Halloween has passed, and we are deep into November, a time when most families are trying to piece together their holiday plans. As the leaves turn colors and fall to the ground and the temperatures drop, whether they live near or far from family, most people are assembling the details to make the trek home for the holidays.
Because we are in the middle of a pandemic, we are urged to stay home. But unlike most people who are sad and upset not to be traveling home this year, I feel fine. I wasn’t planning on traveling home to see my family.
I don’t spend the holidays with my family any year.
When I was younger, my family always did holidays the same way, at home, just my mom, three sisters, and my step-dad. After my mom and step-dad divorced, we had to split holidays, so sometimes it wouldn’t be all my sisters, maybe one or two would be gone. No matter who was coming, my mom would always stress herself out beyond belief, making the house so clean it looked like no one lived there and making a meal that was heavy on quantity but light on seasoning.
Eventually, for some reason, there would be drama. The stress levels would get too high, someone would lash out or pick a fight, and all hell would break loose. While most families fight about politics or religion around the Thanksgiving dinner table, my family always fought about some way one of us had wronged a different. A fight from long ago would be brought up, a wound scabbed over cut open, to be left fresh and bleeding on my mom’s good table cloth. It happened every time, without fail.
Holidays always seemed to end with someone leaving out of anger. Now we joke about how there is a time limit that we can spend together, the five of us. It’s not really funny if you think about it, but it’s true. We can stand with each other for about two hours. If you split us up, it can be longer, but when you get my mother and her four daughters together, there is only so long we can stand to be in the same house.
Have a Blue Christmas Without You
The first few times I skipped going home for the holidays, the guilt was laid on thicker than chunky peanut butter. Over the next few weeks before Thanksgiving, I was called by my mother repeatedly, and when her nudging didn’t work, she enlisted each of my sisters to call.
It almost worked. The guilt and the pleading almost made me cave in, but I ended up standing strong for two reasons. I didn’t want to go, and I couldn’t afford to buy them anything.
At the time, I was working at a small gay bar and barely had money to cover my rent. I was writing a little, but I didn’t have any money to buy them gifts. The idea of spending Christmas alone was depressing, but when I thought about it, the idea of going and being given gifts from my little sisters when I couldn’t give them anything in return was more depressing.
Staying home that Christmas did a lot for my mental health. The reasons for staying home made me feel pretty low, but the time spent with myself and not surrounded by drama was the best gift anyone could have given me.
Doing the Holidays, My Way
I skipped a few family holidays here and there and always noticed that those are the years I enjoyed the season. I would spend Thanksgiving with a pizza, some tea, and a good book, and I was thankful.
Then I had my son and made the excuse of wanting to form our holiday traditions. Even before he was old enough to realize that the way holidays went with his aunts and Grandma were stressed and not cheerful at all, I wanted to protect him. There wasn’t any reason that he had to be affected by negative holiday memories like I was as a kid.
Now I have two kids, and we have a few firm traditions of our own. We don’t eat turkey on Thanksgiving or ham at Christmas. We make tacos or pizza or Chinese food. We put on matching pajamas and make a huge bed in the living room. We eat and watch movies, and we laugh and fall asleep right in the living room.
We don’t set out cookies because we don’t believe in Santa. We don’t stuff ourselves to the point of feeling sick because that isn’t the point of Thanksgiving in our family. We spend the holidays our way, always with each other. Even in the middle of a pandemic, our little family gets to keep its traditions because we keep our holiday celebrations small, to just our immediate family.
I think it’s hard for people to admit that their families affect their mental health negatively. I’m not saying all families are like this, but a lot are. We feel shame and guilt for not going home for the holidays but then spend weeks processing the damage that going home does.
Ultimately, I think everyone has to do what is best for them during the holiday season. Whether that means you stay home and don’t travel to protect your grandparents from being exposed during the pandemic or spend this holiday treating yourself to the real self-care you need, there isn’t a wrong way to do the holidays.
For my kids and me, it’s spending that time just the three of us. For some people, it’s big family gatherings. Only you know how you should take care of your mental health during the holidays and what you can and can’t afford to put yourself through. Give yourself the gift of self-care and self-awareness this year, and choose how you spend your holidays based on what you truly want and not what others want from you.