Bah Humbug! – Why Do Some People Dread The Season?

Hardy hates the holidays @ Funny or Die

Two down, too many more to go.

At least that’s the attitude of the holiday-haters. You know them. While others are busy putting away turkey decorations to gleefully make room for Santas, elves and the cornucopia of traditional red and green, there’s a contingent of “bah humbuggers” gritting their teeth and counting the days; hoping to make it through another holiday season without killing Uncle Morrie, setting the oven on fire, or sending their credit cards into irrational debt.

Why the polarity in how we view the holidays? For some, the weeks from Halloween to New Year’s are the most joyful of the year; the time they save for, work for and shop for with a sense of love and purpose; imagining the smiling faces of those who’ll be opening gifts they bought in early June, or the people who will be sitting around their well-appointed tables to partake of the traditional holiday meal. What could be so bad about all that? Yet there are always those who walk around grumbling, pouncing on social media to share their “holiday hate,” acting as curmudgeonly “parade-rainers” to their giddier counterparts. Comments I’ve read recently included:

“Really don’t like the holidays – never have . . . don’t like Thanksgiving food (cranberries? yuck!), hate the holiday crowds, detest Christmas music (which seems to have started shortly after Halloween), and chestnuts roasting on an open fire never thrilled me. Yes, folks, I am the original Scrooge . . .”

“My parents made holidays a hell for me growing up. Lots of screaming and running around getting ready for family events that were never fun and always filled with obligation and annoying cousins. I made a promise to myself that I would never do that to my kids and we don’t…we just close down the house and get outta Dodge for skiing or camping or whatever, anything that doesn’t include one damn Christmas decoration.”

“It’s all a commercial cluster-f**k. The only people who really care about the holidays are the CEOs of the businesses selling stupid people stupid crap.”

“Religious rigmarole. May as well be pagans.”

And so on. You get the point.

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But I think they’re missing it…the point, that is. There’s a tone to most of the holiday-hater rhetoric that sounds very “victimized,” as though they’re fiercely shunting off or pulling away from something that’s being forced upon them, rather than making thoughtful choices to simply do things another way. And, likely, that is how they feel: that something that was forced upon them as a child is still being forced on them now as an adult. The rules, rituals and demands of HOLIDAY still feel as oppressive and involuntary as they did back then, when parents made all the decisions about how things were done, which holidays were celebrated, and how they were celebrated. For those who survived to their adulthood loving the holidays, likely theirs were a time of peace on earth, good will to man. For the holiday-haters; well, we can only imagine. Likely rituals were imposed that included lists of who fulfilled what set of chores and who had to give up personal plans with friends to instead sit with creepy Uncle Morrie with his big gut and bigger mouth sipping port and spouting racial invectives about the new neighbors. Mothers often went full-tilt crazy in service to their own set of holiday obligation, fathers overspent to satisfy crazy mothers, and tensions built accordingly. What should have been fun for many imploded into all manner of holiday-fueled stress and tension and, really, who would want to carry on that tradition??

No one.

But before you go all Rudolf the Red-Eyed Reindeer in defense of your curmudgeon-think, consider that there are many sociological and psychological reasons why we celebrate holidays, even beyond their religious meaning. In fact, humans have marked time, throughout time, with the repeated traditions and celebrations of holidays. They give families, communities and cultures “calendar markers,” events to look forward to, to honor and enjoy with familiar trappings – costumes, decorations, rituals, etc. They are anticipated because they are familiar and nostalgic. They bring us home, in a way, to our cultural and human connections.

Developmental Psychologist, Rebecca Fraser-Thill, writes that holiday traditions create stability, provide a sense of identity, and pass along cultural values, amongst other positive things:

Holiday traditions serve as touchstones that the family returns to year after year, no matter what happens. This helps developing children feel grounded and secure, in spite of all the shifting that is occurring within and around them. […] Holidays provide them with a key part of the puzzle: a sense of “family identity.” Through the traditions, they get to see the roles, responsibilities and boundaries of family members. They also learn about what their family does and does not value based. These annual observations help children, tweens and teens better understand their family and, in turn, themselves.

Holiday traditions convey important cultural values. For one, the values of the larger group are passed along. For example, the celebration of Thanksgiving centers around American values, while religious holidays pass along Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other belief systems. At the same time, holiday traditions transmit clear messages about what the particular family values. For instance, if the family attends church every Easter, the child learns a message about the importance of organized religion. Or if the family tradition helps out at a soup kitchen every Thanksgiving, the importance of community involvement is strongly communicated.

I think Fraser-Thill makes excellent points. I also think “holiday haters” have not only missed those points, they’ve abdicated their ability, their opportunity, their clear freedom to create the holidays as they wish them to be, rather than as others do or their own parents did. They act as though they have no choice but to either embrace accepted conventions or give the whole thing up all together. Neither is true.

But still, some truly want nothing to do with them. So be it. Hopefully they can abstain without making regular social media pronouncements about it all, without mocking those who actually do enjoy the holidays; and can go about quietly, with personal conviction intact, not celebrating…but with an open-hearted acceptance that the season will go happily on without them. No bitterness, no Scrooging, just doing their own thing.

For those who do enjoy the holidays but resent the obligations: forget how anyone else does it; do it your way. My family and I have carved out new traditions that eschew the mindless gift obligations and card sending, distilling the holidays to their most meaningful, for us and those we love. Once we removed the incessant and often stressful financial obligations, the holidays were suddenly free to be about giving time to others, warm family dinners, “no gift” open houses with dear friends and neighbors, and jolly good times in the name of family tradition, our holiday rituals, with obligation only to what works for us. It’s a grand way to spend the season and credit cards are not allowed.

So please enjoy yours. However you do. Just remember that “however you do” is completely up to you.

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