I Hate Christmas: a Mom’s Uncensored View of the Holidays

Mom’s are supposed to be kind, supportive, and loving. That’s probably what got me into the mess of becoming a Christmas hater. There. I said it, I’m a mom and I hate Christmas.

You’re probably thinking this is no big surprise. I do, after all, run a website called GiftGivingSucks.com. Let’s be clear, I am not the Grinch (although I usually have to play the bad guy in this mom/dad marriage thing).

Today, I want to have the conversation with other parents and get us all back to the true meaning of Christmas. Let’s get right to the point. These are very specific reasons why I hate Christmas. It might not be everyone’s reason to hate the holidays, but hey – they’re valid.

Don’t miss all of the articles in the Christmas Well-Being series:

Christmas has to be perfect

*Sigh* Aren’t we all guilty of thinking that Christmas has to be perfect? Cheers to you if you have released some of that holiday perfection. Let’s talk about that…

As moms, it often falls on us to keep all aspects of Christmas magical. Childhood is brief (it probably doesn’t seem like it at the time). If we screw it up, there isn’t a do-over. The Christmas you make is the one your kids remember for a lifetime. Christmas pressure is on!

A middle-age caucasion woman decorating a Christmas tree.
There is the picture of the perfect Christmas in our heads… and then there’s reality.

A perfect Christmas comes in the form of:

  • baking holiday treats
  • take a family holiday photo
  • sending out Xmas cards
  • buying the perfect Christmas gifts
  • decorating the house (and outside for some of us)
  • participating in Christmas programs
  • thinking of others
  • Christmas parties
  • getting dressed up for the holidays
  • attending Christmas services
  • watching holiday movies
  • keeping holiday traditions alive
Caucasion man with hands over face, santa claus hat on head, with Christmas tree and decorations in the background.
Does your husband hate Christmas, too?

You tried, and now come to the conclusion that Christmas sucks. You’re trying to do “all the things” and realize it physically can’t be done. Some of us are slow learners, or have amnesia, and will attempt to do it again the following year.

What’s a mom to do?

OK, did you really read that list? I don’t think we realize the insanity of fitting all of this in a 30-40 day window. #keepingitreal

Shifting the vision of a perfect holiday

They don’t call them “Christmas traditions” for nothin’! Traditions come every year, and they are the foundation for happy memories and preserving our cultural fabric.

My advice is to really think about when a tradition needs to be kept, and when it needs to ride into the sunset.

I recently discovered a movie called “The Cheaters.” This 1945 movie was re-released in 1949 as The Castaway. The comments on Youtube were full of people leaving remarks about loving the movie and how great the movie set was. One person left a comment that the movie was a regular film at Christmas on TV in the USA all through the 1950s to the 1970s. What? Why have I never heard of this movie before?

African American family watching a Christmas movie.
On the Christmas hater’s list: dislike of Christmas movies, Christmas songs, and Christmas lights.

Although it was before my time, many other people left comments that they had never heard of the movie. I just had to watch it (hoping to discover a Christmas gem), so I parked myself down to soak in the 1940s holiday movie.

I wasn’t wowed (sorry, just wasn’t), it didn’t live up to the hype in the comments. This is a prime example of a Christmas tradition that became outdated, eventually being replaced by more current holiday movie favorites.

On the other hand, The Bishop’s Wife (1947) with Carey Grant is a charming holiday movie to rival “It’s a Wonderful Life” with James Stewart. I now watch it every year.

Christmas traditions worth keeping

When I grew up, I pretty much didn’t have a Christmas. Santa came, of course, but a typical family interacting, having a meal, exchanging presents, didn’t happen in the core family.

The emphasis was going to grandma and grandpa’s house on Christmas Eve (that was what Christmas meant to me). Years later, when the grandparents had passed, my immediate family made awkward attempts to establish Christmas.

It was awkward because we had nothing to fall back on, no history. My parents weren’t very good, either, at talking with us, talking about Christmas past, answering questions, reading Christmas stories. It never really took off and the family became disconnected.

Family gathered for a Christmas meal.
Christmas meals are full of traditions.

Remember, folks, some of that Christmas “hassle” is worth it. God bless all the moms and dads who have tried their best to make Christmas nice for their family. It pays off later. Early on, my husband and I laid claim to Christmas Eve (and told everyone to back off). We began our decades-long project to build Christmas memories for my kids.

What’s the holiday tradition I hold onto? A gorgeous holiday table, with real China plates and crystal. No shortcuts here.

-GiftGivingSucks.com

I feel the love in the house when the kids are home. Each one takes a lead, saying, “do you remember to hang this up? We just have to, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it!”

As my kids get married, we understand that they need to start their own traditions. We know the clock is ticking and that a Christmas Eve all together may not always be possible. As I said to my husband, “we had a good run!”

Fisheye view of overly-excited woman with santa hat on holding a present.
People can get a little squirrelly during the holidays – it’s only temporary – for some of us.

More to hate about Christmas: family

I haven’t even mentioned the family challenges that make the holiday season even more of a drag.

Remember cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? The message: you can’t pick your relatives. I find it startling that my siblings and I grew up in the same family and have very different ideas about Christmas gifts.

Let’s just say one sibling was on the Grandma Shopaholic team, and I was not. Wading through childhood baggage and different opinions is a part that come with Christmas.

My heart goes out to the divorced parents trying to figure holidays out. Then there’s the division of buying gifts for the children (or is it buying the kids off?). Or how about traveling over Christmas (by the way, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is my favorite holiday movie!).

Anyone out there have a husband or partner that doesn’t help with Christmas? It happens. We all can’t be married to Clark from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. All though, I will say that my niece and her husband are the poster children for the merriest Christmas couple (they decided to watch Christmas movies well into January).

Even if we have built a successful tradition of Christmas, our season of life can change. Some of us may be dealing with Christmas grief after losing a loved one. I’m just simply annoyed with the holidays, but others are really struggling emotionally at Christmas.

Grumpy French bulldog dressed in reindeer antlers in front of a Christmas tree with presents underneath.
It’s OK to be grumpy at Christmas.

Christmas programs, despise or love them?

Christmas programs come in many sizes and shapes. For me, attending the kids’ holiday Christmas concert was non-negotiable. It’s hard not to want to grimace at yet another holiday comittment, another date eating up the calendar.

I’m a Christmas progam veteran of many years. Judging by the high-water pants, girls wearing a blouse that suspiciously looks like mom’s, and sneakers matched up with suits, I’d say that there is no greater stress than getting a kid dressed for a Christmas concert.

I won’t complain about the rushing to get everyone in the car and to the concert on time. The truth is, sitting in that auditorium for an hour is probably the quietest one I’ll get in the last thirty days.

Four girls dressed in ballet outfits on stage for a Christmas performance.
A kid’s Christmas program can bring unexpected surprises.

The kids have worked hard, and they really do get something out of the Christmas programs. At least that’s what I gather when the stories come out years later, hearing about the shenanigans I didn’t know were going on behind the curtain!

Church Christmas programs are another beast. I might be an adult, but my eye-rolling has stood the test of time. Having kids take days of class time for practice is the biggest waste of time I have ever seen.

One year, the faith formation leader decided to do a “fun night” instead, filled with reading stories about the baby Jesus and making Christmas-themed activities. My kids got more out of that one night than years of Sunday school.

But… one old grouch complained that it was tradition to have a Christmas program in the church. No matter the many compliments and cheers the faith formation leader received, we went back to “tradition” – well, poop on tradition!

A house with Christmas lights and lighted decorations on the front lawn.
Whether you hate Christmas tree lights, your neighbor’s Christmas lights, or drive-through light displays, there are plenty of Christmas light opportunities for grinches to despise.

Those plays took up another precious Sunday afternoon for mom, dads, and other relatives in the peak of December – free time rarer than a reindeer siting. You might think that I am totally missing the true meaning of Christmas, but I’m a realist.

I just talked to a mom in another town, and their church also started Christmas fun nights in lieu of Christmas plays. They’re twenty years behind the concept, but kudos to the next generation to shake out the ill-thought out ideas from the past.

Retail Christmas, haters unite!

Did you ever stop to think about the UPS and FedEX delivery people, and the store clerks in department stores at Christmas? You think I hate Christmas, have a talk with them!

I, myself, am one of those Christmas employees, working November through December for a holiday lights show that benefits my nonprofit employer. I’m an old dog here. In the beginning we were required to work 5-6 nights a week (along with our regular job).

Two men wrapping gifts in a retail location during the holidays.
Some people in retail and delivery hate Christmas because of the extra work and stress it brings to their job.

I can only describe the extra holiday work as feeling like I was drowning. Here I was, the matriarch of the family, making sure the gifts were bought, sending out Christmas cards, taking care of Sunday school, coming up with cousin gift exchanges, decorating the house, grocery shopping for a feast, and more.

It was damn near impossible.

This is what really killed Christmas for me, and after a couple of seasons, the Christmas spirit was gone. I just wanted Christmas to be over – I was going through the motions, but the magic wasn’t there anymore.

When I set boundaries at work, and let some Christmas details slide, my holiday mental health was restored.

-GiftGivingSucks.com

via GIPHY

I became a Christmas hater, joining the ranks of other Christmas haters. Just for fun, let’s see whose good Christmas hater company I’m in:

Christmas gift exchanges – where did we go wrong?

We all have different Christmas values (and some “value” has to do with money). I firmly believe that our Christmas values are shaped by the people we grew up with.

My mother believed that Christmas meant shopping in a region as large as the tri-state area. I look back on it now, and realize she had a bit of a shopping addiction. Christmas gifts received meant presents she liked, not me. It meant Christmas baubles and junk that I didn’t need or want. It meant presents that produced a big “wow” factor (for her benefit).

Christmas tree with presents underneath.
Too many gifts at Christmas!

Let’s “unwrap” this. My mom had lost most of her childhood possessions in a house fire when she was a child. She was also the youngest, displaying obvious indications of being spoiled. She grew up in a privileged home compared to many of her peers. Honestly, she seemed to be a little out of touch with reality.

Fast forward to grandkids (and pulling off that awkward Christmas I talked about earlier). Gifts became an Olympic event, spreading out yards beyond the Christmas tree. Grandma even made her grandkids give her lists of what they wanted. Gifts were extravagant. Grandma was taking the place of Santa, and I wouldn’t have it.

I refused to turn in a Christmas list, but no problem. Mom just gave everyone the same thing that was on the one sibling’s list on team Grandma Shopaholic. Hmm, she seemed to always get what she wanted for Christmas. What I was going to do with an air popcorn popper, I can’t tell you.

Grandma making Christmas cookies with her granddaughter.
Build Christmas memories – make some Christmas cookies with the kids or grandkids.

Eventually, I had a talk with both sets of grandparents that the gifting had to be scaled back. Outdoing the parents was just not right. I even gave back a massive LEGO set, much to the dismay of my children.

I encouraged the grandparents to give the gift of time, like making cookies with their grandkids. We’re all in this together, to help the next generation learn the true meaning of Christmas. All I can say, is one grandma got it, the other did not. The grandma who got it left her grandkids with memories they talk about to this day.

What confuses me is the misalignment with the grandparents’ attitude today, and the limited budget they grew up with. They had mentioned only receiving an orange in a Christmas stocking growing up and maybe some coins. Now, they think an excessive Christmas is normal. I blame the rise of access to cheap toys in the 1970s, and the perfection of aggressive marketing and consumerism, leading to uncontrollable impulse shopping.

Mom decorating a gingerbread house with her kids.
Gingerbread houses from kits never look like the picture on the box.

Now I’m the grandma. Walking in my parents’ shoes, I understand how they want to hit a home run at Christmas. But you know what? There is plenty of positive holiday activities to share in.

I have good communication with my children and let them know what I am planning on giving to their kids. There aren’t a lot of presents under my tree, but just the right amount. Christmas gifts are about surprises, I realize that now.

My kids want to be part of the giving, and have the fun of receiving. The gifts were chosen for each person for a reason unique to them. The gift giving experiences I had as a child were coming from the wrong place, and left me feeling sad and angry.

The Christmas I have now is joyful, acknowledging each person at the holiday table. It sounds like a good ending to a Christmas story, but I now know the meaning of Christmas and look forward to it.

via GIPHY

Christmas gifts ARE Christmas

My family, like most families, migrated to gift exchanges. Not being made of money, a Christmas exchange with a budget made sense.

Regarding family gift exchanges, when it get’s to the point of exchanging money or gift cards, it becomes a problem. What’s the point of standing up, walking across the room and exchanging gift cards?

On the other hand, my idea of what a White Elephant gift exchange was, is a very different concept of what my relatives’ idea was. Needless to say, I came out looking like a cheapskate – for a gift exchange intended for frugalness!

Your kids might have experienced a class gift exchange – yeah, these don’t work real well. It’s just one kid exchanging Christmas junk with another kid. One year, my 8th grade female classmates got a bit greedy. We thought we should exchange with all the girls.

I figured my budget allowed enough to get one jumbo stick of candy cane for each. I’m sure we all realized that was a dumb idea when the limited gifts rolled in.

Caucasion brother and sister opening presents at Christmas.
A mom’s greatest Christmas fear – will the kids like their presents?

As a mom, I moved into the role of chief buyer of gifts for teachers (that included the piano teachers, Sunday School teachers, and bus drivers). I didn’t relish the role, but I tried my best to thank these admirable people through an appreciative gift. I’ve heard through good account that teachers just want Amazon gift cards. That would have made my life easier.

Kids don’t care about gifts for their teachers. However, they do want to tag along to pick out a gift for a friend, cousin, or family member. I am admittedly not good at math, but 3 kids x 3 shopping outings = stinks. Sure, I don’t have to do three separate outings, but the chances of them all making one outing work isn’t great.

It usually resulted in me picking out a gift, buying it, bringing it home, and then seeing if they approved. I ask you, is having someone else buy your Christmas present for someone else really in the spirit of buying Christmas presents? I thought not.

Honesty time. Because of the whole ethical thing of buying Christmas presents, I encouraged my kids not to exchange them between themselves. I thought I was doing them (and me) a favor.

Well, joke’s on me. The best Christmas we ever had was my kids making secret Christmas gifts for each sibling and mom and dad. BEST CHRISTMAS EVER. I cried, I laughed, memories were made that Christmas Eve night.

I hang my head in my own shame as my kids (now young adults) lovingly produce thoughtful Christmas gifts for each other. As I wallow in past decisions, my husband would be the first to say, “You raised good kids!”

The gift wrap up

Let me just say that I really do love my mom (in heaven). She did the best with what she had, a time before Internet shopping. I’ve also come to realize that I have a problem with being pretty judgmental (I notice that in the short-sightedness of the 20 and 30-something age group).

When we hit the 40 and 50-somethings, fingers start to get pointed at us, and it’s not so fun. All of a sudden, we find ourselves in our parents’ shoes, and it becomes easier to be more forgiving of their behavior.

I hope I have grown enough to view the world from others’ holiday perspective, and not just my own tiny mountain. The fact is, parenthood is a blur and Christmas is hard.

Let a few things go and try to build traditions for your kids that they will always remember – it’s the best Christmas gift you can give.

-Keeping it real, Renee

Renee Cavvy
Renee Cavvy

Renee pulls no punches when it comes to challenging the social norms of gift giving. Her mission: putting an end to meaningless gifts and cutting through the fluff. This midwest mom offers novel and creative ideas to do gift giving better!