What NOT to Do During the Holidays

Statistically, the most likely time for an American man to die is just before Christmas. For an American woman, doomsday comes just after New Years. My theory about why this is so is that people let themselves off the hook when they finally get a chance for a well-earned rest. Men exhaust themselves in the period leading up to the holidays and then let go; for women, the holidays themselves represent a brutal overload of work. This year, I say we stage a revolution. Let’s turn this holiday into an actual holiday! 

Every now and then, I am asked to write recommendations about what we should allow ourselves not to do. For most people, this is more challenging — but more productive — than a “to-do” list. I’ve never done such a list specifically for the holidays, until now. So, if you’re onboard with our holiday life-saving strategies, read on!

  • Don’t cook. I mean this; you will receive approximately 45,000 calories of holiday goodies this year. Desperate people who have no gift-selecting ability are praying that you will actually want the cheese log or the moose munch that they picked up for you. It will only make these people sad if they find you elbow deep in cookie dough or fruitcake. For goodness sake, have some compassion.
  • Don’t send cards. Every hour, human beings chop down an area of primordial forest the size of a football field. Why contribute to this carnage just so people can glance at a holiday greeting and immediately consign it to landfills? Christmas cards are evil. Do not send them.
  • Do not buy gifts for people you do not like. Honestly, why send the wrong message? The body is a natural lie detector and it loathes hypocrisy. Do you honestly want to grow weak and sick purchasing a foot massager for a boss whom everyone knows is going to hell? Stop the madness!
  • Don’t go to horrible parties. By the time we’ve passed Thanksgiving, you’re almost certain to feel deeply stressed about fitting into your little black dress or cummerbund. This is the time to lie down quietly and reflect on ways to eliminate excess calories so that January does not find you deeply mired in self-loathing. You know perfectly well that you react to social anxiety by eating like a grisly bear preparing to hibernate. Going to bad parties is simply putting your body in harm’s way. That’s not, in my opinion, what Baby Jesus would do.
  • Don’t be virtuous. If you’re virtuous all the time, go ahead and sustain it during the holidays. But if December is a time you go into a frenzy of Scrooge-after-the-ghost generosity, you will disrupt your psychological homeostasis, and potentially, as we have seen, cause your own death. This is no holiday gift to give your children! This year, vow to be as nasty and selfish as your truly are.

I know some of you may be shocked and indignant after reading my recommendations — so please be cautious. Your blood pressure may already be at dangerous levels. Seriously, the holidays are about renewal, kindness, and joy. Judgment and oppression are the enemy of these sentiments. Just see how much more genuine holiday spirit you’ll generate when you follow your own bliss, rather than someone else’s holiday traditions.

23 replies
  1. Linda
    Linda says:

    Yes, yes, yes! My holidays got infinitely better when I quit decorating, cooking, and sending cards. I give gifts only to close family and a couple of very close friends. My partner and I take a trip each year as our gift to each other. Who needs more stuff to dust? Now we can relax and enjoy the holidays instead of stressing for weeks on end.

    Reply
  2. LInda L. Nelson
    LInda L. Nelson says:

    I truly look forward to receiving Christmas cards, with handwritten thoughts and sometimes letters, from family and friends. This has been a tradition I’ve continued. Maybe I am one of the lucky ones that does this with love in my heart, and enjoy keeping in touch the old-fashioned way. My grandmother would save the expensive cards, date them with the year, and pull them out for display every year. She treasured them. I have the ones my brother and I signed when very little, and they are precious memories, and do make us laugh to see the printing. Just to send to a bunch of people, no, that is no longer popular to do. However, I do enjoy cards, and recycle by cutting the fronts off to use as labels on gifts. Another trick taught by my frugal grandmother. She even would save the Christmas paper. That then had me saving and re-using the gift bags. What is precious, is seeing the names of those who have passed, and seeing their handwriting on tags and cards. We do the cards and annual letter as a way of enjoying the memories of the past year, and sharing with loved ones who like getting them. We don’t feel we have to do it, we just love doing it. The difference, I believe.

    Reply
    • Julia
      Julia says:

      I feel the same way about cards. I send them to the old, the sick, friends who are lonely at Christmas, those who have moved, etc. And I write personal notes in each one. It’s my biggest gift each year. Sometimes I include a gift card for some one in need. I call it my Card Ministry.

      Like Linda, I also enjoy lovely cards from Christmas past. Especially cards from those who no longer dwell among us.

      Even cards can be done well, if sent with love. It’s all about intention and the joy!

      Reply
  3. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    YAY MARTHA YAY! Thank you! The Christmas season is extra-curricular self-inflicted madness (and I am stating this as a Christian!). Especially for women. I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying and have been doing much of it for many years (not surprisingly since I got breast cancer).

    Here’s another thought for you to explore with your wonderful wisdom…

    I think this this statement may be a form of bullying: “What did you get for Christmas?” We never do the big box electronic stuff and boy, is that ever tough on our kids when the after-season asking begins. What do you think? I’d love to see a post from you just on the gifting part …

    Have a lovely restful season yourself!

    Reply
  4. carol peregoy
    carol peregoy says:

    My bliss IS Christmas shopping, decorating, cooking and doing cards. That’s what I enjoy!!!! and the music AND the parties – mingling, socializing….I think it is all fun!!!!!

    Reply
    • Carol
      Carol says:

      Me too! I look forward to decorating, cooking, listening to cheesy christmas music, watching all the classic christmas movies and making my own cards and sending them to the ones I love. This will be the first year in a long time that I will have time to do these things. I do agree however, that when you don’t have much time and feel pressure (often from yourself) to do the traditional things, it doesn’t feel good. I have a friend who feels this way, so this year I will be able to help her and make it fun.

      Reply
  5. Marta
    Marta says:

    I think the key is to pare down to what is important to you and to cut out the things you are doing because you think you should (or someone else thinks you should). I Iearned this years ago from the book Unplug the Christmas Machine. It’s a great book that leads you through exercises to help you figure out what gives you joy versus what robs you of energy. For many years, I put a lot of effort into Xmas cards because I enjoyed it, but a year or two ago, I started to feel it had become a burden. Now I only send a few and I did an email newsletter instead. I’m going to change that even further this year. Since I keep in touch with so many on Facebook, a newsletter is superfluous.

    The holidays this year are about two things. One is celebrating our home. We have moved around a lot and now we are settled for good. This is our first Xmas in this house and I am going to celebrate the joy I feel every day of having a home I love. The second is Connection, Connection, Connection with friends and family.

    Reply
    • Stephanie Frantz
      Stephanie Frantz says:

      I agree that the key is to pare down to what is important to you and to cut out the things you are doing just because you think you should do them. No arbitrary rules, just follow what feels good to you.

      Reply
  6. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    This really hit home because the holidays can become so overwhelming for people–all these things sing to me of being our true and honest self and enjoying the important things like loved ones. Thank you for the reminders of staying genuine!

    Reply
  7. Andrea Pogan
    Andrea Pogan says:

    Due to being bedridden with CFS/ME over the years I have had to let go of each of these things, among others of course. Along the way, and as my own faith grew, I discovered that a quieter Christmas is more soul enriching. But I do miss being able to provide my kids with all the hullabaloo I grew up with. But maybe this quieter tradition is the one they should be handing down to their families. Peace and great gratitude sums it up for me.

    Reply
  8. Chris
    Chris says:

    Hey Martha,
    Your list made me laugh in delight. Many years ago I declared a moratorium on all holdiay “shoulds”, including flying back to Tucson for Christmas with the family and just decided to do as much or as little as I wanted for the holidays and guess what happened? After years of hating and dreading Christmas, I love it. Now I have my own traditions and I’m good with that. Thanks for your list – I can attest to the truth in it.

    Reply
  9. Rainey
    Rainey says:

    Last year, my life was so chaotic I has no time for cards gifts or excessive decorating….and the world didn’t fall apart, and most importantly I felt the holiday spirit. This year, in my calm peaceful state, I will
    Consciously do it again, and can love ever minute of this beautiful joyous time, maybe the original intention of the holiday, to bring warmth and light to the darkest days.

    Reply
  10. Inger
    Inger says:

    I so love this! It’s only last year I stopped making a ginger bread house. I thought I enjoyed doing it, turned out I don’t, and there are just so many other things I’d rather be doing. Christmas cards can be fun, but they can also be boring and drab. Not to mention a strain on natural resources. Go Martha!

    Reply
  11. Marlen
    Marlen says:

    Renewal, kindness and joy. Thank you. Very true. I fully agree. It might include the one or the other Christmas card to a family member staying far away though – they will truly treasure and might even keep it. 🙂

    Reply
  12. Tea Among Roses
    Tea Among Roses says:

    Having an ADHD mind, I’m particularly prone to 1) wanting to do everything, 2) overwhelm with doing anything, and 3) shame about all the ways I’m falling short. I tried culling the holidays to survive. My best attempt led to a bonfire on solstice with my hubby and stepdaughter, both who were apostolic pentecostal heathen-fearers. They even sang the songs with me. 🙂 I noticed in my incompetence in giving cards that I started to get less than three. One from my mom never stopped coming. But it left me feeling terribly lonely and left out! Not to mention those who did send one I felt I disappointed them by leaving their love unreturned. My cousin throws an annual Christmas Tea. The thing that stands out from that was the horror in overhearing one of her guests scoff that someone had brought store bought cookies to a cookie exchange. My response was that in my circle of friends, just someone remembering to bring anything for us to eat was cause for celebration. That’s how we roll in my circles. No rules, no pressure. BUT counter culture living can really get you down. Last year, as our family grew to 5! I decided I’d send a few homemade Christmas cards to my most beloved. Each weekend before Christmas, I eschewed taking out the garbage and cleaning the toilet and got my babe’s to put their thumbprint on each notecard. Then we turned them into little snowmen. I put a quote from a traditional kids song about giving thanks and sent them almost all before Christmas passed. It was close, but I finally did SOMETHING well and meaningful. Well, this year is different. I have started medication which makes me feel like an ordinary human. The shame is gone and I have both energy and executive function to follow through on my goals. So I’m choosing new traditions very carefully based on so many failures AND my hopes and dreams for stronger relationships and less material waste. I’m excited to be celebrating Christmas on Thanksgiving with my folks, immediate family and step brother, sister ‘not quite in law’ and her son. I picked out some charities that are connected to some of the things they love and will put the membership inside a cleverly chosen ‘box’ I found at goodwill (my current worst/only addiction). I hope that supporting a group fighting to protect their groundwater (they use a well) and a group who gets venison to the hungry (they are major hunting enthusiasts) feels like the spirit of Christmas as much to them as it does to me. If I can maintain my intentionality (and my energy holds up) I’m hopeful that this Christmas will be the first of many that are truly joyful. Through and through. Thanks for promoting sanity. 🙂 in love and gratitude always. Tea

    Reply
  13. Kathryn Green
    Kathryn Green says:

    God, I love Martha! LOL! After all these years, I can almost predict what she’s going to say! I’m Happy to say I’ve been doing these things for many years now, and recently I’m “following my own bliss” by having an “After Christmas” party for immediate family where cooking is not an option (ordering in) and the drama should be at a minimum. JOIN THE CHRISTMAS REVOLUTION!!! DON’T SPEND $ YOU DON’T HAVE! hahaha!

    Reply
  14. T
    T says:

    Dearest personal live coach (yeah, bet you didn’t know you were doing me pro-bono,. Yeap, not that you’ll be reading this, but I have three pictures of you lookinng at me everyday with the word and definition of “Bracketing” next to it) how glad my heart feels as I read the above “not-to-do-list” to realize that I had implemented said list about nine years ago, of my own idea and out shear exhasperation with the FAKENESS of the whole thing, not having the funds to buy shit I coulnd’t afford for people I didn’t like that much, of course all of this wonderfull realization after an almost nervous breakdown and so deep in credit card debt I can’t even beging to tell you. Some call me a scrooge, some call me weird, some don’t call me at all….I say AMEN, HALLELLUYA AND NAMASTE to all and to all a good night.

    Reply
  15. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Yeah, sounds good in theory Martha, but that’s if you don’t have a horrible mother who guilt trips you for the other 365 days if you don’t visit. Most depressing Christmas I think was where we arrived on Christmas Eve and did not leave until New Year’s Eve, when we had been invited to a party by my sister-in-law. Was just congratulating myself on having survived so many days of the type of hell that only my mother could create, when, as we climbed into the car, she said, in a despondent voice, ‘Well, I would have thought you could have stayed until the New Year.’ Nothing was ever good enough for her. Christmas joy started for me the year she died.

    Reply
    • Nancy
      Nancy says:

      I get it. I am spending Christmas with people I love and am starting to know. I have an aquaintance already and that feels good. About the mother thing- boy, do I relate but mine was a toxic father-in -law, who everyone tiptoed around. For years until someone finally spoke up. But it was still stressful. Then my brother-in law went postal. This year I'm free; my husband and I have split for good. Yesss!!!!

      Reply
  16. Erica
    Erica says:

    Yes! The way to go is to follow our own bliss! I enjoy sending a few cards with handwritten notes but I have pared down considerably which has brought me so much less stress. I no longer send out of obligation. I used to volunteer to cook a long list of items. Now I make one special thing and that's it! I spent two years in a row suffering from a migraine all day the day after Christmas because of the stress and energy spent. My day off work to relax and enjoy the holiday was nixed because it was gone before I could blink and paid for it the next day! Self care! I think what matters most is that we are doin what we truly feel joy in doing not in something we feel we have to do to please others. That isn't genuine…
    Cheers to a holiday your way!

    Reply
  17. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Oh Martha! Your essays have stopped me in my tracks when I was feeling chaotic and lost. I won't go into details because I'm on the run for a 12-Step Group I absolutely love. I will see many of the same people every day during the holidays because my plan is to go to this meeting on Christmas Eve day, Christmas; and every day after that through the holidays. It's every day at noon- and what a surprise! I have found my people! What a gift- a REAL Christmas gift. Mall gifts? Bah, Humbug!

    Reply

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