The year Santa didn’t come: why we decided to skip Christmas

Guest post by Rosie Wiklund

There will be no Santa Claus here. Photo by gb_packards, used under Creative Commons license.

If you’re like many children in the U.S., you probably read a few stories or watched a few movies that follow the same story. The holidays are here and a villain, bad weather, or plain old poverty is gearing up to ruin Christmas for everyone. Thankfully at the last moment the villain will have a change of heart, the storm will pass, or an act of good will changes everything. Christmas always comes for everyone. But this year the jolly, fat man flew right over our house. We didn’t even get coal.

And it wasn’t a tragedy. Perhaps I should explain.

My family is learning to live simply. When we got married we were determined to skip all the traditions that didn’t work for us. We had simple ceremony in the park and hosted our own homemade picnic reception. When we had a baby we were sure we’d handle things in the same way. We skipped the baby registry and asked people to bring used items/hand-me-downs to our co-ed baby shower. We cloth diaper, bed share, and I breastfeed baby.

And then the holidays came.

“What do you want to do?” I asked my husband.

“I don’t know, what do you want to do?” He would counter.

We live in a pretty suburban area, and Christmas came to town in September. It was still shorts and t-shirts weather, but all the shops were already stocking their decor, candies, and specials. Modern covers of Christmas classics were playing in the fall as I picked out my first sweater of the season. I’ll be honest — we were freaked out.

We thought about making homemade gifts or buying second hand, but we didn’t feel crafty and didn’t want to buy new things for our tiny house.

Our extended family is all over the state, and many years we had piled in the car again and again over just a handful of days to see everyone. Our baby seems to be allergic to the car seat and still cries at the sight of it, so we knew this wouldn’t be an option. Instead we decided it was time to build our own traditions as a family.

We thought about making homemade gifts or buying second hand, but we didn’t feel crafty and didn’t want to buy new things for our tiny house. When the Christmas sales came we upgraded our ancient mobile phones and called it a day, but it wasn’t even Christmas.

Finally, my husband asked, “What if we did nothing?”

At first I was kind of scared. Wouldn’t that be sad? Wouldn’t our daughter miss the festivities? I pondered it and then my husband got his work schedule. He was scheduled to work both Christmas Eve and Christmas day. That made our decision pretty easy. We’d skip Christmas.

No one freaked out. And nothing terrible happened. We didn’t hustle trying to think up great gifts for anyone. We didn’t craft late into the night. We didn’t cut down a tree or set up a plastic one or even buy one in a pot and replant it. We didn’t hang lights or tinsel. We didn’t go to church, because we never do anyway. In the end we didn’t even send cards. We just lived our lives. We didn’t stress. We didn’t buy much. We didn’t eat too much.

We hadn’t found anything in Christmas to identify with, and we are not the sort of people to follow tradition for tradition’s sake.

Leading up to the day people who ask, “Are you ready for the holidays?” “Is baby excited about Christmas?”

And we’d reply in a friendly way, “Oh we’re skipping it.”

And people were baffled. “Why would anyone skip Christmas?” they wondered out loud. “Oh, are you Jehovah’s Witnesses or Jewish or something?” I have a friend who even called me a Grinch. But we had our reasons. We hadn’t found anything in Christmas to identify with, and we are not the sort of people to follow tradition for tradition’s sake.

Throughout the season the only thing I longed for was a marathon baking season. So we indulged and made a stack of homemade candy. Christmas came and went without any fuss in our home. We got up and went to bed. We didn’t unwrap or overeat or manage to get everyone we love into one home. We understand why you might have — I have a few friends who really get a kick out of the holiday season and I’m happy for them. I know a lot of people who celebrate in unique ways, but I haven’t met another family who was happy to skip the whole season without any bitterness. But here we are, and I imagine we are not alone.

We are not making any hard and fast rules, but we liked this Christmas-free year so much we’d be unlikely to start celebrating the holiday in the future. We know as our daughter gets older she may have questions about why celebrate holidays differently and skip some all together and sometimes we will struggle for answers to reasonable questions. Essentially, why are we different?

We are different because we tried to stop doing things that didn’t make us happy. We tried to stop doing things we did not understand the value of. Because life can be very short… and life can be very long. We want to live the very best we can, and we want to be happy. Sometimes that looks very odd. And that’s okay.

So this year we skipped Christmas. And it was great.

Comments on The year Santa didn’t come: why we decided to skip Christmas

  1. Congrats to you! I’ve thought about skipping xmas as I’m not Christian, but all of my family is. I’ve just never had the courage or gumption to stop it. I’ve slowly started transitioning over to Solstice as our holiday. I’ll have to do more next year.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Were either of your families sad about your non-participation in their traditions (either religious or cultural)? “Skipping” a holiday isn’t something I’d want to do, not only because I like them but because of the way larger implications that both of our families would take from that non-participation. So I’m curious how it played out beyond your non-nuclear family.

    The post was neat, though. I’m all for thoughtfully rejecting things that don’t work for you, which is exactly what you seemed to do.

    • I wish I had remembered to add, our extended family was not at all offended by our choice. We planned a few one on one visits with various family members a bit more spread out.

  3. I wish my family could skip Christmas! Ever since we had a baby I find the holidays very stressful and not fun. My husband has to work, but we still have to get together with family. We can’t use it as an excuse because they just change the day it’s celebrated so we can be there. I felt bad for him this year because I kept saying “I hate Christmas time!” It made him feel sad. Also, people will not stop buying toys for our baby no matter how much we beg!

      • It seems like a good idea, but usually the giver wants to see him play with it immediately so it’s opened and played with. or someone else opens it. Also, I can’t put my finger it, but it somehow seems rude to give something away something that was given to him and not to us, that his relative wanted him to have. idk. What we finally decided is to pack up some toys and rotate them, so it always feels like he has something new.

    • Ours was low-key too. We put up a tree and that was about it. we didn’t exchange gifts or buy anything for our daughter (although we couldn’t stop the onslaught of gifts from the grandparents). I think this will more than likely be the way things are from now on.

  4. I am jealouse! I have been begging and pleading to skip Christmas but my SO LOVES Christmas so there is no hope for me in skipping it. But we have comprised on what we do. Eve is our day, just our little family. We have started our own stress free traditions and invite people to join us if they want. But no one ever does because a day of gaming and movie watching while we cook and bake is not everyone’s deal. But for Christmas, we deal with over demanding family and a crap load of presents that we don’t need and don’t want. I hate having to give away so many new or old gifts or even throw them away. We live in a small place and just don’t have the room. Plus my kids just won’t play with all of it.

  5. Like the other commenters, I say kudos to you for finding what works and doesn’t for your family and going with it.

    We are Christian and so while it’s important for us to celebrate, we really want to keep the focus on the religious aspects and not the commercialism and Santa stuff. I have no problem with others celebrating in that way, but it’s not for us.

    If you believe in the story of Christ’s birth, it was truly a humble beginning with very little fanfare. For us the celebration is more about preparing our hearts to contemplate that story rather than stressing and buying things.

    This year my SO and I travelled nowhere and bought only a few simple gifts for each other (clothes hangers, a lint roller, bath poofs, and two books from the used book store. All stuff we would have bought anyway).

    We don’t have a baby (yet), but I already know it will be a struggle to keep our celebration humble in the face of gifts and toys our parents are sure to lavish upon any child of ours.

    • My husband is a “non-practicing Catholic” (AKA, doesn’t want to get up for church) and I was raised agnostic and Presbyterian. I guess I’m agnostic. Religion is not a huge part of our lives, is what I’m trying to say. Anyway, I always thought the idea of doing service to celebrate was a cool idea. Volunteer at a women and children’s group home to read to the kids or sing carols, serve food at a homeless shelter, play with lonely dogs at the animal shelter. Hubs is not into it. I tried to get my sister (atheist) and her son (5, already has too many toys and always grabby for more) involved but to no avail. I guess I’ll try to start the tradition on my own.

  6. I admittedly love the festivities and traditions. Mostly the laughter over a tasteful meal (my in laws are all fantastic cooks)and the silly white elephant gift exchange that usually involves disguised booze (and I don’t even drink!). This year I got potatoes and a beer – that someone stole from me in the game. 🙂
    The thing I hate though is the overload of junk. One friend got my two daughters some used toys and they are great, but I am looking at a pile of dollar section items and brand new plastic toys that were given to us because people felt obligated. I always ask for practical things for myself that I am looking for anyway(food dehydrator this year) but what do I do with all of this plastic?! Even telling people doesn’t stop them, and when I have over 30 in laws, I find that I have a large box for donation. That and with every gift my three year old opened, she wanted to play with it. She was urged to push on and open something else. So much consumption! :/ I really want to just start doing it at home, alone.

  7. So good to read this post, as my partner and I, 10 weeks pregnant with our first, have just been discussing this exact idea for next year – and maybe every year. We’re both Atheists and hate the pressure of the holidays.

    At least now when family and friends stare at us in disbelief we can point them to this post and show them we’re not the only Xmas-eschewing freaks out there 😉

  8. I grew up Jewish so I never had much invested in Christmas, but my husband grew up with it, and over all the years we’ve been together, I’ve always felt that he’s been disappointed in my blasé attitude. Our daughter is nearly 3, and for the first time she “gets” it – Santa Claus and the whole bit. So we did a more traditional version this year, and my husband was positively giddy over it all. The fact that Hanukkah started first and ended last worked out in my favor this year, but it definitely took 2nd fiddle to the overwhelming presence of Christmas. (I’m pretty used to that ;)) Neither of us are particularly religious, but we both like tradition. So I’m fine to let him take the lead, and just keep my traditions and his semi-separate, giving our daughter the chance to experience both. (My biggest pet peeve is the obscene amount of chocolate my toddler received as gifts from teachers and family members, garghh! Infuriating.)

  9. My DH and I don’t really celebrate Christmas when we are alone. We don’t see the point in going presents on the day, as we buy things during the year as we want them. This year we had a low key lunch at our friends’ house, but f it wasn’t for them we would have just munched on whatever we had available in the cupboards. We haven’t even got around to sending the niece and nephews overseas any presents yet. It kind of annoys me that there is an expectation that we do this, as the kids get so much crap for Christmas without us, and as we don’t spend regular time with any of them, we have no idea what their tastes are anyway.

    We’ve already discussed next Christmas, as it will be our first Christmas with our own child. The baby will only be four months and have no concept of what is going on, so we already agreed not to do anything. As bubs gets older, we might have to reassess, but we’ll cross that bridge later.

    Christmas just doesn’t mean anything to us except a whole lot of hassle for a matter of a few hours.

  10. I’m an atheist and I love Christmas, because to me what it’s really about is being with family and I love family time. As my fella and I will have a 9 month old son next Christmas I’m super excited about spending time with family next year, passing around the baby and soaking up the love. I don’t usually get a lot of stuff for Christmas anyway so the excess of stuff is not really a problem. And my mom’s pretty unconventional and this Christmas gave me a hometown cook book and a box so that I can fill with stuff we don’t want or need and her gift is she will take it to the goodwill! Which I happen to think is a great idea! As our child gets older I want to use Christmas time (and the rest of the year really) to teach about giving of ones self. I think we might establish a tradition of family volunteer time. Anyway to each their own. Happiness to your family all year round.

    • I am exactly like this! My entire family is Atheist and we adore Christmas. My husband was raised very religiously in a Christian Science household, and never really got into Christmas, but moving in with us converted him to Atheism and has since fallen in love with Christmas. It’s a holiday which we view as being about the family and about midwinter. Presents are so much fun to give and receive because we make it a game to find the best suiting gift for each other. We also have monetary limits ($20 each person’s gift) to make it easier on the wallet. I especially adore practical gifts! Like, kitchen utensils, pillow cases, etc. Knives are a common gift item in this house because they are so darn useful!

      This year, Christmas was a little bit more lowkey because our house burnt down a month ago, but we had a great time. We had friends over and made a tonne of cookies and candies. Dinner was delicious, and we were able to spread our good cheer. We also made Wassail – which, to me, makes the holidays.

  11. Kudos to you for finding what works! We find it rather silly to play Christian when we are not. My partner and I are agnostic and as the kids are getting older I’m starting to question why we are celebrating Christmas if we aren’t celebrating all the religious holidays of the season. I mean we are just about as jewish as we are christian. Lol but alas my kids would feel extremely weird and ripped off since we have always done christmas.

  12. I’m glad you’ve found something that’s worked for you instead of stressing out about it like so many others. I basically enjoy anything where I can decorate for a theme and have an excuse to throw a party, but we don’t do gifts and when our children come we’ve decided that before Christmas/Winter Holiday/What ever us non-christians are calling it, our kids will have to go through their toys and clothes for things that no longer fit, or they no longer use. We’ll donate and replace the items for the holiday- get rid of 2 toys and some jeans? Get two new (to us) toys and jeans! This way we can participate in the traditions of our families, while making them our own. That’s the best thing about being a grown up, choosing what traditions you want to keep and the ones you want to change. I see far too many people go through the Holidays hating them because of needless stress. If something’s going to stress me out, I just say no. My friend packed her kids & their gifts up and off to their grandparents so she and her husband could have one, stress free Christmas. The kids loved it, the grandparents loved it and they got to spend some relaxed time together on his rare day off- she say’s they’re talking about doing the same thing next year!

  13. I’m an atheist and on some level I get what you’re doing, but I have to give you another perspective on this: that of someone who was raised by parents who were non-participant in many different holiday traditions and kept us out of a lot of rituals and holidays for religious reasons (not JW, just unique I guess).

    It was very socially isolating. I think what my parents, and you, might have missed or forgotten is that the purpose of ritual is to bond people together – not just nuclear family units, but clans and cultural groups. Never underestimate the importance of belonging for anyone, but especially for children. If you are already kind of an offbeat family, totally opting out of the seasonal traditions that unite people really casts your children as outsiders. Some might see it as character building, but for me that separateness was something I could NEVER shake and I still have a lot of trouble fitting in and feeling like part of a group when I want to.

    It doesn’t mean you have to do Santa or shopping or anything you actively dislike, but maybe think about things you could participate in that jibe with your worldview but still give your children that sense of being part of the holidays with their extended family and community. It’s important. I hope you’ll consider it, at least.

    • I’m not much for holidays and my partner is even less so, but I’ve considered this counterpoint, because I’ve known people who had the experience of feeling left out of holidays because of their parent’s choices. What I came to, is that kids are not born knowing about holidays. I’m not going to be the first one to tell my daughter about any part of holidays I’m not into. If she comes home and says “I want to go trick or treating” because she heard about it, then we’ll talk about it. If, after talking, she wants to try it, I’ll let her (with some parameters, like not eating most of the crap she collects). Basically, she will have input as to how we celebrate holidays in the family. As a parent, of course I’ll share my view of things, and try to prevent harm to her but I won’t make her. Relatives outside of the nuclear family have no say in what we do.
      From a former teacher perspective, I had a few parents who didn’t want their kids to participate in any non-Christian (most everything American!) holiday celebrations. I talked to them about the fact that part of our curriculum was learning about holidays, from a social studies perspective. I think it’s important for kids to learn how different people celebrate, without necessarily feeling obligated to participate in these celebrations, or take on anyone else’s values. I think as parents, we share our values with our kids, but we have to let them check out the other possibilities out there, before they can get settled in their own beliefs.

    • I’ll agree with this. My family is primarily made up of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and whilst I have a huge respect for their beliefs, they’re not my beliefs and never have been. Anyway, as a child, I used to find it very isolating and uncomfortable around any major holiday periods, because I knew it was supposed to mean nothing to me, but I couldn’t help that it did. I really resented my parents and family for a long time, wondering why a tree with lights and the odd few gifts would be so hard, if it was to make me and the other kids feel happy and included in society?

      That all being said, I’m very grateful for a lot of the religious nonsense I avoided because of all of this, and I’m certainly glad I never had a “belief” in Santa. I’m sure I never missed Christmas before I was 5 or 6, and exposed to the Holiday Season Corporate Monsters (HSCM). I just wish my parents had perhaps given us a choice as to what we could and couldn’t celebrate or participate in. I don’t think finding a happy medium and/or compromise would have been hard, and now that I enjoy some festive season activities with my partner and his family, I really feel I WAS missing out on the family bonding experience that the season provides.

      Anyway, just an outsider’s perspective 🙂

  14. we don’t celebrate christmas and we never have really. our kiddo is four and this was the first year that she seemed to notice christmas stuff around (santa, christmas trees) but she didn’t quite get the presents part of it all. good for us i guess! next year she will be starting school and i doubt we will be able to pull this off another year. i don’t think it will be fair to her to not let her participate next year and she will probably get a small gift or two, akin to her birthday celebrations that we do. maybe i’ll even get a small tree. we’ll see.

    on another note, my birthday is christmas eve and i’ve always hated that it’s been overshadowed by christmas. so we had a nice dinner on christmas eve but it was a non-holiday dinner. just celebrating my 30th 🙂

  15. I often wish I could skip Christmas. Since moving back to my hometown it seems to be a lot of chaos and confusion for stuff I don’t want, need, or have room for. And since there are no grandkids in my family, my mother goes nuts over the four of us, so I haul home even more stuff. ARGH!!!

  16. My husband and I mostly skipped Christmas last year. My father had died unexpectedly at the end of October, and we were living abroad, away from our families. I’m Catholic so I went to church, but it made me cry. My husband and I exchanged gifts, but I didn’t send anything to my large family. Before that, I would never have understood why anyone would want to skip Christmas, because I always loved the holiday, but now I get it.

    • this really touched my heart. my grandfather passed away on dec. 22nd so every year since then has been especially difficult on my grandmother (and to some extent my father and his brother and sister). the first few holidays i think we were just going through the motions, but eventually talking about grandpa and remembering him wasn’t some downer activity turning everyone blue, but a way we included him in our family celebrations.

  17. Christmas is barely recognisable as a religious holiday now. 90% of the fluff and fanfare is bastardised Paganism, adopted by missionaries in early AD to encourage people to convert. This has then grown into a consumerism monster, a day when we are encouraged to gorge of gluttony of every kind. Unfortunately, Christmas is my husband’s favourite holiday. Giving gifts and getting together I can appreciate. But he actually enjoys eating until he feels like he will vomit. Not something I understand, but I love the man so I put up with it.

    In the end I have put my foot down about Santa. I was not forced to believe in a fictional man out of a Coke advert, and neither will I force it on my children. There will be presents. Stockings even. The tree we have to bypass as the dogs wont learn not to pee on it (they’re on my side!), but I hang prettiness and make things festive and fun. In white and bright colours!

    As long as I’m not lying to my kid/s about a man entering the house on the sly to leave gifts, I can accept the rest. Seriously though, what sort of precent is Santa? Its ok for strangers to enter the house in the middle of the night? And what about getting all that free stuff for ‘being good’?!

    • I agree with most of your post, but the amateur Mythbuster in me must point out one thing: the Coca-Cola company did not invent Santa. The character of Santa evolved from a combination of religious stories about St. Nicholas, folk tales, and the imagination of Victorian-era writers and artists. The fact that so many people believe this myth only proves how well their ad campaign worked.

  18. It is the fact that Christmas stems so heavily from Paganism that my husband and I embrace it as much as we do. I am 34 weeks pregnant and LOVE traditions and holidays. Not for religious reasons but because I just love celebrating life for whatever reason. My husband and I actually decided this Xmas to ditch the cultural holidays of my family (Easter, Christmas, Halloween – which are Christian “versions” of Pagan traditions) and just celebrate the Pagan ones since we relate to the Wheel of the Year so much better than anything Christian. The Pagan holidays seem to focus more on celebrating life and family, rather than consumerism, and those are the traditions that I want to share with my little on on the way. Yule (for us) is about family, feasting, sharing stories, and practical gifts; Imbolg about lights and preparing for spring (also our little one’s birthday); Ostara includes the coloring of eggs, egg hunts, making sweets, and starting herb gardens; at Beltane we celebrate with crafting, and lots of outdoor activities; Midsummer includes all the fairy and mythical fun at several local festivals; Lammas is all about baking with the first grains of the season; Mabon is the harvest time; and during Samhain we honor the dead.

    None of these holidays cost money and instead, honor life rather than cultural traditions. It really puts the world in perspective when you live by a seasonal clock. I have become so much more appreciative of what I do have and it has given my life so much more meaning.

  19. As I sit here recovering from our 36 hour round trip drive to spend two days with our families, I am loving this post. This was JZ’s first Christmas that he wasn’t deployed for the last 5 years, and he really wanted to spend it with our families back home. It was ridiculously expensive to fly, and he could only have a few days of leave, so we drove from FL to IL! We were exhausted the whole time, visiting five different Christmases. We didn’t even have time to see any of our friends, that was just each side of each family. We have already cut down on gifts and other extravagances, (and yes, my mother called me a Grinch for not getting a tree) and don’t plan on making the trip again. We are Christians and feel the value in celebrating the season, but we aren’t doing any one in our families any favors by sitting with them for a couple hours in a huge group, then moving on to the next one. I feel we all would be better served by visiting/having them visit at a different time and start our own (smaller, faith-based) holiday traditions. Now that JZ shouldn’t be deploying for a while, we should be able to do that (fingers crossed…)

  20. My sister and her husband have decided not to teach their son, who is 2, about Santa Claus. Instead of December 6, they read him the story of St. Nicholas, and put chocolate coins in his shoes. As part of it, they emphasized that the coins in the shoes are a reminder to share like Nicholas did.

    They still celebrate Christmas, after all my sister is a Minister (readers of Offbeat Bride may remember her as the officiant at my Steampunkish Wedding), and he still gets Christmas presents, he just doesn’t get them from Santa. They also had did an advent calendar and an advent wreath with him. When he’s older, they hope to do something like this family:

    Then this year, our extended family decided that instead of giving gifts we really didn’t need to each other, we would pack school kits and hygiene kits for Mennonite Central Committee after Christmas dinner.

  21. I think an important thing to remember about Christmas, aside from athiest/Christian/pagan side is WHY we have it in Winter. Nearly every culture has a festival in winter because it is cold. Often with light/warmth imagery. It is about the fact that in the winter it is cold and dark and not the most fun time of the year. Christmas is something to look forward to during a period when everyone stays inside. I think that it is wonderful to have that point in the middle of it all. Unless of course you live in Australia and celebrate Christmas in the sun.

  22. Really interesting! I like when you say “We are different because we tried to stop doing things that didn’t make us happy.”

    We are just beginning to build our holiday (and other) traditions with our young family but we are still very iffy on how to handle the holidays. I don’t like family trying to push religious beliefs on us during that time of year and I canNOT stand the insane consumerism (we try really hard to be eco-concious). But I love the music and such. Another problem for us is that my daughter’s birthday gets overshadowed by xmas because it’s a week before!

    So yeah, we are still trying to figure it out and no one understands but oh well. I’m glad we’re not alone in seeking simplicity!

  23. every year i make a point of working over xmas. hubby and i spend the day apart preferring to bond and reflect together over new years

    neither of hubby nor my family celebrate the day so nobody is stepping out of any tradition or activities, which admittedly makes eveything less complex

    given the fact that hubby is of chinese ancestry, we find there are much bigger (and culturally intruiging) holidays and festivals throughout the Chinese calendar year that easily supercede the commercialness that can come with the xmas season we are coerced to entertain in a predominantly christian country

    plus the weather is fantstic (summer) so santas pervasive heavy red/white outfit, songs about/images of snow, family about the fireplace really dont resound with/make any realistic sense to us.

    all in all, the momentousness of skipping xmas is relative depending on your background and environment. if you feel you would be uncomfortable missing out, the article is merely entertaining a paradigm shift. something we all need from time to time.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation