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Don't Hate Yourself for Hating the Holidays

No, you're not a willful killjoy or a sacrilegious beast.

Key points

  • Shunning popular and ostensibly cheerful celebrations feels disobedient and punishment-worthy.
  • Hatred is almost never a deliberate choice but rather a coalescence of many factors within us.
  • With their increased social, financial, and other expectations, holidays are a virtual trigger bouquet whose pain we turn upon ourselves.
  • Feeling observed and judged by others while performing holiday traditions prompts us to—even more than usual—observe and judge ourselves.

We "aren't allowed" to hate the holidays.

This nope-don't-hate-me message infuses holiday iconography, social and spiritual rituals, clothes, cards, cuisine, and songs. They're all encoded—sometimes literally emblazoned—with such potent words as "love," "joy," "merry," "happy," "hope," and "peace." They depict dazzling light.

Only a monster could hate that.

Or so we tell ourselves and/or are told.

Hating the holidays can happen for any of twenty thousand reasons, some of which we will discuss below. But in this crowded, watchful, fiercely extroverted world where divergence is judged, it feels like disobedience.

Dreading the gift exchange or cringing over carols feels like refusing to eat our peas or fold our clothes. When wood-and-wire angels bearing hope-and-love scrolls make us want to weep, we expect punishment.

We tell ourselves—or are told by others if we dare to share—that hating holidays is disrespectful, unappreciative, unholy, ungrateful, pretentious, different-for-the-sake-of-difference, nasty, cheap. We tell ourselves—or are told by others—that we will regret our drama-queeny pointless malice someday when we are destitute, friendless, ill.

Hearing—or thinking—such unempathic vitriol might make us hate ourselves.

We ask: Why can't I be a normal person who absorbs good wishes graciously and celebrates the same things others do?

But hatred—and love, for that matter—are seldom a voluntary choice. Love and hate coalesce inside us based on countless fragments, moments, memories, associations, even—studies show—our DNA.

And hatred isn't fun. It's at best inconvenient and uncomfortable, but mainly frustrating, infuriating, isolating, fear-inducing, time-consuming. Few would choose those physical or mental costs.

Hating the holidays does not define you as a mean contrarian, a deliberate Scroogey killjoy, or a selfish beast. Instead, it almost surely springs from certain aspects—maybe just one aspect!—of how holidays are represented or presented in the world at large or in your culture, city, family, or home. These aspects might be unrelated to the holiday's intrinsic or alleged meaning but are painful—even hidden—triggers nonetheless.

Consider these eight reasons why holidays might "make us hate them."

They're among those twenty thousand facts and factors which are neither our fault nor the holidays', but simply touch us in tough places... every year.

1. Holidays make us ashamed of what we want and how much we want it.

Assembling "gift lists" deepens our desire for things material and immaterial; questioning whether we deserve such things is painful, whether they arrive or not.

2. Holidays make us feel fake.

Well, not the holidays themselves, but their often-exaggerated aura of cheer, awe, and piety. Going through the motions only to please others or "seem normal" can make us feel like liars, robots, ghosts.

3. Holidays won't leave us alone.

Literally. Because this is a crowded, mainly extroverted world. And if you're an introvert or have social anxiety, being intensely pressured to socially engage can make the holiday season excruciating.

4. Holidays make us eat—often a lot—while being watched.

For those with eating disorders or body issues, even mere exposure to huge quantities of rich food can be incredibly stressful and can destabilize the healing process.

5. Holidays encourage us to drink.

And spend, and obsess, and do other things we strive all year to manage and control. This can spike our anxiety, dread, shame, and regret into overdrive.

6. Holidays make us perform.

Even if we genuinely "feel the spirit," we are on display—during religious rituals, entertaining or accepting hospitality, exchanging gifts. Those watching us are often those who have judged us since infancy.

7. Holiday iconography—all that alleged hope and joy—seems hypocritical to us.

In a bitter, divided, distressed world, such messages can make us feel angry, frustrated, and sad.

8. Holidays force before-and-after comparisons.

With their annual sameness, holidays remind us glaringly of what we've lost: health, loved ones, homes... Yes, holidays can also spotlight what we've won, but their exaggerated brightness has a special way of prompting painful ironies.

So no, you're not a sacrilegious brute. You're not a statue or a spoiled brat. You're someone who is perhaps struggling with deep issues or history which certain details in the holiday scenario rip wide-open and raw.

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