I really don’t like Christmas. In response to my stance, my husband mutters, “Scrooge.” But that moniker implies that I’m a misanthrope who doesn’t believe in mercy, charity or socializing with others. Labeling me “Scrooge” fails to communicate the reasons for my understated approach to the Christmas season.
What I’m resisting is the omnipresent invitations to elevate every aspect of my life into an art form worthy of the cover of Martha Stewart’s Living. In response, I take my cue from Bartleby, Melville’s anti-hero. He sidesteps the expectations of others with the simple-yet-insistent statement, “I prefer not to.”
For a time, I tried to adopt a more traditional approach to the season—decorating the house, sending 100 plus hand-written Christmas cards, baking and delivering a dozen kinds of cookies, putting a wreath on the front of my car, and so forth. However, while doing all those things, I had a hard time demonstrating Peace on my little plot of Earth.
I’ve cried in frustration while caroling. I’ve punted loaves of fruitcake while growling, “Merry Freakin’ Christmas.” As my Christmas “To Do” list grew larger and larger, my heart shrunk down to grinchier and grinchier proportions.
So I decided to detach from many Christmas-themed activities. I remain somewhat aloof in part because I usually keep an academic schedule. This means that in December, there are a lot of deadlines for me as either teacher or student until around the third week of the month. Even if I manage to wrap up the fall semester by December 15th, I am behind on regular chores by then. The bedroom floor is an obstacle course of book bags. The kitchen table is filled with unopened mail. The kitchen sink is full of dishes. The recycle bins are brimming with carry out containers. The laundry is spilling out of hampers. It’s hard to set up a Christmas tree when you have no available floor space.
When my husband complains that I’m spoiling the season, I also point out that many holiday traditions are planned, prepared and primarily performed by the adult women in the household. True, some people—male and female, young and old–very much enjoy celebrating the season by elevating many daily activities to an art form or by adding special, seasonal events. I applaud these Christmas elves, these holiday angels. I appreciate their generosity, their craftsmanship, their talents. I feel joyful while watching them celebrate the season. However, if I try to follow suit, I feel as though expectations are foisted on me from the outside and that my performance and projects are being scrutinized for their quality. Then these seasonal activities feel like drudgery. The result? What I offer to others—a gingerbread house, a handmade Christmas card holder, a decorated front porch–looks bad, smells bad, and tastes bad. Then I feel like a failure.
In addition to my busy school schedule, my wonky fine motor skills and my poor visual aesthetics is my minor case of Seasonal Affect Disorder. It took me into my late 20s to realize this until my friend Kelly made this observation, “Karen, you usually quit something every winter—and in a dramatic fashion. “ I then observed a seasonal pattern to my dating habits. (I dated from age 16 until I married at age 34, so I had ample “data” to examine.) I always had a date for the 4th of July, but I never had a date for New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day. I was so much less social during the winter months. Once I noted that my productivity and sociability were hampered by the winter weather, I learned to move more commitments to April through November. I retreat a bit from the world from December through March—hibernating like my totem, a bear. Staying aloof during the Christmas season is essential to my sanity.
So don’t look for me to deck the halls–or the roof or the porch. I abstain from these and many other Christmas activities so that I diminish my chances of carelessly decking anything or anyone out of frustration. And if you ask me to participate in a ward Christmas party, a multi-family service project, a workplace gift exchange, don’t be surprised if you hear me declare, “I prefer not to.” Not overextending myself is the gift I offer. But call me Scrooge if you must. This presence of the absence of my hysteria may be very hard for others to perceive.
Is there a tradition or a cultural norm that you resist? What method do you use to decline? Do others pressure you to participate? How do you respond to their pressure?