Ideas for celebrating christmas when my spouse doesn't want to?
December 12, 2022 1:57 AM   Subscribe

This has been a very tough year for my spouse (they/them), and as we get towards Christmas, things aren't really easing up. As a result, they've flat out said "I'm not doing Christmas this year; I can't face it." I don't want to disrespect that, but I still want to do something to celebrate the season, for my own reasons.

You can look back at my posting history for some of the details this year's struggles. On top of all of that, we're currently dealing with a chronically / seasonally sick pet (manageable, but hard work and energy-sapping, and not getting better in the short term), and with having moved into a new home that has had a bunch of issues that we've had to solve, which have caused quite a bit of friction and cost quite a lot of money.

Christmas has always been important to me. I grew up celebrating it with a large extended family and even when I lost people around Christmas time (my mother when I was a teenager, both my siblings in my early twenties) it was important to me to carry on celebrating Christmas as a way of feeling close to their memory. Though it's bittersweet at this time of year, I don't ever want to find myself not having at least some way of connecting to that memory across the years.

Traditionally, spouse and I would have a low-key Christmas to ourselves, but we'd still have a tree, a nice lunch for ourselves on the day, maybe go for a walk in the countryside together. This year, they've been very clear that they don't want to do anything to celebrate at all — "It's just another day," they say, and add that they're probably intending to work that day.

I'm disappointed, of course, but I understand. This has really not been an easy year for them and they're still struggling. I'm doing the best I can to help them through without falling back on my usual habit of trying to fix everything, which is unhelpful. This is all happening in the context of ongoing therapy (for me) where my therapist is having me confront some fairly uncomfortable questions about this relationship — not least where I want it to go, whether it can get there, and whether it's a good fit for me anymore.

I really want to do something to celebrate Christmas for myself. I'm still going to get my spouse gifts, though I'll have to judge whether or not to give them on Christmas day when the time comes. I'm not concerned about whether or not I get gifts in return — at my age I don't need more stuff (I already take up enough room in the new house that I'm feeling guilty about it).

What can I do to find a way of connecting with the season, and with my memories, that won't impact my spouse? I've considered going to the local church for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve (I'm an atheist, but I was brought up Anglican), but I'm not sure that my going out late at night on Christmas Eve would go down terribly well with my spouse. I can listen to Christmas music in my headphones and in my car easily enough, but beyond that I'm at a bit of a loss.

Does anyone have any ideas as to how I can have an unobtrusive private Christmas for myself?
posted by six sided sock to Human Relations (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've considered going to the local church for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve (I'm an atheist, but I was brought up Anglican)

This was going to be my suggestion. In addition, you could attend services for advent as well.

but I'm not sure that my going out late at night on Christmas Eve would go down terribly well with my spouse

They can't have it both ways. They can ask you not to expect them to participate in a celebration and that the house not be decorated. They can't ask you not to commemorate the event and your loved ones on your own. And with that particular event, the customary thing to do outside the house is go to Midnight Mass.

In my family we also go for long walks on Christmas Day after exchanging gifts and having breakfast. Especially if your spouse is working, and even if they are not, I'd try to get out to a local beauty spot and enjoying nature for a bit. Perhaps bring a flask of hot chocolate or similar and toast your loved ones.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:10 AM on December 12, 2022 [72 favorites]

Would taking a vacation on your own be disturbing for your spouse?

Another idea is to celebrate the solstice instead.

(I have hurt people in the past by saying very nearly the same thing. I'm not sure it helps, but for whatever it's worth, it probably isn't about you. That doesn't mean you don't deserve to have your needs met.)
posted by eotvos at 2:11 AM on December 12, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: It would depend on your area, the time you have free and how much it might affect your spouse and pet, but volunteering is a great way to spend your free time during the holiday season. A lot of places accept temporary volunteers during this time of year, especially shelters that run extra spaces because a lot of the normal ones close. I've never felt more Xmas spirit than serving turkey and all the trimmings at an emergency shelter for people who really needed it, a lot more than I do anyway.

If it's a day thing you can frame it as just getting out of the house (since you won't be doing any Xmas-specific activities with them) and lending a hand where it's needed. That said, I would maybe try and keep any other activities you do on a regular basis ongoing? If it's just another day, that's fine, you can mostly treat it as such and do whatever you would normally do with your spouse. I would avoid giving gifts on the 25th, too.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 2:12 AM on December 12, 2022 [10 favorites]

I’m Jewish and my family used to deliver meals on Christmas to people who needed them. It was run by a local organization and staffed by volunteers. We would load up the car and drive all around town dropping off meals.

Maybe something like this would be a good way to celebrate the holiday.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:33 AM on December 12, 2022 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I don't mean to take this to a dark place, but I've reflected on this quite a lot in the last few years. As my marriage was ending a few years ago, my ex-spouse let out a decade of built up pressure related to our very different approaches to the Christmas season. It was A Very Big Deal to him, and it wasn't a big deal to me at all (in part because my mom's birthday is just before Christmas, so my family had always treated it as subsidiary to her birthday). His frustrations about my unwillingness to be a part of what he wanted Christmas to be really ate at him, and while he'd occasionally mention it in a small way I had no idea it was such a focus of his growing resentment until it was too late.

Maybe that experience primed the pump for me, but I can detect a bit of what feels like that experience here, in you. All the things you mention that don't impact your spouse—yes, great! Those are wonderful things. Especially with the associations you have with your mom, it's probably really valuable to have your own private rituals and touchstones to keep those memories with you.

It's also... acceptable to "impact your spouse". I think there's no good way around this. I understand that times are hard, but there is room to ask for compromise. This is more important to one of you than the other, and the appropriate landing place is somewhere in the middle. Maybe that's 0.00001 inches away from "do not disturb spouse," but that is a starting point. That may take the form of simply letting them know that you're going to midnight mass, and that you will be taking this personal time on Christmas Eve—because if you aren't allowing yourself to impact them on Christmas, they are equally denied access to feeling that you're imposing on them by taking some time to do something that's important to you.

Before Christmas might not be the time to do this, but I would suggest that after the holidays have passed you find a way to bring this up. A gentle, "hey, I'm feeling left out here, Christmas is important to me and I'd like it if we can find a way for you to see that as less of an imposition next year," for instance, might be a good starting point.

Hang in there, and merry Christmas.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:34 AM on December 12, 2022 [47 favorites]

Buy a (couple of) poinsettia. They're cheap, available at the supermarket, and not necessarily Christmas decorations.

Go to church in the morning on Christmas Day. The service will be short with lots of singing and there'll be no socialising as everyone wants to get back and put the dinner on. Find details on A Church near you which also includes local streamed services. Watch Carols from King's on Christmas Eve on BBCtv or listen on Radio 4.

Watch terrible panto from Peter Duncan.
posted by boudicca at 2:51 AM on December 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don’t love Christmas because it was traumatic for me as a child. The worst adult ones from that angle were the ones when I was working through that in therapy. My husband and I also celebrated the one after my daughter died by a) selling our home and moving on Dec 23 and b) eating at a diner that was mercifully open.

Regardless, I agree 1000% with late afternoon dreaming hotel above.

For us, it was never a ban…we negotiated. I didn’t used to have a tree, for example, but we decorated our mantle piece. It’s ok if this isn’t the year to press it but ideally this is a series of joint decisions.

I would recommend as the above that you go to midnight mass or equivalent, to be with people and song and everything. Maybe see if there’s a caroling event near you or tree lighting and attend. Watch something you love whether it’s Christmassy or not. Order in a Christmas-ish meal or something you love. Light a ton of candles. Go for a walk. And nthing the idea of something voluntary…before kids we delivered Meals on Wheels on Xmas day and it was really something special. Another alternative to to go to a movie if your theatres are open.

It’s okay to give your spouse this gift. But definitely I recommend that next year you see where a more middle ground is.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:58 AM on December 12, 2022 [9 favorites]

Do you have any local friends who also celebrate? For a lot of people it’s a holiday about their closest family, but for even more it’s about welcoming anyone to partake in the festivities. You might be surprised at how receptive some folks are to you essentially inviting yourself to part of their holiday.

For not day-of ideas, you could come over while someone is decorating their tree, and let them share all the little stories about every ornament or decoration they put up (and if you volunteer to climb ladders and such you will might be a hero.) You could ask to come over a few days before the holiday and bake a bunch of cookies (and take home a you-sized portion.) There are often lots of pre-holiday mini concerts and caroling happening in towns; depending on where you live there might be lots of community performances for charity or adorable kids doing silly plays.

Day of, you could make yourself an extra fancy breakfast. My best friend’s family Christmas food tradition is actually breakfast - they make these super indulgent cinnamon buns and have a big spread of fancy fruit. I’m Jewish but you better believe I partake of those cinnamon buns and mangoes on my mishpocha’s b-day. You may be able to have a quiet moment of togetherness with your partner in the morning if they just so happen to want to share your coffee cake or buttery omelette or peppermint latte or whatever indulgence you choose to make, without it being a thing that causes them guilt or stress. Even if that doesn’t happen, treat yourself to something good in the morning to set the tone for the day.

One great way to invite yourself to someone else’s holiday celebration is if there are multiple kids to wrangle, you can volunteer yourself as an extra bonus adult. I am often this person, as the childless friend. I can say from experience that when someone else is dealing with awkward in-laws and multiple cousins and trying to cook and host and keep the cat from knocking the tree over etc that an extra set of eyeballs and pair of hands can make an occasion way less chaotic. One year I was the extra adult on a holiday trip to the zoo, which was fantastic, especially when it came to bathroom breaks and kids who absolutely needed to see different animals. Do not underestimate your value to your friends, even if it doesn’t seem like you have that close of a relationship right now.

Is your partner going to object to Christmassy smells? You could get some things like cinnamon scented candles or pumpkin spice lotion or whatever version of that kind of thing you enjoy. Lush has an entire Christmas bath bomb category, apparently. If scent in the home would be too cloying, you could have some lip balm and hand cream just for yourself.

I do think it’s worth gently interrogating what the boundaries are, here. Has your house become a no Christmas zone? Or is it just that they don’t want to be obligated to do anything special day-of? If you put up a mini tree and hung ornaments, would that be a problem, or could they simply ignore it? If you go to midnight mass by yourself are you not supposed to talk about it? Can you watch Scrooged on the tv or will you need to watch it illicitly on your phone in the tub with headphones? I totally get not wanting to do jack for the holiday itself, and just wanting the day back for everyday life things. I don’t get wanting it to magically not exist for other people.
posted by Mizu at 4:38 AM on December 12, 2022 [9 favorites]

Can you leave spouse alone and go visit anyone else?
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:39 AM on December 12, 2022 [8 favorites]

So often it’s the person who cares about something the least who ‘wins’. I’ve rarely had a partner who was willing to celebrate my cultural holidays— they were mostly dismissive and made it seem like they were being more ‘rational’ and I was being childish. These cultural rituals and marking of memory and time and family and friends, is such a major part of being human. I am often angry at myself for putting up with their dismissiveness and the vibe that ‘caring less’ was somehow better/realer/more mature. Even though your partner has more going on now, it sounds like Christmas with then has always been way quieter and more minimalist than you prefer. I hope you make sure to have the best Christmas you can, and listen to those who say your partner can’t have it both ways. You get to do something significant and enjoyable even if your partner is on a different page. It’s actually critical to do this! Merry Christmas!
posted by asimplemouse at 4:46 AM on December 12, 2022 [32 favorites]

If I was in your position I would definitely go to midnight mass, or a Christmas Eve service in the late afternoon. I would also have nice but easy food to eat on Christmas Day, and go for a walk in the late afternoon, hoping to see some Christmas lights as it got dark. I'd also either watch whatever Christmas tv appealed to me in the schedules, or check out the iPlayer etc offerings.

I have known other people who really do not like Christmas at all. If this is going to be a thing in your relationship, then I'd give serious thought to going away for Christmas itself in future years. That seems to be a better solution for everyone.
posted by plonkee at 4:54 AM on December 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Your spouse asking not to personally participate in Christmas (no celebration or decor at home, for instance) is perfectly reasonable.

Your spouse stopping you from doing Christmassy things outside their field of vision (e.g. you decorating a lesser-used room in the house which they are free not to enter, you attending midnight mass on your own, you going caroling with other friends, you finagling invitations to Christmas dinner at another friend's home, etc.) is hella controlling and unacceptable.

If your spouse will not allow you to take your own day off for Christmas eve, if they won't let you go off to celebrate Christmas by yourself with other people, if they insist you must stay with them and keep them company on these specific couple of days that matter so much to you (and don't matter to them) - that makes your spouse a total asshole. They are weaponizing their mental health issues and then beating the life out of YOU with that weapon. It's gross and it makes me angry on your behalf.

Oh and PS:

> I'm still going to get my spouse gifts

PLEASE don't do that. Your spouse does not want to celebrate Christmas. This is you forcibly thrusting Christmas on them (yes, even if you wait to give the gifts on another day). Just leave your spouse out of your Christmas plans completely. Bring these gifts to the nice family that invites you over for Christmas dinner.
posted by MiraK at 5:17 AM on December 12, 2022 [55 favorites]

One year I was part of an employee group that got connected to a family in need, and we learned a bit about their 8 year old son, bought and wrapped gifts, and were able to deliver them in person. I'm sure some version of this still exists in many places. If you can get connected through a church or other organization, to participate as an individual, this sounds like a way to get the good feelings of gift selecting, wrapping, and giving, without disregarding your spouse's wish to be left out of it. And you'll be helping someone who needs and wants it.
posted by happy_cat at 5:40 AM on December 12, 2022

Hm, it does feel like your spouse is the only person who's allowed to get their emotional needs met this Christmas. Hiding in your car with your headphones playing festive music sounds like you really trying to make yourself and your totally reasonable needs, impossibly small, and kind of like you are trying to fix things for them at your own expense.

If they're treating it as "just another day", they can't have any objection to you going out to Midnight Mass or whatever else you find to meet your own needs away from them.

Go out for a walk, if you're in the UK maybe to go a pub on Christmas morning where you'll likely find everyone's in festive mood and happy to chat to other people (and just drink juice if you're not a drinker - you're there for the atmosphere, rather than the boozing). Maybe book yourself Christmas lunch in a restaurant. Or as others have said, angle for an invite from friends, of volunteer. Get out of the house for a chunk of the day and allow yourself a good dose of Christmas feeling, and then you'll be able to go back to your spouse refreshed and ready to abide by their 'no Christmas' rule for the rest of the season.
posted by penguin pie at 6:05 AM on December 12, 2022 [10 favorites]

My initial thought is that you should ask your spouse. Something like, "I know it's been a rough year and you don't want to do christmas but it's important to me so what can I do that won't be too in-your-face?". Make it clear that you want to respect their desire to give the holiday a pass and also clear that they need to respect your desire to enjoy the holiday. There are two of you involved and you're both important.
posted by Awfki at 6:11 AM on December 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Your spouse asking not to personally participate in Christmas (no celebration or decor at home, for instance) is perfectly reasonable.

Ok a few people have said this as though it's obvious so I have to ask: is it reasonable??

OP, you are allowed to have things you care about in your own home. I also grew up with big Christmases and a zillion cousins and, like you, find that Christmas celebrations are an important way to mark the passage of time and the memories of people who've passed.

I understand that your spouse is having a hard time and I don't think you should ask them to participate in activities with you or give them gifts on the day (seriously, don't do this unless you're 100% sure they secretly do want gifts), but if you want to put up a tabletop tree or some garland or whatever, or even just a favorite ornament on an ornament stand, godspeed to you and they can deal. You live there too! Don't cover the whole house in tinsel or whatever, but it is not unreasonable to have some small marker of the season in your own home where you live.

Similarly, if you would like to watch a Christmas movie or listen to music, perhaps your spouse could go in another room with headphones on. Again, not every night -- but once or twice?? You shouldn't be the only person sacrificing for this relationship.

And absolutely go to Midnight Mass if that's something that's meaningful to you. Your spouse has opted out of having a say on what you personally do on Christmas Eve/Day.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:19 AM on December 12, 2022 [33 favorites]

I remember reading your other recent questions and I'm struck with how you are making yourself and your needs smaller and smaller to try to accommodate your partner. Perhaps this is something to talk about with your therapist?

An expectation that you will not celebrate a holiday that is important to you when around your partner ... and that being away from them "won't go down terribly well" seems like an incredibly restrictive demand.

If this were a one-time thing, maybe it would be ok but your questions indicate that this is ongoing.
posted by mcduff at 6:19 AM on December 12, 2022 [42 favorites]

Question about that midnight mass: Is your spouse just feeling particularly Scrooge-ish this year or is this part of a larger anxiety about you participating in the outside world? And do they take that anxiety out on you? Because it seems like you're pre-banning yourself from doing things because you expect punishment, even things outside the house that your spouse can't possibly be involved with in any way.

Forgive me if I'm assuming, but this reminds me of dealing with irrationally anxious family members, where doing something that in the grand scheme of things is perfectly reasonable and pleasant--hanging up an ornament, going to a short religious ceremony--becomes extremely fraught.
posted by kingdead at 7:01 AM on December 12, 2022 [9 favorites]

I am the biggest fucking Scrooge on the website and I am 100% the person who just goes to work on Christmas, or if I can't, I paint a room in the house and get genuinely pretty depressed around this time of year and really dislike presents, etc, etc. Just for context.

Go to Mass. volunteer. Do your thing. If you have a room that your spouse doesn't need to be in, hang something nice. If your spouse has a problem with it, well, your spouse has problems. You know that, they know that, we all know that. You can't fix them by denying yourself everything that makes you happy. If your spouse gets mad that your'e doing things that make you happy, then... that is a problem unrelated to Christmas.

(Don't get them presents though, unless you're pretty sure they'll pitch a fit if you *don't*, which would be consistent with their general pattern of setting you up to be completely unable to win.)
posted by restless_nomad at 7:37 AM on December 12, 2022 [12 favorites]

It sounds to me that giving gifts to your spouse on Christmas would not go over well. However, perhaps a “just because” or “unbirthday” gift given freely without expectation of anything in return might go over better sometime in the new year.

You might also want to explore Christmas centered events that aren’t on December 25th (e.g. Orthodox Christmas, seeing the Nutcracker, Handel’s messiah sing along).

Also, consider decorating your car for the holiday.

NThing the comment that it is unreasonable for your spouse to get upset that you attend midnight mass. However, if that’s not a battle you wish to fight then attend mass at a different time.

Perhaps put out feelers if they would be open to some sort of acknowledgement of the new year / winter solstice.

Would they be open to you going on a staycation on specific dates with the promise that they could go on a staycation at a different time with you holding down the fort?
posted by oceano at 7:41 AM on December 12, 2022

Ok a few people have said this as though it's obvious so I have to ask: is it reasonable??

I think if the spouse had a specific severe traumatic association with Christmas--say, a family death--avoiding decorations might be the kinder thing to do. But otherwise? Surely there are other things around the house that the spouse has no interest in, or even actively dislikes. Christmas decorations are temporary. I say, hang that ornament, open up that Advent calendar.

I too am an atheist raised Anglican, and though I only go to the midnight service sporadically, it's beautiful even if one interprets the theology more symbolically. Saint Thomas in NYC is the premier U.S. choir, and they will be livestreaming their service if you don't feel you can go to one physically.

It also looks like you can get a free trial of Britbox for a week or so, and in that case you might enjoy watching the 1980s Sherlock Holmes adaptation of "The Blue Carbuncle" (series 1/"The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes") which is as Christmassy as you can possibly imagine, if a little old-fashioned in the acting.

What really doesn't sit right with me about all this is not the desire not to celebrate Christmas, but the way spouse presented it to you. When you know your loved one enjoys some celebrations, "I just don't feel like doing Christmas this year," seems fine. "It's just another day, and by the way I'll probably be working" sounds like anticipatory meanness, discounting your spouse's feelings and doing your best to minimize something they value (although without quite committing to the unpleasantness of working on the holiday, one notes). I hope you are able to talk about all this with your spouse when things are less tense, and offer you, as Holmes would say, the compliments of the season.
posted by praemunire at 7:53 AM on December 12, 2022 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure that my going out late at night on Christmas Eve would go down terribly well with my spouse

Why, if Christmas is "just another day"?
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:31 AM on December 12, 2022 [17 favorites]

I’m the Christmas Jerk (I’m not really a jerk; I can’t handle it some years.) Celebrating it and not celebrating it are equally challenging in my experience, but opting out can be necessary.

I want to say that Christmas happens whether you want it to or not and it never feels like “just another day.”

So while I agree you should not give them gifts or try to force celebrations upon them, I hope you are not taking responsibility for…Christmas existing. Or how shitty they might feel that day.

I think in their place I’d want you to go do your own thing with loved ones and I’d simply want to know what you were doing and how long you’d be out so I could prepare myself. I’d also compromise for the sake of my partner, and do one low-key thing (movie, meal, walk or something,) but it sounds like their position is not negotiable?
posted by kapers at 8:36 AM on December 12, 2022

If I had close friends or family in the area, and *if* it felt okay for the relationship, I might ask if I could come by during a quieter part of the day with a gift or treat, and perhaps hang out for a cup of cider or something. Honestly, I suspect lots of people would be happy to have you come for Xmas dinner if they knew your circumstances, but I can understand if you don’t want to share info that could lead to questions about your husband’s story.
posted by bunderful at 8:40 AM on December 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

I guess I just don't understand why a desire not to have decorations automatically trumps a desire to have decorations. The space belongs to both of you. Why do you not have an equal claim to what you want? I think you should be able to put up a few decorations - compromise is in order here.

As far as your spouse not wanting you to go to a service - that's just bonkers. If your spouse doesn't want to celebrate Christmas, fine. If your spouse wants to prevent you from celebrating too, that's no more OK than you insisting on spouse attending a service with you.
posted by FencingGal at 8:48 AM on December 12, 2022 [19 favorites]

I'm still going to get my spouse gifts, though I'll have to judge whether or not to give them on Christmas day when the time comes.

Why in the world would you give your spouse Christmas gifts when they have clearly stated that they want nothing to do with Christmas? I had a Christmas like this a few years ago, and my partner at the time gave me gifts anyway. I opened them out of politeness, and it took an hour or so before I made sense of the despair and chest-tightness I was feeling. I had good reason to not want to celebrate Christmas and we had no small children around or other reasons to put on a brave face. He simply didn't respect me. It took all of my energy reserves to work out how to tell him to take them back, and to say it aloud. I felt like a heel all day even though he had overstepped a clearly laid boundary of mine. It remains a terrible memory.

As for yourself, perhaps spend Christmas with extended family, or have dinner with friends, or volunteer at a food bank. I too am atheist, and the midnight mass on Christmas Eve is a lovely nostalgic experience for me. If your spouse also objects to such an unobtrusive solution you've found for celebrating Christmas alone, that's a problem in its own right.
posted by headnsouth at 9:57 AM on December 12, 2022 [9 favorites]

I want to nudge you to go to a mass and sing your heart out. I grew up Catholic and I'm an atheist now, but a handful of a years ago, one of my kids was super curious about church services and so we went to a Catholic service on Christmas eve, and it was lovely. If you have generally positive childhood memories of Christmas and going to church was part of that, then I think a church service - especially with the church all decorated for the celebration - will warm that tender spot. Or, if you have local friends who go to a church service with singing, how about joining them?

Also I'm wondering about your local friends and asking if you going a Christmas/Friendsmas celebration.

Finally, I want to encourage you to do something in your house for yourself. Your spouse doesn't want to celebrate, but does that mean you can't have a small tree and decorate it? Like, does spouse's ban preclude you doing things on your own? Because you could get a small tree or some garlands, and wrap up some presents for yourself! Stick them under the tree and open them on Christmas.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:34 AM on December 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

The suggestions above that involve being part of a crowd are good, I think. Even if you don’t know anyone else there, volunteering, being in a warm pub or a Midnight Mass service will help you feel part of something bigger. As I get older, feeling connected at a dark and lonely time of the year is increasingly what Christmas means to me. In a similar vein, if there’s an arts cinema near you showing old Christmas films, give yourself permission to go and see a few. If you’re into exercise and like to run, or walk, the last Parkrun before Christmas falls on Christmas Eve this year and is likely to have lots of people in Santa hats feeling festive.

Also - and I appreciate this is not what you asked - I recognised your user name from previous posts. Your spouse has previously suggested euthanising your pets, did not want you to have therapy, would read your diaries were they not password protected, has driven a wedge between you and your best friend, and now wants you not to celebrate Christmas. None of those are reasonable things: they are very controlling. You are allowed to do more to celebrate Christmas than listen to festive songs in your car.

However you spend the day, I hope you have a good time and are able to do something that is meaningful just for you.
posted by greycap at 10:41 AM on December 12, 2022 [35 favorites]

I’m feeling a sense of (some kind of) threat (or anticipated punishment) underlying the anxiety you’re expressing about your spouse’s possible reaction. A tension between desires for self protection (not experiencing this) and self actuation (having even a piece of the Christmas you actually want).

If you want to have a moment of celebration without blowback, I think it will have to require negotiating with your spouse… and/or sneaking moments or decorations under the radar, labelling things that are Christmassy as not for their benefit, etc… and I suspect they’ll likely make you pay in some way, regardless. (Or if you want to say instead, they’ll likely experience distress around it one way or another.)

I think *wanting* to have a just a tiny piece of Christmas is a really healthy thing considering what you’ve shared in previous questions. But if you’re at all concerned for your physical or emotional safety (I am feeling a vibe that it might be but apologies if that’s not the case) maybe skip it on the 25th this year and do something with family on another day. (Suspect you’ll still get some grief for that but they won’t have a leg to stand on per their logic, not that they do now but anyway.)

My advice is to accept what this actually means for you, and for this relationship, to grieve what it is not, and to consider what kind of alternative life might be possible.

Sorry if I’m out of line here.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:59 AM on December 12, 2022 [5 favorites]

I recognised your user name from previous posts. Your spouse has previously suggested euthanising your pets, did not want you to have therapy, would read your diaries were they not password protected, has driven a wedge between you and your best friend, and now wants you not to celebrate Christmas.

Oh, no. OP, I want to double down on my encouragement to you to do whatever helps you feel more connected to life and community and beauty this holiday season. You deserve it.
posted by praemunire at 2:00 PM on December 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

Just to pick up on this from praemunire:

"It's just another day, and by the way I'll probably be working" sounds like anticipatory meanness, discounting your spouse's feelings and doing your best to minimize something they value (although without quite committing to the unpleasantness of working on the holiday, one notes).

The fact they'll "probably" be working feels a little like they're trying to stake out a space where: "I don't want you to push me into doing anything on Christmas Day so I'm marking it out as a possible working day. BUT at the same time, I reserve the right to decide to not be working after all, and then get pissed off if you go out for the day and leave me all alone on Christmas."

I just want you to really guard against finding yourself in a spot where you feel like you're not allowed to leave home, but staying home means being forced to do nothing Christmassy. If you want to do something Christmassy on Christmas day, you're allowed to arrange to do that, even if your spouse doesn't want to join you.
posted by penguin pie at 2:27 PM on December 12, 2022 [10 favorites]

What can I do to find a way of connecting with the season, and with my memories, that won't impact my spouse?

Look, I think you're allowed to celebrate Christmas. Barring religious conflicts, or someone's trauma being strongly associated with a particular holiday, I can't say I'm super on board with one person deciding Christmas isn't happening in your house. How exactly does it emotionally impact your spouse if you decorate, make festive food, or play music? I mean, when someone in my house puts up that weird creepy goblin statue they love (yes, for real), I just look past it. If someone makes food I can't eat, I don't eat it. If music is playing that I don't care for, I wear earplugs. Any of this being seasonal doesn't change the basic coping mechanisms of living in a shared space. If you're not creating pressure for your spouse to participate, I truly don't get this kind of unilateral request.

But then, I grew up with parents who each had spiritual practices the other didn't always support, and yet these conflicting activities took place anyway, and in the end nobody was especially bothered. Maybe your spouse can designate their workspace or your bedroom as a holiday-free zone, but otherwise, the home is a shared residence, and you are both allowed to take up space in it.

And in the context of your posting history, this sounds less like a reasonable request, and more like another permutation of your spouse's need for control. Especially given the double-bind where you aren't supposed to celebrate Christmas at home, but there will also be issues if you go out on Christmas without your spouse.

I already take up enough room in the new house that I'm feeling guilty about it.

This line also sticks out to me. Why is it that you feel bad about you and your possessions existing in your home? Is there an actual issue with your spouse not having room for their own stuff, or not getting enough say in decor, that you two need to deal with? Or does this feeling reflect your sense that your spouse desires to have control over all that you share, and your fear of violating this unreasonable desire?

You have just as much of a right to your home space as your spouse does. You don't have to apologize for your presence or your desire to celebrate a major holiday. If they have no interest, great; they can sort that out for themself. That shouldn't mean you can't string up lights, write cards, or even put up a tree and play carols. Again, if you're not pressuring participation (and on that note, I certainly wouldn't give gifts, as they've made clear they want no part in this holiday*), I just don't get how that's a violation of the space.

(*Unless you're sensing another double bind, in which your spouse both doesn't want to celebrate, but will get upset if you don't give gifts? If so, that's just another worrying dynamic in this situation.)

However this plays out, I'm sorry you're going through so much, and hope you enjoy the Christmas season anyway. Hugs, and Merry Christmas!
posted by desert outpost at 4:31 PM on December 12, 2022 [8 favorites]

It took me 10 years with my husband to learn to love Christmas (before I just stayed home and read / meditated). For me a huge component is the food; certainly you baking some cookies / gingerbread / cake and drinking with eggnog can’t be offensive to your spouse? Going for a walk in town where they decorate lights (even the mall). Take a pic with Santa. And put the Christ in Christmas so as an atheist that could be spending time thinking about what a good person He was and rejoicing in the helpers that exist today.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:28 PM on December 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

You've gotten a lot of good advice above.

I wanted to recommend a virtual program you could purchase access to - basic price is $20. It is viewable online for on demand streaming Dec. 16 - Jan 5. The Christmas program is via the Folger Shakespeare Library, and we do this every year (we used to do the in person program but have been doing the virtual since Covid). If you scroll towards the bottom of the link, there is a playlist/preview of this year's program, so you can see if it would be of any interest. The nice thing about this being on demand streaming is that you could view at a time when your spouse is otherwise occupied (or use headphones).

I did want to comment that Mr. gudrun has a lot of negative memories and emotions surrounding Christmas, but he knows it is meaningful to me, so goes along with my modest form of celebrating, for my sake, because he loves me. This took some negotiating within our marriage to work out. He also came realize we were creating our own family and our own Christmas together, which we would shape and would be distinct from the traumas of the past, if he was willing (and he was).
posted by gudrun at 5:42 PM on December 12, 2022

Gently, I hope someday you can see what a massive red flag this is and find someone who now only allows, but actively supports and participates in the Christmas celebration you've always wanted. This is painfully unhealthy and seeing your questions where you bend over backwards to accommodate this person who will not accommodate with you or meet your needs hurts my heart. You deserve better than this. Not allowing you to celebrate Christmas? Come the fuck on. Your partner should never make you make yourself small and that's exactly what you're doing here.

Go to midnight mass and put up some decorations and don't apologize for any of it.

And when you are ready, leave and don't look back.
posted by Amy93 at 6:29 PM on December 12, 2022 [18 favorites]

I cannot pretend to understand your spouse's reasons for not wanting to Christmas.
I do not 'do Christmas' because childhood and early adulthood Christmases were uniformly sufficiently awful that Christmas triggers a trauma response in me that I'm only this year beginning to understand the scope of (I'm a lot happier now I've realized the Christmas music in supermarkets put me out of sorts all day and started shopping only in Asian groceries in December).
My partner is ambivalent towards Christmas, but I understand that making the house pretty and getting people presents in December is something one does in order to maintain relationships, so I do that, and by mutual agreement:
- we don't have a Christmas tree
- I ignore the tinsel
- I express polite and seasonal sentiments to my partner's family
- I stay home and watch Die Hard
- I acknowledge that this is a holiday that is important to people, and that my fucked-up response to it is 100% my problem and not something I get to stomp on my partner's preferred celebrations about.

Do your thing. Communication is fun and necessary.
posted by ngaiotonga at 10:18 PM on December 12, 2022 [5 favorites]

"This has really not been an easy year for them and they're still struggling." Friendo, it has not been an easy year for YOU EITHER, and YOU are clearly struggling. You don't have to live like this.
posted by Charity Garfein at 4:16 PM on December 15, 2022 [10 favorites]

I like the trappings of Christmas, love choral music, esp. carols, will jump in the car to check out light displays, etc. I get the music at home (use a headset), and go outside for concerts, decorations, everything else. It should be okay, more than okay, encouraged, for you to experience pleasure, joy even, while he does not. Don't get him gifts; he has a right to define his own boundaries. Get yourself a few gifts.

Restaurants are mostly closed on Christmas. Have a really nice meal; get Chinese takeout if the idea of home cooking is too much for him. Or ask friends to invite you over for dessert.

my usual habit of trying to fix everything You can't fix his rejection of the holiday, either.
I already take up enough room in the new house that I'm feeling guilty about it. You are a person and you deserve to take up space, to be yourself, to have needs. You sound like you're walking on eggshells, and that can't work for long, at all. Please be good to yourself; that doesn't equate to being bad to him. You do not have to be unhappy because he's going through stuff. Offer to help, be a good partner, but erasing yourself will never make him like or accept you more, quite the opposite. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 6:31 PM on December 18, 2022

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