sometimes I get pangs of longing when I see big happy families gathered around the table or the tree...but the upside is that I'm missing So Very Much dysfunction and drama that can lurk under the surface of these shiny happy families. No drunk uncles spouting Tea Party rhetoric! No fighting between divorced parents and their exes! No fighting over whose house to spend Christmas at because three sets of grandparents all think it should be spent with them and only them! Christmas is my own to create. I get to choose and celebrate the Christmas that I want.

I say if you enjoy Christmas, make your own. It's fun.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:41 AM on November 29, 2012 [15 favorites]

Yes, I would agree - we face tremendous pressure to have "perfect holidays" when in reality it makes a lot of people miserable. I've never enjoyed Christmas with my family, mostly because my mother had a pretty rotten childhood, and is determined (well, not so much anymore now that she's getting old) to have the PERFECT Christmas, in which each of us, including grandchildren, play a roll.

So there's that to think about.

For my family, my wife is Japanese and therefore none of the Christmas stuff holds a fraction of the emotional resonance it does for Canadians. It's liberating, but now that we have kids I have to make sure they experience Christmas. Which is fine.

However, as a family we have created our own tradition. New Years Eve is a much more important family holiday in Japan, and, in an ideal world, the family gathers together in the living room to eat food, drink beer (or pop or whatever) and watch tv. We do that when we're in Japan, and when we spend New Years in Canada, we get TV Japan to watch the New Years Eve programming.

The kids seem to like it.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:42 AM on November 29, 2012

I'm Jewish and I've spent my life at other people's Christmas Celebrations. When I was a kid and we lived in San Francisco we'd do the Movie/Chinese Food thing, and it was fine.

When I got older I'd be invited to other people's celebrations and I enjoyed the hell out of them. Most recently, before I was married, I'd spend Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) with my Cuban family, eating roast pig and all the Caribbean trimmings. YUM!

Now, we go to KY to be with Husbunny's family on Christmas Eve. The funny thing is, actual Chrismas has been kind of a nothing since 1995 for me. Everyone I know, now celebrates on Christmas eve.

Now on Chrismas day, we drive home from Kentucky, and I cook a little something for us. Or we go out for Chinese.

So perhaps you can readjust your thinking on this. When people ask you what you're doing for the holiday, it's HUGE. "I'm doing the traditional thing with my boyfriend's family on Christmas Eve and then we're doing a low-key thing on Christmas with my family."

Times change, people get older, children become adults. It's not bad, it's different. Perhaps you can get Chinese take-out for your family and enjoy it at your Mom's house. Start a new tradition.

The fact that you have all these aged relatives is a blessing! You'll really miss these quiet holidays when they're gone.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:43 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think you realize how lucky you are. Your boyfriend's family is huge and friendly and they have a great Christmas dinner on the 24th and you're invited? You've hit the Christmas jackpot. Go, enjoy, be thankful. Seriously. This is not something that everyone gets to have.
posted by HotToddy at 7:11 AM on November 29, 2012 [10 favorites]

Your answer is in your question. Go to your wonderful boyfriend's family celebration
and enjoy yourself!
posted by katypickle at 7:34 AM on November 29, 2012

Yes! You are incredibly lucky! You have two fantastic celebrations of different timbres, neither one you need to coordinate. Hot Toddy is right, you've fallen upon the Christmas jackpot. Enjoy!
posted by apparently at 7:49 AM on November 29, 2012

Best answer: Christmas has a tendency to get a lot harder when you reach late 20s/early 30s. Not only do you lose the magic that made Christmas so special as a kid (Santa isn't real, gifts aren't as big of a deal when you can buy your own stuff year-round, most Christmas songs are really annoying after twenty-five years), but if you grew up with a cohesive generally-happy family that spent the holidays together, you can lose a lot of that feeling too (siblings fight, parents criticize your life choices, cousins get drunk and annoy the shit out of you, aunts and uncles stop visiting, divorces, deaths, etc.). As much as I still love Christmas, it's also now a stressful season for me, and I never know what to expect.

It's a hard part of getting older, but just knowing that it's common makes me feel less alone. Got any friends you feel comfortable venting to about Christmas? They probably have stories of their own, about feuds started over who's responsible for bringing casserole, or unimaginably awful gifts from family members, or spending the entire day alone for the first time with nothing in the kitchen but saltines. And then maybe one of you will say "hey, we should just get together one day and have our own little thing with takeout and eggnog from the store," and even if it doesn't become a tradition, it's a fun little thing.

It helps to find joy and love in the non-traditional things of the season, on days other than the 24th or 25th (and Christmas Day can often be a drag anyway, since there's nowhere to go and everyone's busy), with "found" family or even by yourself.

And when I get childhood Christmas nostalgia, I like to think about the things that I've simply outgrown and couldn't recreate even if everything were perfect. Things like sitting by the tree every night and marveling at how it was SO huge (at six feet). Or trying to stay up until midnight to see if animals really did talk. Those are some of my favorite memories, and knowing that I got to have and treasure those kid-only experiences makes me feel a little better about things just not being the same anymore.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:19 AM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Only child here, too. I totally understand the need for a Big Family Christmas, because big family is something only children don't get the other days of the year. My adult Christmases have been so horrible, that if I were to list them out, you'd help me find a bridge to jump off of. But I, like you, keep hoping & trying to find that Christmas Feeling I got glimpses of when I was little.

I don't have all of the answers, as I am still working things out, but I can list you the things i do to help myself feel more "in the season" all month long.

I rent a cabin with friends earlier in December and we have a white elephant gift exchange. The more horrible the gift, the better. Most of these gifts usually come from thrift stores and are donated right back. The silliness and no-pressure of the entire thing is really helpful, as is the feeling of celebrating the holiday in a big group of friends.

Make Christmas cards. Make cookies. Make ornaments. Spend the month visiting people and giving these things out.

Get together with others and watch your favorite Holiday movies.

Also- most recently my therapist mentioned having a loose plan for Christmas & Christmas eve, which includes either driving or getting out and walking around and admiring lights & nature, as well as a dinner with friends. If all of that isn't possible, schedule yourself to volunteer somewhere on Christmas & be around others & feel good making a difference.

Spend the month saying yes to the invitations of others. Sure, you will be a newbie this year, but it could turn into your new favorite tradition in years to come. But you won't know if you don't try.

Tell yourself you can grieve for the loss of your beloved family Christmases as soon as it hits January 2nd. And do grieve, because I think that it is really important to say goodbye to them properly. But spend December working on a new project: Discovering new traditions.
posted by haplesschild at 8:30 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think one other thing to consider is to sit down and really think of what "makes" Christmas for you. Is it the food? The lights? The crazy madhouse shopping at the mall? Then really try to emphasize those things this year. Make cookies, or grandma's plum pudding. Go see a holiday light show at the local zoo or park. Go to the mall, get an eggnog latte, and watch people go mad trying to get all their shopping done in an hour.
posted by RogueTech at 8:33 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Basically, you want to spend time with your family where you can all enjoy each other. You don't want it to be a lot of work or inconvenience. This is something you can accomplish! Just don't get too bogged down in elaborate traditions.

How about bringing food to your parents' house, maybe bringing some cute socks for everybody (feet still need to be warm, right?), watching a movie together, having some tea and photo-album time, and if you want to be super-festive, bring along a _real_ wreath so the room smells nice? You can volunteer to clean up the pine needles and take it down again at New Year's.

Basically, you do all the work, making sure to plan it so that a) it's not that much work to begin with, and b) your Mom won't feel obligated to work a lot. Apparently your parents' house is more comfortable, so that's where you do it. Or your aunt's, if she'll be comfortable and still feel OK taking a nap if she wants one.

In fact, if it were me, I'd plan time-outs every hour or so where everybody gets a break, and make that a part of the published plan so people don't protest too much. I don't have a lot of cultural expectations, though, so that may be easier said than done.
posted by amtho at 8:45 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

People will inevitably ask me what I'm doing for Christmas, and then they'll react with shock and pity when I tell them that I'm doing... nothing.

"Nothing" is what you'd be doing if you were sitting around by yourself in your apartment for Christmas. Unless I've read your question entirely wrong, what you are doing is something like "Oh, boyfriend and I are having Christmas eve with his family, then we will be with my parents and my grandmother." If you keep saying "nothing", someone's going to be even more shocked when they invite you to something for Christmas and you have to explain that you actually had plans to visit with two different groups of people.

Suggest going out to eat for Christmas dinner (Make a reservation ASAP for this). Volunteer to drive over and pick up Aunt at the time you suggest this plan.

Alternately, see if Aunt would like you to visit earlier or later in the day, or take your Aunt and her husband out to dinner with just the 3 of you. Your mother might not feel up to the cleaning and other things she feels would be appropriate if it's not "just us", even if she wouldn't be cooking.

Try going to some before-Christmas events or performances, maybe that will give you some of that feeling of Christmas cheer that you miss. If you like to give gifts, there's probably a local charity doing something where you can buy a gift for a child who might not otherwise get one. You can exchange Christmas stockings with your boyfriend, or if that's just a reminder of how you don't do that with your parents do "12 days of Christmas" or make an advent calendar.

Get a lightbox to help with the "colder and colder", part of that might just be that its getting darker and darker. Maybe you need some warmer mittens, wool socks, or new boots. You can even get battery-powered bootwarmers. If you can afford it, a trip somewhere warm and sunny will probably help your spirits.
posted by yohko at 9:04 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Something that helps me integrate my "I want the holiday to be a certain way" thing and my "this family is kind of lame about holidays" issue is to get down everyone's expectations and desires on paper, and work from there.

(I also think you need to embrace the boyfriend's family, and maybe volunteer in your city, and find other days to do the "we all love each other" stuff, but I think that's all been handled adequately by advice up above.)

I literally spent two hours quizzing family members on what made Thanksgiving "right" to them - made it Thanksgiving - and then made a plan around that. Cranberry sauce is only important to two people, but they really love it. I actually gave my mother the results of my survey, including things that each person had claimed responsibility for, and that relieved a lot of her stress about the whole thing and helped her be less annoyed at the workworkwork issue.

I also got really specific and introspective with myself in terms of what I personally wanted from each holiday. For instance, for Christmas, it's really important to me that we all sit down together and open a variety of presents. So, instead of buying one major gift for each person, I buy several smaller gifts. It's really important to me that the space that I inhabit is decorated and cheerful over the holidays, so I make decorations while listening to Christmas music. It's really important to me that we have nice dishes and use the fancy expensive silver, so I negotiated with my sister and got her to agree to polish the silver and find the nice dishes the day before. It's really important to me to focus on the religious aspects of the holiday, so I put a LOT of effort into study and worship during the preceding month.

Other things turned out to be not as important to me - I don't need to spend the whole entire day with my family doing hugely significant religious or holiday-ish stuff. So when they decide to go see a movie, as long as it's not Sunday, I'll go with them. It's not that important to me to have a ton of treats, so I make boring side dishes and maybe one pie. It's completely unimportant to me to spend Christmas Eve as a family, together - so I've stopped being annoyed at my mom and stepdad for going to the mall to gawk at last-second shoppers, and I spend time hanging out with my sister or something.

It also turned out that me contributing the things I personally care about - I finally flat-out resorted to physically bringing the food to the house to ensure we had a nice Christmas dinner - made other people more enthusiastic about making their own contributions. My sister has really taken off on the side dishes thing this year - now she's branching out into making nice dinners on other, normal days, because she learned that she enjoys it.

Something you seem to care about is that your aunt and her husband may not be able to spend Christmas with anyone else in the family. Consider having Christmas Day in two places - one with them at their house, and one with your parents and grandmother at the other house.

(I strongly recommend that you cook in your own kitchen and bring it to your parents' home, if you want to have a feast or even just specific foods. Mostly because that has worked out amazingly well for me. There are some things that show up at my mom's house on holidays because I intend to eat them and no one else wants to. Interestingly, other people end up joining me!)
posted by SMPA at 9:25 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

You and your boyfriend should cook for your family at your parents' house. And clean up, too!

Watch a bunch of cooking shows and collect recipes online to get your menu organized. Or you could even pick up a whole Christmas meal from an upscale market or restaurant that offers this, of which many do.

Don't forget to decorate.

You sound a bit immature and spoiled, when really at 30 years old, you are more than old enough and capable enough of taking over the bulk of the festivities and making it fabulous.

I don't know why you equate hosting with your place downtown. Just play the host at your patents' home. Easier and more comfortable for everyone.

posted by jbenben at 9:53 AM on November 29, 2012

Best answer: As the commenters above illustrate, you really get to make the holiday what you want it to be now, but you do also have to respect other people's energies and feelings and negotiate with them.

If you want to eat with your whole family, do it at your parents but consider getting it catered, and help your mom clean her house before and after so she doesn't have to fuss.

Do things with you family, but also create events with your friends. Few is us get everything we need from one group of people anymore.

And remember, doing nice things for others reliably makes people happy.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 10:05 AM on November 29, 2012

Lot of good options above! I especially like the one about you making the food, then bringing it over to your mom's (maybe finish making it there). So what if your mom criticized your food once? Christmas is no time to be holding on to bitterness, especially since this happened one or more years ago - come on! Be confident and try it again. Test out the recipes beforehand. Let your parents know how excited you are about each and every one of those. Fake it, if you have to. Ask each and every family member for their opinion on what to eat, what to do, what makes Christmas feel like Christmas to them.

Spending it with your boyfriend's family works too.

Have you considered doing some charity work instead? Volunteer at a soup kitchen or something?

Your family is old and tired. Inject some enthusiasm into the holidays - not just that one day.
posted by Neekee at 10:59 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think there's any call for the suggestion that the OP is "immature and spoiled."

To me, this sounds like you're dealing with your parents/family abandoning all the traditional "parenty" things they did when you were younger, and which haven't magically transformed into grandparenty things for obvious reasons. Maybe Christmas just allows you to focus these feelings on a particular set of traditions and events.

Just because you're not popping out the grandbabies doesn't mean that the older generation gets to realize their dream of sitting around watching Jeopardy all day every day, even on Christmas. Make new traditions. Don't be afraid to pull people along with you into some enthusiasm for the holiday season. It's not going to be automatic, but you are the leading generation now. Ask your mother or aunt what her responsibilities were during Christmas at your age, to give yourself some perspective or ideas.
posted by katya.lysander at 12:19 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if your parents are criticizing your cooking, bring food from a restaurant they already like. Or just don't try too hard with the food; bring a pizza or your family's equivalent of a pizza.
posted by amtho at 12:56 PM on November 29, 2012

Best answer: Welcome to Adult Christmas. This happens once you're over a certain age, not married, and no kids around that everyone has to put up a show for.

I pretty much enjoy Christmas Season these days, but don't enjoy actual Christmas. It really isn't terribly fun, plus it's down to my mom and me so people-wise, it's not great. I have just kinda grown to accept that. I agree with you that I'd be weirded out going to a boyfriend's giant family party (I have really felt strange being invited to the houses of people I don't know well or at all at Christmas the years Mom and I did that), but that is probably where you're going to get the traditional holiday stuff going on compared to your own family. Without the kids around, after awhile people do lose interest, and it's up to you to either accept that or bring all the festivities in and MAKE them, darn it! I mostly just get my Christmas on in the weeks before the actual day any more.

In your case: yeah, I second those who said you bring food there. Or just all go out to a restaurant--honestly, it's NICE to go out at Christmas, you're not the only people there doing it, it's not a shameful thing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:12 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Or just all go out to a restaurant--honestly, it's NICE to go out at Christmas, you're not the only people there doing it, it's not a shameful thing.

Three cheers for going out to eat at Christmas! I did it even when I had a family (with young cousins) to spend Christmas with. You'll see families with kids doing the same thing. If you can afford it, it's such a treat to have someone else do all the prep, cooking, and cleaning, while you get to sit and enjoy yourself. And if you can find a restaurant in a hotel that serves a buffet, that is THE BEST; you get to pick and choose whatever you want to eat. Even non-buffets will usually offer a choice of turkey, prime rib or some kind of fish for a main course.

Holidays at restaurants FTW. I haven't cooked a Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner in yoinks. And I've seen lots and lots of families in those restaurants, so many moms and dads doing up Christmas "for the children" feel the same way. And restaurants usually go all out decorating for Christmas and sometimes have Christmas music, so they'll give you that holly-and-tinsel feeling you want.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:09 AM on November 30, 2012

I agree with some of the above that this is still a logistics problem--your family basically enjoys spending the holiday together already, so if you make it easy enough for them to get into the spirit of the season then they will.

Since a traditional meal seems to be what your family wants in order to get into the spirit, you can buy a pre-cooked Christmas dinner and have it delivered to you. You do some minimal prep (thawing for a couple of days in the fridge and then heating it day of) and serve it at home (or, in this case, at your mother's house). Here's a list from last year of stores which do this. One of my grandmother's friends got the Costco dinner for Thanksgiving and really liked it, it's a little expensive but comes with a large number of side dishes and so on. Plus then if your mom criticizes, well, she's not criticizing you really, so you can just shrug it off.
posted by anaelith at 12:18 AM on December 1, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the very helpful responses! A number of you have pointed out that I'm lucky to be able to share in and be a part of the boyfriend's family celebration. I never really thought about it from that angle, and have always considered it one of those relationship obligations (because it's a normal concept for me for parents to invite the SOs of their children to their celebrations - every boyfriend I've ever had has invited me to his family's celebration - regardless of whether I'm close to his family or not) and now I do feel incredibly lucky that they consider me a part of their family. I'm trying to remind myself of that, now. At the risk of falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy though, I know that I will feel distant and sad and a longing for my own family... as I have always felt like that (last year, at the same family celebration, as well as every other Christmas I have spent with the families of previous SO's). Maybe this previous question I asked might shed a bit of light on how I feel with my boyfriend's family. Absolutely think they're wonderful, but feel a disconnect due to language barrier, among other things.

On another note, reading everyone's suggestion that I'm putting too much emphasis on Christmas day, versus the season, I realize that I made it sound like that by leaving out some other stuff. Basically, I'm referring to the entire lead up to Christmas... the actual Christmas season. As soon as the Christmas merchandise and songs start appearing in stores, my family starts to get pretty negative. It starts off with "oh no, the Christmas stuff is in stores", and "oh God, it's that time of the year again". Then it continues to "we don't really want to do anything this year", and "we're not trading gifts", and "ughhhh the caroler's are outside", to "people drive so badly at this time of year!" and "Christmas songs are on every radio channel, it's SO annoying", to "ugh I guess this means we have to invite your aunt and her husband"... basically, it's an entire month or so of lead up where I'm being reminded that THIS SUCKS, which inevitably culminates to one day of people not really wanting to be together. I have trouble processing why this is so difficult on a day where everything is closed for the holidays, everyone else is doing Christmas stuff with their own families, we all live within ten minutes of each other, no one is working and no one has anything better to do than be together because we have no other obligations. I don't care so much that it's Christmas, and don't really absolutely desire any of the things that define Christmas for other people (Christmas tree, a specific Christmas themed dinner, presents, Christmas songs, etc), but it's like the perfect storm of everyone being totally free on the same day. Why not hang out together? Why so much complaining and negativity for the entire month of December? They're not generally downers for the rest of the year. There's no bad blood between any of my family members.

My boyfriend and I put up a Christmas tree at his house and sing along loudly and badly to Christmas music, and are creating our own new little family traditions. I don't expect my parents to participate in this at all, and I've accepted that they are old and tired. I've tried to make things easier for my mother on the times she has decided she'll host some kind of Christmas "thing" by helping her cook and clean, or taking over those responsibilities entirely. But no matter how much I alleviate the burden for her, my parents are still so negative for the entire season. I guess that was my question... how can I stay happy or even normal when I'm constantly reminded of how much they hate it?

Whew, this turned out to be a novel of a response! I suspect that no one will return to this thread anymore since it's already a couple days old, but thank you everyone for so much good food for thought!
posted by ohmy at 10:31 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I guess that was my question... how can I stay happy or even normal when I'm constantly reminded of how much they hate it?

Compulsory fun is inflicted from without, even by the most well-meaning. Your badly-sung Christmas carols and your tree are fine for *you,* but may stand as reminders to your family of just how far unmoored they have become from the holiday, the season, and from the social constructs around how they are supposed to observe it and feel about it. Can you understand that your energetic joy might be experienced by someone else as pressure?

I stand by my advice, above, to work on reinforcing the bond you have with your family *without imposing anything holiday-related on them.* Their attitudes toward the season are their struggle, not yours. Please do not expect them to be sources of your holiday joy. Accept their "Oh shit, Christmas again?" commentary as evidence that they are thinking through their relationship to the season, and not as a judgment on you or your choices about celebrating Christmas. Let it go. Love them anyway.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:38 PM on December 1, 2012

Response by poster: MonkeyToes, my Christmas carols and tree are things I do on my own time, which is something I've only really started to regain appreciation for since my boyfriend and I got together. I showed them a picture of the tree, and that's it. As for energetic joy, well... I have next to none these days, hence the purpose of me posting about the holiday blues to begin with. So yes, I absolutely understand that energetic joy is experienced by others as pressure, because that's one of the very things that's getting me down these days.
posted by ohmy at 8:07 PM on December 1, 2012

Response by poster: Sorry, I accidentally clicked on Post Answer before I was done.

I wanted to add that I have already accepted that they're not into the holidays, and I don't take it as any form of judgment against me or my life. I just wish I were better equipped to deal with what I feel is a constant unnecessary reminder of how much they hate it. Like ok, you're not into it. I'm not happy these days either. But complaining non-stop doesn't help anyone. I feel crappy too, but I don't feel the need to tell them every time I see them.

This compared with everyone else's festive joy makes me sad and lonely, and I guess I just wish I had a better coping mechanism.
posted by ohmy at 8:19 PM on December 1, 2012

Best answer: I think you can choose to be festive and joyous as possible. My parents are not complainers but they do think Christmas is a hassle. They only leave their decorations up for two days. Just enough time for us to see them on Christmas Eve when we celebrate with them.

I can be a complainer too. I bemoan the fact that I have to drag my stuff out and decorate. I secretly roll my eyes and laugh at people who wish they could "leave their tree up all year long because it's so pretty!" I can't be bothered and sometimes I think my lack of enthusiasm stems from social anxiety and pure laziness.

The holidays can reveal or magnify some sad truths and leave one feeling vulnerable: not as many friends as you would like, not invited to any or many Christmas parties, lost family connections, loneliness, another year and I'm still hanging on to these extra 20 pounds, etc.

Complaining might be a form of distraction for your parents. An excuse not to be open and to enjoy fully because they might not know how or it's too uncomfortable for them.

Have a very Merry Christmas. Just because others aren't as enthusiastic doesn't mean it has to ruin your entire month.
posted by Fairchild at 5:39 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd be worn down by such constant complaining too! Compleat Complainers are tedious and joyless to be around.

If I were you I'd focus less on getting your family to enjoy the holidays and more on stopping the constant flow of negativity. Refuse to engage. Something like, "I know you're tired of Christmas carols, but there's nothing we can do about it." Then change the subject to something neutral. Make it clear that you do not want to hear a constant stream of complaints. And be prepared to walk away if they won't shut up.

Your holidays are yours to make as you please. And if your parents don't want to celebrate, that's their choice. But it's not fair to you for them to drench you in a constant drip, drip, drip of negativity, whining and complaining. Don't force them to celebrate a fancy Christmas, but make it clear that you do not want to hear Whine, Whine, Bitch, Bitch all the time.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:36 AM on December 2, 2012

Rosie has it right - and I'd add that if you need to spend Christmas with people who AREN'T your parents in order to get away from their complaining, that may be a necessary step. I know it would be sad, and you'd rather not because they're your family, but it sounds like right now you're the only Christmas fan in the family and that may not change. You do have other people to celebrate with, which is VERY fortunate.

Giving up is definitely a last-resort step, is a step you could take if nothing else is working out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:48 AM on December 2, 2012

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