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Family Matters: When The Kids Opt Out Of Xmas


Family Matters: When The Kids Opt Out Of XmasThe eyes dim as we get older, but our vision is in some ways stronger, for all that experience helps us see what’s coming, right?

Not always.

How about when the kids decide they want to opt out of the holidays? Too much stress, they say. Too much commercialism. Too much noise. We quit.

Your experienced mind may understand. You’re just as put off by the ads, the pressure, and the neighbor’s house lights, now visible from the space shuttle. But your heart may have a different reaction. Opt out of the holidays? The holidays have never been about expensive gifts or over-the-top celebrations.

The holidays have been a time to reconnect, to share the year’s highlights, to relive stories from the past, to talk about how we got from there to here, and where the path may lead in the months ahead. They’re about board games, laughter in the kitchen, and feeling like The Incredibles after watching the cartoon feature someone always selects for family viewing on Christmas day.

As the kids get older and move away, the gap between these reunions gets larger. The holidays offer a built-in and convenient way to close the distance.

Not that there aren’t a lot of people who’d like to hit pause.

Each year, stories surface about average folks who are done. Typical is a USA Today piece that quoted a disgruntled marketing consultant. “No gifts, no tree, no turkey, no kidding,” the divorced mom told the newspaper in 2011.

Blogger Sarah Welch last year found the trend significant enough to offer “six graceful ways to opt out of holiday family traditions.”

And if you type, “I hate Christmas” into Google, you’ll get page after page of results. “Christmas is at our throats again,” begins one piece in the New Republic.

In a way, it’s painful to think that the same holidays that brought us such delight as children now cause so much angst. You could blame the advertising folks who have adroitly exploited the emotional pull that should be a source of strength and renewal in families. Or you could blame all us suckers who have permitted the season to begin earlier and earlier. We salivate over the sales and coupons, arriving at physical and virtual stores long before we’ve even digested the turkey and candied yams.

Of course families are not powerless.

Some can and do focus mainly on the religious aspect of the holidays. But any family can set boundaries and limits. Like, no gifts over a certain amount, or maybe pick names from a hat and only one gift per person. Limit photos to one hour, and give everyone enough time to fix hair and make-up. Maybe the answer is one year on, one year off. And a plant instead of a tree.

Facing this holiday season without one of our three, I wonder if we missed some signs along the way that would have facilitated adjustments and kept the family intact this Dec. 25. There is also a part of me that wonders why a compromise can’t be drafted and adopted that would enable everyone to be together when the gifts are opened. Or not.

Did you ever face (or lead) an Xmas rebellion? What was the key to getting through?

Read more posts by Steve Piacente, a former print journalist and correspondent.

For more information:

USA Today story: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/economy/story/2011-12-22/cutting-back-christmas-spending/52144864/1

Sarah Welch blog: http://blogs.babycenter.com/tips_and_tricks/110420136-graceful-ways-to-opt-out-of-famil-holiday-traditions/

New Republic story: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115994/reasons-why-christmas-terrible-holiday

 

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18 Responses to "Family Matters: When The Kids Opt Out Of Xmas"

  1. Colleen says:

    Interesting article. For me, I WANT to like the holidays, I really do. And I do enjoy certain things – the smell of a real tree in the living room, and I’m impressed by people who put the time and effort into a killer outdoor light display. But as for the holidays themselves? Purely about survival. My parents are divorced, and not on speaking terms. That means running around to two separate holidays and trying to make sure you’re splitting your time as equally as possible and hoping that nobody is getting their feelings hurt. If I was still in college, and had a week or two off during Christmas, it wouldn’t be so bad. But, given my lack of leave, I usually only have a day or two, and all I’d really like to do is sleep in, and relax. Instead it’s 3 hours of driving each way, running around like a maniac, and stuffing two full holiday meals in my stomach. As for gifts, I really like finding something I know my family members will really like and enjoy, but at this point in my life, I just feel bad accepting presents from my parents. I’m an adult, what I need, I go buy. They’re retired, they should spend their money on themselves, they’ve already done enough for me. But, there’s no point in opting out. I’d just feel bad about it, and the guilt would be worse than sucking it up and going in the first place. My boyfriend’s parents are divorced as well, and are 2,500 miles across the country. After 4.5 years of dating, we’ve never spent the holidays together. I dread the day that we’ll have to somehow fit FOUR celebrations into Christmas. Ugh.

  2. Dean Hinchey says:

    From the child’s perspective – you struggle as a couple to celebrate the holidays with both sets of parents. When we were young we alternated Thanksgiving and Christmas between families – but now with aging parents we divide and conquer. Also bringing the family together before or after the holiday is an option.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I once led the crusade for the end of Christmas in my family and years later reversed course. I was, as you note, tired of the commercialism in the entire affair. I was irritated that stores started the Christmas season in September, ending the specialness of the holiday season and all it comes with – cool weather, early nights, pumpkin spice, and twinkling lights. They took away the anticipation of a short time of year and stretched it into 6 months of beige. They stole the separate seasons and balled them up into one lump of time, which is sad and unfair when you consider that it takes us until well into adulthood to realize how short life is and how little time we have in this world. All so they could make more money.

    So… we talked about all the compromises you suggested. Limiting the cost of gifts, drawing names, etc. When that wasn’t enough I convinced my close friends and family to stop exchanging gifts completely, in the name of prioritizing what really matters. Well, “convinced” might be putting it lightly. I pretty much bullied them into it. I was relentless with the message that we’d lost focus on the importance of family time, traditions, making new memories, laughing, and connecting the scattered family back into a shared home.

    But here’s a surprise. After a few years of this I missed the gift giving. I felt like I’d been the victim of my own over thinking and judging. In an ironic twist of fate, which often seems to be how the universe teaches us, I discovered that in removing gift giving I’d actually removed one of the things I claimed to have been yearning for…. tradition. I wanted to re-introduce gifts but couldn’t do it without drowning in hypocrisy.

    And then a tiny miracle entered our lives. My niece came along and we all gave ourselves permission to buy gifts for her so that she could experience the joy of Christmas. And then a few years later, when she turned 4, I got the second surprise. My niece asked why everyone got to give her gifts and she didn’t get to give anyone else gifts. She wanted to experience the joy of giving. The joy of thoughtfulness. The joy of handing over something she’d selected or made with love and then watching in anticipation as the recipient gasped and giggled in delight. I’d unintentionally become just like the big stores, stealing the specialness of the entire holiday experience.

    Right away I took her to buy a gift for her mom. And we all went back to buying for each other. And the world didn’t end. Our traditions remained intact. Our love was not less bright. We did not become hedonistic consumers. We Still laugh and cook and craft and drive around looking at Christmas lights. Gifts didn’t ruin it. But not giving gifts almost ruined it. Without realizing it, I’d taken away half the experience by missing the point that there is joy in giving. And there is nothing to be proud of in bullying people into seeing things my way. And the universe sent me a 4 year old to teach me that lesson.

    This year… we are using our talents to make gifts. Crafts, homemade foods, framed pictures, and posters with 6 year old handprints and glitter paintings. All wrapped up in love and thoughtfulness and family traditions.

  4. Suzette says:

    I once led the crusade for the end of Christmas in my family and years later reversed course. I was, as you note, tired of the commercialism in the entire affair. I was irritated that stores started the Christmas season in September, ending the specialness of the holiday season and all it comes with – cool weather, early nights, pumpkin spice, and twinkling lights. They took away the anticipation of a short time of year and stretched it into 6 months of beige. They stole the separate seasons and balled them up into one lump of time, which is sad and unfair when you consider that it takes us until well into adulthood to realize how short life is and how little time we have in this world. All so they could make more money.

    So… we talked about all the compromises you suggested. Limiting the cost of gifts, drawing names, etc. When that wasn’t enough I convinced my close friends and family to stop exchanging gifts completely, in the name of prioritizing what really matters. Well, “convinced” might be putting it lightly. I pretty much bullied them into it. I was relentless with the message that we’d lost focus on the importance of family time, traditions, making new memories, laughing, and connecting the scattered family back into a shared home.

    But here’s a surprise. After a few years of this I missed the gift giving. I felt like I’d been the victim of my own over thinking and judging. In an ironic twist of fate, which often seems to be how the universe teaches us, I discovered that in removing gift giving I’d actually removed one of the things I claimed to have been yearning for…. tradition. I wanted to re-introduce gifts but couldn’t do it without drowning in hypocrisy.

    And then a tiny miracle entered our lives. My niece came along and we all gave ourselves permission to buy gifts for her so that she could experience the joy of Christmas. And then a few years later, when she turned 4, I got the second surprise. My niece asked why everyone got to give her gifts and she didn’t get to give anyone else gifts. She wanted to experience the joy of giving. The joy of thoughtfulness. The joy of handing over something she’d selected or made with love and then watching in anticipation as the recipient gasped and giggled in delight. I’d unintentionally become just like the big stores, stealing the specialness of the entire holiday experience.

    Right away I took her to buy a gift for her mom. And we all went back to buying for each other. And the world didn’t end. Our traditions remained intact. Our love was not less bright. We did not become hedonistic consumers. We Still laugh and cook and craft and drive around looking at Christmas lights. Gifts didn’t ruin it. But not giving gifts almost ruined it. Without realizing it, I’d taken away half the experience by missing the point that there is joy in giving. And there is nothing to be proud of in bullying people into seeing things my way. And the universe sent me a 4 year old to teach me that lesson.

    This year… we are using our talents to make gifts. Crafts, homemade foods, framed pictures, and posters with 6 year old handprints and glitter paintings. All wrapped up in love and thoughtfulness and family traditions.

  5. Steve Piacente says:

    i look forward to hearing a mix of opinions on this post!

  6. Monica says:

    I took a course recently on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and there was a habit called “win-win” that I thought about while reading this. Often we know what we want–what our “win” looks like, but we never take time to reflect on what another person’s “win” would look like. When we kind of step through that exercise for all parties involved, it can open paths we had not considered before. I think you can either do this by yourself by kind of guessing what a “win” would look like for Christmas for each family member or you can actually have each person spell it out. Then the key is to get away from the “I win so you lose” mentality and really get to the heart of everyone’s interests instead of their positions. Thanks for the thought provoking article, and I hope that you all find a way to have a very merry Christmas!

  7. Steve Piacente says:

    Colleen, when circumstances get that complicated, I wonder if it might not be a good idea to get everyone around the table and hash it out. Guilt shouldn’t be the motivation to get together. Thanks for sharing and I hope you all reach some happy compromise.

  8. Steve Piacente says:

    Dean, appreciate you weighing in. Sounds like you’ve figured out what works best in your situation. When life gets messy, someone has to take charge and figure out Plan B. It’s never ideal, but we work with the hand we’re dealt.

  9. Steve Piacente says:

    Anonymous, thanks first for a beautifully written response. Kudos as well for being big enough to acknowledge you went off course a bit. And how nice that it was your little niece who helped guide you back. Love the way you resolved it, and am predicting this will be a wonderful holiday season for you and your family!

  10. Diana Hockley says:

    We no longer buy things for each other as we all have far too much material objects in our lives. Instead my husband and I buy online items from the animal charities – SPANA in particular.

    This UK charity looks after donkey, horses and other animals in the Middle East and India. They employ local women to make doughnut padding to go under the back harness for horses and donkeys, bridles and proper bits for their soft mouths. They make rugs and other harness and the charity’s trucks take technical works out to the rural areas and markets to give clinics for animals who are wounded or ill and dental treatment, hoof trimming etc. Not only does this give employment to local people but is the first line of defence in animal welfare.

    They run educational clinics for owners and have children’s groups where children are taught to care about and for the animals they have. The family’s only means of income is frequently a single donkey or horse, so this animal will be worked every day with no breaks. We usually spend about two hundred English pounds which helps tremendously.

    We get a lot of satisfaction by doing this, and we certainly don’t miss material things. Christmas is a time for family to gather and catch up and I abhor the commercial interests which start bullying everyone as early as September. By the time Christmas comes, we are all exhausted and many of us would rather not have it. That is a great pity as the spirit of Christmas is being eroded, but it’s up to us to get it back.

  11. Felicia says:

    Like the Grinch (as in ‘Who Stole Christmas’) I’ve learned that what’s really important about the holidays is being with those you love. If we remove the tree, gifts, and all the drama–at the heart it’s plain and simple. We used to ask my mother what she wanted for Christmas, and every year she’d say, “Good Will.” It became a family joke, and we’d laugh at her, but I think she was onto something. As a wine-lover I’ll add to that; all I want is good will and good cheer–with good peeps.

  12. Claire says:

    This is a really thoughtful post. Because I don’t have children, I’ve not actually thought about it from this perspective. Nonetheless, it makes me sad that the holidays seem to be so commercial now. And, my family is so spread out that we often don’t all make it back for them. My sister converted to Judaism so, that makes the whole holiday a little different.

    We’ve decided to pick one holiday: Thanksgiving. That seems to work. Food, wine and festivities!

  13. Steve Piacente says:

    Felicia, thanks for your comment. Just a guess, but I’m feeling like you will enjoy more than goodwill this holiday season.

  14. Steve Piacente says:

    Monica, it’s hard to argue with win-win. Thanks for weighing in, and for adding a perspective I haven’t seen here yet. Awesome!

  15. Steve Piacente says:

    Diana, I’m with you! We have enabled the advertisers by lining up at the stores the moment Thanksgiving is over. Love the way you’ve found an alternate (and worthy) cause that I’m sure returns you and your family to the real spirit of the holiday season. Thanks for your comments.

  16. Steve Piacente says:

    Claire, kudos to you for figuring out a solution that works for everyone. Some situations are complicated because of geography, others get sticky because family members have a different perspective on the “right” way to celebrate. Appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us here…

  17. ToffeeBrown says:

    My big sister, who loves Christmas is rebelling against my “no adult gifts, just kids” suggestion and opting out of Christmas day to get together the day after. The suggestion came this summer so I am not sure how Winter will actually pan out but she LOVES Christmas. However, at 50 she has two grands and a older son who has a girlfriend that comes to all events etc. It get’s really expensive. Then you have my mom, her husband, any family they squeeze in, they our family of 5 my husbands family of 25 and it goes on and on and on. Then you have those who secretly do a gift comparison implying someone is loved more? That’s a whole other discussion. I think if we can reduce the cost of Christmas and make it about the intended historical purpose the warm and fuzzies would come rushing back. Does anyone remember why we celebrate Christmas in this country anymore…perhaps your next article should be a history lesson professor! Purpose, process, outcome…

  18. Steve Piacente says:

    I like your proposed path back to the “warm and fuzzies,” ToffeeBrown. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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