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. I LOVE Christmas. I love decorating our little apartment, I love giving gifts and receiving ones too, I love the food, the music, etc. What I don’t love is all the potential stress and unwanted clutter.
    Christmas Eve was stressful this year. It was our first year as a married couple so I went to my family dinner first then left that right after dinner to get to his family party. I didn’t really enjoy the time spent at either. The whole time I was at mine I was stressed thinking “I thought we were eating at 5:30, it’s 6:00 and we’re not eating, I told him I’d be there by 7:30 but now it’s going to be closer to 8:00 and he wanted to leave at 9:00 so I’ll only there for an hour, etc.” I was also stressed because the house we were at is just simply not conducive to hosting that many people. It was cramped, people were bumping into each other, we were stuffed around the table, and there was some major tension happening between various family members for various reasons.
    When I left there it was sort of peaceful and nice to just be in the car by myself with carols on the radio seeing all the pretty lights. But when I had to drive past my own home to get to his family party I was like “Damn, I wish I could just stop and go inside and enjoy my tree and my husband and my cat.” His family party was pretty much wrapping up by the time I arrived and while it was a much more laid back time atmosphere than the place I was previously I had a pounding headache and just wanted to go home.
    Now that Christmas is over I look around at our apartment and instead of seeing gifts given with thought and love I just see clutter! Like, where the hell am I going to put all this shit in our tiny one bedroom apartment? It wasn’t as bad as it’s been in past years, we got waaay less decorative stuff than normal and most of our gifts were of the useful or disposable variety. But still, I’m that person who will wear the same pair of gloves every day for three winters in a row because I don’t see the point in having multiple pairs. I walked away from this Christmas with five new pairs of gloves … FIVE!
    I think for next year I want to work on minimizing both stress and clutter. My family gathering stressed me out so I think next year I’ll see what it’s like to go with my husband to his party for the whole duration. I also think I’m going to get even more specific as far as gifts go and literally say “If it is not on my Christmas list please don’t get it. I appreciate the thought, I appreciate wanting to pick out a surprise, but I’m really trying to simplify so if it’s not on the list I truly do not need it.”

  2. I’m 21 and over the years, Christmas has slowly been phasing out at the same time as religion. I used to be heavily religious, but various circumstances saw my family quit going to church. I can’t remember many times where anyone was over for Christmas. We have family across the country and sometimes across the globe, so everyone wanted to spend time with their immediate family. To make up for this, we try to have Thanksgiving at our place. For our family, Thanksgiving is really the only holiday that matters. We have a place that’s perfect for hosting large groups and we’re about in the middle of the country, so most relatives don’t have to go out of their way. It’s the only holiday I felt really connected, where I get to spend time with my favorite relatives (Mom’s side of the family is more traditionally oriented and we’re essentially estranged). Sure, it’s about eating, but the goal isn’t to eat a lot. It’s to appreciate good food with people you enjoy. If you eat too much, that’s your fault.
    I’ve thought about how I may or may not celebrate holidays when I eventually have my own kids. I like the idea of sending them to my parents and staying home for Christmas so Mom and Dad can have the quality time they crave and I don’t have to worry about getting jazzed for something I don’t care about. Who knows? Maybe my spouse will be a holiday maniac. Then we’ll both have a lot to work on. Maybe Christmas will be with the in-laws, but Thanksgiving is the one holiday I won’t back down on.
    I do think Christmas (or at least the way my family does it) has left me feeling entitled to yearly presents. It wasn’t about music or the decorations, it was an excuse to get that one expensive toy I wanted. It was a shock this last year to not get something material for Christmas and I thought, “This is what it means to be an adult. Your parents are no longer obligated to buy you presents.” And I thought that felt so pointless. I don’t want to buy presents for my kids because it’s “that time of year.” I want to buy them presents to help show that I love them. I never want my kids to view gifts as something you’re /supposed/ to give or get, but as a sign of true appreciation for the person. That way, they can learn better than I did to truly appreciate when someone gives them something.

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