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Christmas Cheer: What if you have none?

At this time of year, when every form of media imaginable — from commercials, movies, and television to magazines and newspapers — are promoting the “warm glow” of holiday happiness and family togetherness, it might seem like you’re alone if you are not feeling the Christmas spirit. Well, you’re not. I just thought maybe you might want to hear that.

So don’t beat yourself up if you’re just “not feelin’ it.” There’s a ton a reasons why you might not be in the holiday mood (and who says you need a reason anyhow?). Below I will attempt to counteract the superficial “perfectness” being thrust upon you for commercial gain. And promise me, if you’re really struggling, reach out and ask for help (here is a suicide hotline for USA, hotline numbers for Canada, and one for hotline numbers worldwide).

Perfect Family

Holiday movies with family togetherness are on every second television channel at this time of year. If your family isn’t the picture perfectness of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” then you’re normal. It’s like women’s fashions. They show you all the clothes on super-thin teenage girls to sell you the “fantasy” — everyone knows the average woman is a size 12-14, not a size 0-2. Sure, lots of families gather at this time of year. But if your family doesn’t … then, it just doesn’t. Do something else — when you really think about it, it’s just a day, like any other day.

Don’t be blinded by the magical, snow-globe world portrayed in the media. People’s families don’t all of a sudden shed their dysfunction because its holiday season, nor does every single person magically bump into their “true love” just in time for Christmas either. (Also, trust me, being “a couple” is really not mandatory for attending parties and dinners. Really. It’s YOU that matters. You are more than enough — just the way you are.)

That also means that people can’t all of a sudden make sadness or tragic losses disappear either. If you’ve lost a loved one, you might feel like skipping Christmas altogether, like Heather Hamilton and her family chose to do after the death of one of their sons. And that’s okay; do what feels right for you. That’s what Heather did, and what she recommends to others who might be in her shoes.

Perfect Finances

The economy has been a roller coaster ride, with a lot of downs. So you might be one of the many struggling to juggle the pressure of presents versus keeping your finances under control. Do whatever you can to avoid buying gifts on credit and instead buy what you can with what you have. Despite the advertisements with diamonds and cars, most adults don’t need more stuff. Like Gwen Leron notes, collecting memories is far more satisfying than collecting things.

Now, I know this sounds easier said than done, right? But avoiding financial stress is more important than buying a gift. Seriously. I bet most people don’t even remember what someone gave them less than a week later. But you’ll have that financial stress from buying it for far longer than that.

Instead, create a list of everyone you “must buy” for (By “must,” I’m thinking perhaps your young children who don’t yet understand finances or a mandatory Kris Kringle exchange at work. Everyone else like teachers or an uncle you rarely see, I would categorize those as “duty” gifting. Don’t give gifts out of a misplaced feeling of duty. Gifts are not a duty.) From your “must buy” list, use the fact that young children tend to remember volume rather than quality or price tags to your advantage — hit the Dollar Store, consider some fun gifting games (the experience, not the gift is what is remembered), and borrow some of Canadian Living magazine’s creative ways to keep on budget.

Perfect Moms

This is a syndrome I know well — the perfect Mom syndrome … otherwise known as, how does she do it? I wish I knew the answer to that for you, but I just don’t. I recall one of my friends confessing to me in tears that she hadn’t sent out Christmas cards that particular year. You wouldn’t believe how relieved she was to hear that I hadn’t managed to get cards out for YEARS now. She thought she was the only woman on the planet who hadn’t managed it.

Sure, we all know those moms who are extremely talented when it comes to baking, crafting or hosting at holidays — sometimes even all three! But let’s just applaud their talents and skip the self-flagellation, okay? Would it make you feel any better to know that my son’s junior kindergarten teacher called me at work today to let me know that all the children were supposed to be wearing pajamas for the school Christmas concert and that little Max was feeling a bit concerned because I had sent him in regular clothes? (Don’t worry, girlfriend, I got your back — I brought in an extra pair of PJs in case some other poor mother who got the same call but wasn’t able to make it in to the school in time.) I’m not perfect. And that “perfect” mom? She’s not perfect, either. No matter how it might appear to you.

Perfect is for Commercials

Remember when I said that commercials were bad for my mental health? Yeah, well, that applies about a hundred times over at Christmas. Turn off what you can. Critically examine the rest. Christmas doesn’t need to be a “perfect” day and neither do you.

If you don’t have any Christmas cheer this year … just move along. It’ll all be over soon enough and normality will resume again (along with, thankfully, my favourite television shows!).

(A final note: If you are really struggling, please reach out for help. To someone you know or someone you don’t — whichever is easiest for you. People want to help. They really do. Whether it’s letting someone know that you’re feeling lonely, a bit sad, or really depressed … it’s okay to say so.)


  1. Just almost cried when I overbaked a few of the cookies that I was making for my daughter to take the school tomorrow because I so wanted to sit down instead of having to bake YET ANOTHER batch of cookies – and I don’t even have a full-time job, or have to cook Christmas dinner (my mother’s doing it). I was at a friend’s house last night and was immensely cheered by the near-squalor. You’re right – we have to ignore the commercials, do what we can, enjoy if possible, endure if needful. We don’t have to buy into the crazy. Although it can be really hard not to. 

  2. I am totally not a Christmas person. It feels like it is just too much drama- did we spend enough on so and so, will this be good enough, so and so won’t come to dinner if so and so is there. Everyone seems to be either grumpy or off the charts perky.
    I just try and spend time with people throughout the year, call, email, visit. Christmas  at its core is about being kind, sharing time, and letting people know you appreciate them.
    I prefer Halloween – get dressed up, have a few cocktails, and then eat candy. Best holiday ever.

  3. That photo of the two houses gave me the best laugh I’ve had in a long time.

  4. Hi Nicole! I hadn’t heard of “Blue Christmas” services. Thanks for letting me know and sharing it here for everyone. 

  5. While I did bake my crazy share of cookies, hosted a party and put out Christmas lights -Christmas for us is about the magic in our kids eyes, the still innocent belief that things happen that can’t be explained. I have great memories of Christmas despite having a father that despised it – my mom didn’t bake or put lights out, but she still made Christmas magic. My husband would be the one that goes a little nuts at Christmas, I have to stop him from going overboard – he’d shop the full mall, hire Santa, make a movie, etc. if he could…it’s a fun time for us, but to each their own.

    And we don’t have cable, so not having to see horrible commercials and tacky made for TV holiday movies is just a bonus in our house – but I do miss the Good Wife!

    • It sounds like you’re having fun with your holiday traditions! (I especially enjoyed your blog post with your teachers’ gifts — so clever and cute!)

      The point of the post wasn’t to diminish other people’s Christmas cheer, just try to put it in perspective for those who might feel like there’s something “wrong” with them if they’re not feeling cheerful at this time of year.  

  6. Honestly, Xmas = meh. But the kids like it, an not just the presents. They want snow (can’t help there) and cookies (ok…I don’t really bake well but I can manage a few I guess), and decorations (which, ok fine, is a drag for me AFTER Xmas bec I’m the one that has to clean it up BUT which gives me the purge-fix I need every year to GET RID OF EXCESS STUFF) so….I guess Xmas is ok.

    Sort of.

    Nice post. I like the ‘ditto’ lights on the house…:)

  7. Pam @writewrds says:

    Thank you for this. Thinking of serving popsicles for Xmas. Ho ho ah… ho. ; ) 

  8. Dan Sullivan says:

    Well written post Julie. I wish my mom had have read this when I was growing up. She wanted everything to be perfect, and of course it never was, and then she’d get stressed out and sad. My “meh Christmas” started at a young age watching her go through it…. Then I worked in retail in my early 20’s. Christmas consumerism and commercialism were hard to stomach….. So I’ve always kept Christmas a quiet affair in my adult life.

  9. Great article Julie…. I have only one itsy-bistsy little nit-pick. You write: “If your family isn’t the picture perfectness of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Just to note “It’s a Wonderful Life” is very dark, and about a man who finds no reason to live, and is contemplating suicide.

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