Seasonal Hazards
December 16, 2015 2:10 PM   Subscribe

The holiday season is especially stressful for women. In rare occasions, that stress plus bad luck may actually contribute to heart problems. “We have seen more than a few cases of stress-induced cardiomyopathy around the holidays,” said Dr. Karla Kurrelmeyer, a cardiologist with Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center. “This occurs when women are under great amounts of stress for a short period of time and that stress is compounded with another traumatic event ... If it is ignored it can be fatal.” Yikes! Of course, men are hardly immune to seasonal hazards. In Canada (and elsewhere), men are the primary victims of Christmas décor trauma. Here's a brief guide to common holiday horrors and tips for staying safe and sane.

There are holiday dangers galore. In the UK, some 80,000 people a year need hospital treatment for Christmas-related injuries, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. US emergency rooms saw 15,000 decorating injuries in November and December 2012, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The injuries were primarily falls (34%), lacerations (11%), and back strains (10%). Fires caused injuries as well. Between 2009 and 2011, there were “an average of 200 fires in which the Christmas tree was the first item ignited. These incidents resulted in 10 deaths, 20 injuries and $16 million in property loss.” Candle-related fires during that period caused an estimated “70 deaths, 680 injuries and $308 million in property loss.” Read the 2014 CPSC release for more statistics and safety tips.

Given the dangers of the season, it’s wise to take special care to protect children, pets, and the elderly. To travel safely (oddly, New Year’s Day is especially deadly to pedestrians). To avoid food poisoning. To practice self-care. To practice compassion and acceptance for yourself and others when the inevitable holiday squabbles surface. And to avoid trendy gifts that might brighten your holidays in a new and unexpected manner.

In short, avoid dodgy ladders, dodgy food, dodgy relatives, and dodgy gifts to stay safe and sane. Breathe. Sleep well. Be selfish. And if it’s too late for that, have a drink or go for a walk and save this posting for next year. Happy holidays!
posted by Bella Donna (64 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
The holiday season is especially stressful for women.

Well, duh.

Effing hate the holidays when I give trinket gifts to my co-workers and they give me trinket gifts in return. Because they all get their wives to do the trinket shopping. All that emotional labor, yet again.
posted by Melismata at 2:42 PM on December 16, 2015 [12 favorites]

Saying "No" to the Christmas Imperative might make the holidays more cheerful for a whole lot of folks. It's not that simple, of course. But it might be saner.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:45 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Well, duh is about right. Still, I had no idea some women had the misfortune to develop a deadly heart condition when traumatic events added to their regular, over-the-top holiday stress. Apparently some folks have cancelled Christmas, which I wish I'd thought to do years ago.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:00 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

The holidays are canceled at my house due to multiple family crises arising all at once, and in a moment of weakness I found myself becoming really grumpy about it before I realized how much more upset my mom must be because she is emotionally and physically responsible for Christmas and Hanukkah and loves it even though it takes everything she has from her every year. We don't have a tree up right now because my mom handles that and this year she's too depressed to tell us where stuff is so we can do all the decorating instead. I don't think we'll even recognize any of the holidays we usually celebrate in the winter for a while because she fundamentally can't do it. I never realized until now that she always bears the burden of other relatives' holiday related stresses and meltdowns. I am praying that she will not have a heart attack this year as a result. Thank god she and my dad eschewed holiday cards over a decade ago or else I think she'd have gone over the edge already.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:11 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's a Big Lots commercial that's been playing over and over for the past month now where some happy ladies dance around a spangled living room singing a song with the words "Christmas doesn't happen without me!" over and over. It's a 30 second musical tribute glorifying emotional labor and every time I see it I die a little inside.

There is SO much pressure to care about Christmas. I've been guilted about it for years, to the point where even though I do pretty much fuck all I end up zitty and sick to my stomach for the week prior. My brother and I were finally able to convince my mom last year to dial it back (not that Capital C Christmas is a big deal to my mom, but she feels put upon to make things Christmassy, too) after years of pleading. I think we had two full days last year where "dinner" was "we have 5 different cheeses and 7 different types of pickles, you pick your own crackers" and we all just sat around playing cards and watching the dogs play. It was wonderful. Highly recommended. This year I'm actually looking forward to going home.
posted by phunniemee at 3:13 PM on December 16, 2015 [29 favorites]

We cancelled Christmas 2 years ago and it's been delightful since then. We buy a gift for each of the grandchildren, and everyone else gets treats, homemade beef jerky & baked goods. It's made for relaxing and fun holidays for us, and for everyone else too because they know they don't have to get us anything but fancy candy - we're old, and we're hard to buy for, and we're tired of owning so much stuff. (Last year my daughter-in-law gave me a case of double-smoked bacon - my god that girl knows me well.)
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 3:19 PM on December 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

God, I am not looking forward to this holiday season. I'm going to be driving 16 hours to visit my parents and sisters with my partner, who is in full-on bitch eating crackers mode at my mother. (This mode being not undeserved; my parents can be Difficult.) I am dreading mediating.

Plus finances are stressful and literally everyone but the thirteen year old makes more than us and I feel compelled to compete based on gifts. And I feel bad about not getting presents for friends and family far away so we've been baking cookies non stop to send them for weeks, and as a result the apartment is a wreck. I'm not even pretending to decorate and it's only the 16th and I'm already exhausted, probably because my Novembers and early Decembers always mix massive amounts of finals grading with emotionally stressful holiday breaks. Who came up with that?

Also we're combining holidays with wedding planning and bridesmaid fittings because of course we are.
posted by sciatrix at 3:32 PM on December 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

Basically, I am really wishing I could cancel the holidays without receiving an enormous mountain of grief from my entire family AND my partner's nonstop angry grouching about the fact that the holidays are here. To their credit they are helping with almost everything so I don't feel like I can respond to the complaints, but my god the whole thing is fraught with emotional labor and stress.

And people wonder why I don't look forward to holidays.
posted by sciatrix at 3:35 PM on December 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

I just saw this in a friend's facebook feed -- sums it up nicely.
posted by Mchelly at 3:48 PM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh phunniemee, your holiday sounds perfect. Kudos, Mary Ellen Carter for cancelling Christmas. And sciatrix, so sorry to hear about your situation, which sounds miserable. My sister is the single mom of a 20-year-old son living at home while going to community college. Normally she goes all out on Christmas. This year she said to her son, "Is it okay if we don't have a tree this year and go out for Dim Sum for dinner?" And he was all, "sure!" So she put lights on a houseplant, bought a poinsettia and then called it a day. I'm visiting my dad out of state. He doesn't care about holidays. So I'm lucky, I can be selfish and go to a movie alone on Christmas, get take out for us, etc. I'm packing my bowling shoes (I'm bad but enjoy it) for the trip and making a vacation schedule for myself so visiting my dad feels at least 50% vacation-like instead of the usual 100% burdensome (because dutiful daughter sacrificing for awful dad, yadda yadda). It's a nice change from my usual thinking. Hope it actually works out.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:48 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

My mom died when I was in college which basically threw all our Christmas traditions out the window. Since then it's been harder to get any routine, partially because my dad's remarried and he ends up doing stuff with his wife and her family (which I understand, but his particular implementation sometimes drives us crazy), and partially because my five older siblings' all have kids and that makes it harder and more expensive to travel (and the kids are worried Santa won't make it to grandpa's house...).

I've started flying to my girlfriends' family Christmas earlier and earlier every year because, while they have their own dysfunctional holiday drama, I don't have to compare it to the idealized Christmases of my youth.
posted by dismas at 3:51 PM on December 16, 2015

My partner had the frigging gall this morning to snark at me "I'm doing the christmas shopping for you" because I got frustrated that apparently a picture of list and the verbal reminder 'don't worry about these non-gift things' was making it 'hard' for him.

I looked at him dead eyed and pointed out that these are gifts from our family to children on his side of the family and people he wants to get gifts for and this is not my fucking job.

Oh but I am SO much of a grinch.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:11 PM on December 16, 2015 [28 favorites]

I have found this manual full of interesting (though not always terribly useful) advice for the holidays.
posted by zakur at 4:29 PM on December 16, 2015

This basically made me realize that I bless my mom so much for putting her foot down on emotional labor during the holidays. To this day, I still do not enjoy sending out holiday cards, buying trinkets, or attending parties. I only make that effort for my closest friends, and even then, I would buy them extremely nice gifts that I know they would want. No cards!
posted by yueliang at 4:47 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hmm, reading all this is making me glad I managed to escape the majority of women-of-the-household-sets-up-perfect-Christmas holiday crap. My non-Christian family still tried to celebrate it for me and my brother when we were kids so that we wouldn't feel left out, but it abruptly ended once I learned that we were, in fact, not actually Christians (confusing signals there with the tree, menorah and Buddhist shrine sitting next to each other in the living room!), at which point 11-year-old me was like "mehhh, do we really have to do all this tree & presents stuff? This feels weird. Let's just not."
posted by picklenickle at 5:13 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is my weekend coming up:


30 hours of my life I'll never get back. Fortunately by some miracle only 4.5 hours of that is layover.

But I guess that comes from living near the antipode of where you come from. -_-
posted by Talez at 5:28 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I spent the afternoon wrapping ENDLESS presents from my mother-in-law to my kids -- she sends them unwrapped and with a note tucked in that says, "Thanks for wrapping! ;)" that makes me want to strangle the emoticon -- and working myself into an absolute frenzy of upset, because she sends RIDICULOUS quantities of gifts, a quantity that I feel would be appropriate for my children to receive from ALL RELATIVES IN THEIR LIVES PLUS SANTA, and I grew up with kind-of extravagant Christmases so I'm not suggesting the pile of crap under the tree should be any smaller than Scrooge MacDuck's swimming pool of money or anything. We do not have the SPACE, my kids end up not playing with half of it because they just get TOO MUCH STUFF, and it's starting to cause conflicts with my family because there's nothing left for them to buy. The past couple of years my husband and I have had to not buy things for our kids that we wanted to buy them, because it was just such an overwhelming avalanche from her. (And this is leaving aside that, given the quantity of stuff she sends, a certain amount of it is not age-appropriate, or appropriate at all, which I guess makes it good that she sends it unwrapped so I can filter it.)

Every attempt to address this fails -- "Maybe you could send one big, expensive thing and one small thing, instead of 4200 little plastic pieces of crap?" "BUT KIDS NEED LOTS OF BOXES TO OPEN." "Okay, maybe you could send a couple of bigger presents that they really want, and then a bunch of boxes of cookies and candy and other consumables? Or maybe crayons and coloring books and art supplies?" "But they need TOYS!" -- and usually ends with her in tears. And she spends the whole month running up to Christmas texting us 47 times a day about whether boxes have arrived because she does not trust the post office, to the point where we suggested she just tell us what she wants to give them and we go buy it locally so she doesn't have to ship it, but no, that's not how she wants to do it, but she ends up in a BLIND PANIC about whether the post office (or UPS, or Fed Ex) is delivering. Like honestly I'm afraid she's going to have a stroke from the stress. It is difficult to convey how stressful she finds shipping, but it is not unusual for us to get 12 panicked texts in an hour about it. ("No, the mailman hasn't come yet. He hasn't come yet. No, we've never had anything stolen off our front porch in 12 years. He knows I'm at home in the afternoons and he knocks with packages. I will text you as soon as he comes. I promise. No, I know it wasn't stolen, I've been home all day. MIL, he doesn't come until 2 p.m. and it is not even noon yet. I will text you as soon as he comes! If it's been stolen you just click one button to file a claim with amazon, it's not a big deal! No, he just hasn't come yet!" I realize that responding to her panic isn't really helping, but if I don't, she starts calling my husband over and over and over at work, and then it rapidly escalates into "not just a family problem.") And it is just MADDENING. The whole thing drives me crazy. It adds so much unneeded stress to the holidays -- for her and for us -- and it's so disrespectful of our parenting and it just -- ARGH.

(She also sends them stupidly ugly T-shirts -- three each this year -- that they do not want to wear because they are stupidly ugly and may have been slightly cool in 1980 but ARE DEFINITELY NOT NOW (this sort of design), and the fabric is low-quality and itchy and sometimes the dyes run in the wash and my older son has to wear a uniform to school so he BARELY WEARS T-shirts anymore, but no attempts to get this information to register have worked. Maybe I could make you a list of T-shirts they like? Maybe you could get older son some polos of the type that he prefers for school? You know, they're really outgrowing them before they get much wear out of them ... they fall apart in the wash ... I'm afraid to wash them after they dyed everyone's clothes pink ... NOTHING HELPS. ENDLESS PARADE OF UGLY SHIRTS. I realize this is the first worldiest problem that ever first worlded, but they are SO UGLY and just another part of the panorama of needlessly stressful gifts.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:48 PM on December 16, 2015 [31 favorites]

I absolutely love Christmas, and it is one area in which I happily exert an enormous amount of emotional labor. That said, I've had a wave of stress each day this last week because we keep getting these beautifully composed holiday photocards from our friends. I feel like a shitty friend/woman/person because I haven't sent anything out this year and wonder if we'll get crossed off people's lists next year. This is particularly ridiculous because I am nursing my 8 week old baby as I type; an 8 week old who has only in the last few days been a semblance of a future human instead of an evil combination of screaming banshee/coma victim. There is NO WAY I could have possibly gotten her and my rambunctious 2 year old to sit together for any kind of photograph except maybe a poster advocating for birth control. My brain recognizes this, and knows that a rational person wouldn't expect someone with a new baby to do fancy holiday cards... but my heart knows that these stupid cards are simply the Done Thing, so in at least this small way I've failed as a modern mom. Sigh.
posted by gatorae at 5:57 PM on December 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

Gent: "I suppose we'll have to start sending Christmas cards at some point."
Me: "OK, I'll take care of my family and you take care of yours."
Gent: *long pause*
Both: *maniacal laughter*
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 6:15 PM on December 16, 2015 [11 favorites]

/reads Eyebrows's comment, drowns in waves of relief for having decided against kids, because of equal parts no-craving-to-have-kids, and intractably-clueless-mother-in-law issues

Small potatoes compared to y'all, but ... Yesterday I left a small stack of Christmas cards on my husband's desk for him to pick out a card to send to the daughter of a former girlfriend of his. We haven't seen either of them since moving across the country several years ago, but we send the daughter birthday and Christmas cards, with checks in them for their local animal shelter. Until about two years ago, I always wrote up the cards, getting him to just sign his name. Then I started to try suggesting that he do it. When I suggest it, he takes it on. It means that the cards sometimes arrive a week or several weeks belatedly, but that's not my problem. If the former gf has a problem with it, she can address it to him.

So yesterday, he said, "This one would be excellent for her!" and held his chosen card out to me.

I looked at him. My hands stayed where they were.

Long pause. "Oh," he says. I can see the gears turning in his head. He's recollecting my ranting about the emotional labour thread, and his hearty agreements about how shitty it is for men take it for granted that their women will do their relational work. "Oh. Right." He puts the card back down on his desk.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:34 PM on December 16, 2015 [35 favorites]

This year, I waited too long to find a good place to leave our critters, so I'm staying home while Man and Boy go to Man's gianormous family gathering. I still have to do all of the baking for treat boxes, because has Man shopped for a single one of the crowd? No, he has not. And who will blamed if we don't have an offering for the huge altar of consumerism? Me.

I swear y'all, Christmas women's labor just makes me madder than a mosquito in a mannequin factory.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 6:41 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I really needed this today. Christmas is so stressful for me because I am always broke and I suck at thinking up gifts for people. I've been slowly dialing back my spend on the adults in our family, because they are very particular about what they like and also have the means to buy whatever they want and need, so they are virtually impossible to shop for. I've been replacing a lot of the shopping for stuff with homemade food gifts, which actually ends up taking more time and effort for less of a gifty sort of payout, but it makes me feel a tiny bit less stressed. The hardest part of this has been actively pushing back on my tendency to take on all the emotional labor and feel responsible for everyone getting great gifts, my in-laws' happiness with their gifts is no longer my responsibility. Freedom! I actually love the holiday season in general, but the gifting for grown ass adults who can buy their own stuff always gets me down.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:43 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

The holiday season is especially stressful for women.

I… I am seeing this in my home. *Hears a noise, logs off MeFi, and goes to help wife do Christmas-y preparations…*
posted by wenestvedt at 6:45 PM on December 16, 2015 [24 favorites]

Christmas 2014: I still remember my sister in tears and almost delirious from exhaustion (having just put her new baby and a three-year old to bed) filling out handwritten thank you cards to her husband's huge family, because of course her husband's mother has always prepared handwritten thank you letters to each individual gift giver at Christmas time. Her husband is sitting next to her on the couch reading a magazine while she's doing all this. I give him the stare of death and tell her she has a lifetime exemption from ever writing me or anyone else on our side of the family a thank you letter. She sighed and kept on writing.
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:38 PM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don't send cards, and I literally just took our small tree out of the box tonight.

I love Jesus but Christmas as a season is highly overrated.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:26 PM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

After separating from my wife at the start of the year, and breaking up with my sweet, thoughtful and considerate girlfriend a few weeks ago. I am having a NoXmas by myself. I have sent cards to my nearest and dearest, bought myself a few exercise-related gifts, and will be having a few quiet days of solitude, books, phone calls,movies, and Bailey's in my coffee. Bliss! I love Xmas, but I'm keenly aware this may be one of very few chances in my life to call the whole thing off without aggreiving somebody, and I intend to enjoy it.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:32 PM on December 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

I actually began composing a thread on metatalk that I ultimately decided was too chatty, but the crux of it was meant to be a place where we could tell each other the kind of sacrifices and tasks we are doing that go unnoticed (or that we expect to go unnoticed) by those around us so that maybe we could virtually appreciate each other. But that still doesn't seem right...I am left still feeling like I don't know why I do the things I do for these people at Christmas when the endgame is just feeling crappy and unnoticed.... Oh well, quonsmas helps!
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:32 PM on December 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

My holidays so far have been:

1. ChuraChura gets excited about Chanukah! ChuraChura makes latkes (3 pounds of potatoes worth!) for herself and her boyfriend, and buys applesauce and sourcream to eat with them, and spends close to three hours making latkes. Her boyfriend says he's just not very hungry; does not eat the latkes. ChuraChura wakes up at 3 AM to find her boyfriend eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in bed next to her because he got hungry.

2. Undaunted, ChuraChura searches local grocery stores and Targets until she finds menorah candles and gelt. She lights the candles for the first three nights, and then her stupid jerkface of a cat walks over the menorah and extinguishes the shamash with her tail (but does not catch on fire, or light the rest of the house on fire, fortunately)! ChuraChura gives up on Chanukah for the remaining 5 nights.

3. ChuraChura's boyfriend's mother asks (on the phone) what he would like for Christmas. "Oh, nothing." She then asks him what I would like for Christmas. "Oh, she's been talking a lot about a salad spinner." This, of course, is not only untrue, but it is the most random lie ever. Until it comes out that ChuraChura's boyfriend wants a salad spinner, but just doesn't want to admit it to his mother, for some reason.

I am so excited to just go to my folks' house where other people will eat latkes, and I will be able to decorate my corner of the Christmas tree without any hassle, and I know that my family will like the presents I got them, so there. And there will be no mysterious salad spinners.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:45 PM on December 16, 2015 [48 favorites]

I was kind of expecting that to end with:

4. ChuraChura fills boyfriend's pants with icewater. tosses in cat for good measure.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:08 PM on December 16, 2015 [38 favorites]

I... do not understand how it is possible around latke production and not eat as many as is feasible.
posted by yellowbinder at 9:29 PM on December 16, 2015 [16 favorites]

I spent the afternoon wrapping ENDLESS presents...

Oh no, never, ever, EVER again! Decorative bags is the ONLY way to do it. Big decorative bags is best. That way, you buy plenty of that colored tissue stuff and wad it around 3-4-5-6--10! items--as much as you can stuff in the bag.

Every year I snarf up as many bags as I can get my mitts on and keep them for next year. You're not allowed to wrinkle up the bags when I'm around. The spirit of the season is recycle. If you're lucky, and you're really nice to me, I may let you and your kids keep one of the bags to put your goodies in for transport.

I'm telling you, bags. Don't buy into wrapping and bows. It's not worth it.

Husband and are buying ONE thing for each kid and grandkid. It's HARD! Takes a lot more thought to pick out something worthwhile. But they don't need more crap to fill up space. One nice thing, selected with care, and put in a decorative bag.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:24 PM on December 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

Not even a tree in my house because me and the kid talked about it and she cares about as much as I do.
Besides, Christmas doesn't start until 18.00 GMT on the 22nd.

Praise be to Gabe.
posted by fullerine at 12:59 AM on December 17, 2015

It's lovely to live in a country where Christmas is traditionally not a gift giving occasion. We give gifts at St Nicholas, and that's more of a children's thing, so if there are no children in your immediate circle, boom! You're done.
Lately, of course, we're experiencing some cultural creep here (since obviously, the more reasons for people to buy more crap, the better it is for consumerism) and so, besides Valentine's Day and Hallowe'en (which were never a thing here and should not be a thing here now, but there you have it) we are seeing some people buy into the whole Christmas gifts thing.
It's cute if it means people freely exchange small, meaningful, maybe handmade or otherwise very personal gifts; it's just tacky and wasteful if it means socially forced overspending on crap for people you hardly know and who already have three times as much stuff as they'll ever need.

I'm not buying anyone any gifts. I don't have to. And I'm lovin' it.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:12 AM on December 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I... do not understand how it is possible around latke production and not eat as many as is feasible.

No kidding! I mean, I understand if you are allergic to potatoes, but otherwise the only sounds should be of eating and appreciation.

Some years ago we switched to a) mostly not getting any presents for almost anyone, and b) for the very few necessary presents we have gone to drop-shipping wine, artisanal chocolate, and other nice consumables. No wrapping, no shopping (other than a quick on-line order), and no fuss. Some years I hang lights on the front of the house, some years I do not. So not quite full-on Grinch, but getting close.

I had hoped to schedule a trip to somewhere far away and out of touch this year to really underline the whole non-holiday thing, but my passport renewal is being delayed so that might be off the table. Now I'm wondering about off-key ideas like Christmas at a Vegas hotel or at a national park campground.

So we have mostly managed to nope out of the emotional labor people are describing here, but as with all the emotional labor discussions there is a cost for not participating and a lot of complications. Some of the stories above make me feel very sympathetic and wish there was an easy way to send hugs and support for what is so often such a difficult time of year.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:21 AM on December 17, 2015

One nice thing, selected with care, and put in a decorative bag.

Me: Mom, I'm in my thirties, I have (a god awful amount of money) in my bank account, and I'm moving in a month. We're all adults now. Maybe Grandma could stop spending so much money on us?
Mom: But your grandmother loves to give you guys things! She's always done that!
Me: No, she doesn't. She's given money to (sister) and had (sister) buy stuff for us for the past ten years.
Mom: But (sister) loves to do that!
Me: No, she doesn't. She's spent a week stressing out about it, because she needs to tell Grandma what she bought for each of us.

And so the cycle goes.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 4:26 AM on December 17, 2015

Also, you know what you get if you have Christmas minus gift giving?

You get Thanksgiving. Real Thanksgiving, without Black Friday shopping, and everyone knows Thanksgiving is the better holiday anyway.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 4:28 AM on December 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've always loved Christmas, and I still love it, in large part for reasons that are specific to me (it's my birthday, and an opportunity to escape the grody dark winter and visit my family in a milder climate). But over the past few years, it's started to lose some of the sparkle. Some of it's been life changes - my dad dying, having a kid which makes travel way less relaxing, etc. - but a lot of it has been just garden-variety burnout. I've been giving the same people presents for 25 years now, and I think I've given and received every possible thing by now, and none of us really need any more things. I've tried suggesting practical alternatives (here is my long "wish list" of various things I'm just gonna buy for myself anyway; how about gift cards; how about just don't buy me anything; omg people tell me what to buy for you), but our gift-giving is just too wrapped up in the element of surprise and Guess Culture for any of it to stick. And I was a very YAY PRESENTS I LOVE EVERYTHING kind of person for years and years, and it's sometimes difficult for me to reconcile the vestiges of that impulse with my older, more practical self. I think I'm still in the process of outgrowing Christmas, and it's weird.

I will say that I'm digging Christmas with a very young toddler, because twinkly lights and wrapping paper and things in stockings are all just so exciting, and he's a fairly blank slate as far as gifts go, and he's still too young to grasp the concept of Christmas and be disappointed when things don't go his way. I know this will all just get more complicated, but I'm enjoying it for now.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:29 AM on December 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

My wife and I now live a plane ride away from both our families, so in addition to the travel and rotating visits, one of our unexpected seasonal hazards nowadays is convincing people to NOT BUY US THINGS THAT DON'T FIT IN A PLANE CARRY ON. PLEASE, DEAR LORD, DON'T BUY US A CROCK POT. BUY US A GIFT CARD AND DRAW A PICTURE OF A CROCK POT.

They are getting better, but still very "but you need things to unwrap!" and "gift cards are so impersonal!" I like having things to unwrap, but... you're not the ones who have to figure out how to transport a crock pot 1000 miles!
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:26 AM on December 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

I like having things to unwrap, but... you're not the ones who have to figure out how to transport a crock pot 1000 miles!

I have a secret personal policy of keeping track of the travel plans for anyone I will be seeing over the holidays, and only giving the ones flying in/out presents made of thin fabric (cute kitchen towels=not having to do laundry as often) or paper. They get something to open, but it won't make for travel hassles.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 5:46 AM on December 17, 2015

A few years back my wife's family significantly cut back on the number of people we give gifts to (we basically split the family in half and only get presents for our side) and I know its been a huge help for her mostly* but for both of us. Christmas is still a to do (this year Christmas Eve dinner is black tie, because, hand to God, the dog is wearing a bow tie and my mother-in-law didn't want the dog to be better dressed than the people), but every little bit helps. The family also tends to attract strays and I am so happy that we don't have to find presents for my wife's aunt's new husband's daughter's Jewish friend who comes to Christmas because she's got nothing else better to do that day.

This'll probably change once kids enter the picture, but for right now, with adults, it makes so much sense. No one wants more stuff, the stuff you get when you're buying for a couple dozen people is so worthless and meaningless, and it's a pain to transport. There are ways to make the season about family and even abundance that don't require lots of little boxes.

*We try to avoid some of the emotional labor pitfalls, and split gift giving by family, but her family is closer and it winds up being basically the usual emotional labor problem, whereas none of my aunts, uncles, or cousins are expecting gifts from me.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:59 AM on December 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

After some trial and error* my family and I have arrived at the unspoken rule that it's the gift-giver's responsibility to ensure the gifts make it home to their recipients. If I'm flying in from out of town and you insist on having a large box under the tree for me to unwrap, you're taking it to the post office on the 26th and paying for Priority Mail.

*One year I got dumbbells. That ended up in a desperate last-minute reshuffling at airport check-in to get my suitcase under 50 pounds, and a bulky heavy carryon that wore out my shoulder pretty good. To be fair, I asked for dumbbells that year, so the real dumbbell is me.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:19 AM on December 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

We don't do much in the way of Chanukah presents - one thing each for the kids, maybe something for each other but usually not, but you have to prep the menorah every night and make sure there are enough candles, and latke making is a pain and a half, especially getting the smell out of the house for days afterwards, plus making sure you have chocolate gelt so you don't get accused of child abuse and then cleaning up the menorahs afterwards which takes forever.

Then it's a few more months and then it's Purim and you have to get costumes for everyone and bake hamantaschen and make the food baskets and decide who gets the food baskets, and make extra food baskets because of people who show up with one for you so you have to be ready to reciprocate, plus all the cooking for the big Purim meal, and you have to do most of it while fasting because of course there's a fast day right beforehand.

Then just when you start having to figure out what to do with the rest of the food baskets, it's Passover and you have to clean the entire house, including all the places you generally pretend don't exist (like under the oven and behind the fridge and the backs of all the closets), then switch all your pots and pans and dishes around, and then wash down the whole kitchen with boiling water, and do it all early enough that you can start cooking the four big meals, which is five times harder because the only starch you get is potatoes and there's only so many things you can do with them, not to mention all the ritual foods that you have to have. Plus polishing the silver seder plate (because one of your ancestors was an idiot and bought a silver seder plate, so of course you have to use it) and now that daylight savings time changed you can't even start the seder till after 8, so there's no finishing before midnight. And then two more days of big meals at the end because G-d is a sadist. And then you have to put everything away and get your old dishes and pots and pans and silverware back and where did all the forks go? How do you lose forks?

Then Shavuot comes and it's another round of cleaning, baking, inviting, cooking for two days, only everyone is gonna want cheesecake so you have to come up with vegetarian and fish entrees for the four meals that are still hearty enough that the carnivores in the family don't complain. Then everyone stays up all night the first night so no matter what you cook no one's awake enough to be hungry enough to care, but you went through all the effort so you all fake it.

And then finally you get a break for a couple of months.

And then it's Rosh Hashanah and we're lucky we can go to my in-laws so no cooking on that one but we have to travel and pack nice outfits for two days of synagogue plus play clothes for the kids plus buy flowers for MIL and make sure all your work is done and your auto-response is written and clever because no answering emails if you miss anything for 2-3 days depending on where the Sabbath falls plus buy a new fruit that no one has had all year, which now that Whole Foods has star fruit and pomegranates and even rambutans all year round is almost impossible.

Then comes Yom Kippur which should be easy, but no because you have to have a fancy meal ahead of time plus the carbo-loading right beforehand plus planning the break-fast for how many people and the kids insist they can't wear the same thing they wore on Rosh Hashanah so there's that headache and if you don't coordinate with your sneakers you feel self-conscious but if you wear the shoes that match that aren't leather your feet are gonna hurt all day so what's it going to be?

And then you have about a week to build a sukkah, decorate it, buy lulavs and etrogs for everyone who wants one, cook for the next round(s) of big meals, and inviting guests because some people aren't able to have a sukkah and therefore it's our responsibility to make sure they get a meal in ours even if they're raving homophobic TeaPartiers...

...and I am not even going into the living nightmare that is Simchas Torah because I can't even.

And then Thanksgiving comes!

So I'ma let you all finish and I know that shopping for gifts for everyone in your families and baking and sending cookies and all the other Christmas preparations really does sound draining and exhausting and often unrewarding despite all the effort. And no joke the emotional labor is almost all on us women and there's no winning that one no matter how much or little you celebrate. But I hope you don't mind if there's a little Jewish MeFite out here who is really enjoying this thread for the schadenfreude.

Because it just isn't a holiday if you don't suffer for it (right?)
posted by Mchelly at 6:53 AM on December 17, 2015 [23 favorites]

*Pins Medal of Adulthood on Mchelly's lapel*
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:56 AM on December 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

and where did all the forks go? How do you lose forks?

This has nothing to do with the holidays but at my last job somebody took all the forks. One day, forks, next day, no forks. I never found them.
posted by phunniemee at 7:04 AM on December 17, 2015

My sister has 3 kids under 8, and December consists of her frantically texting and calling me about what she bought so far, what she still needs to buy, and what I bought. She typically runs out and spends another $200-300 on Christmas Eve because she never feels like they have enough.

I don't think she has had a good night's sleep in at least a month, so this year I am buying her a spa gift certificate, a night in a nice hotel, and a big bottle of wine. I am taking the kids for the night and sending her off to sleep (she can decide whether or not my brother-in-law is invited).
posted by elvissa at 8:20 AM on December 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

at my last job somebody took all the forks

It was probably a holiday safety measure.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:21 AM on December 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm a fan of Brene' Brown and her books on vulnerability and shame. She posted on her facebook page the other day:

"I've officially deployed the holiday boundary mantra that gives me the courage to say no and to ask for what I need:
Choose discomfort over resentment.
Choose discomfort over resentment.

And it's been super helpful. I told work no all over the place (inpatient nightshift nursing which picks up during the holidays becuase only the sickest patients are there so the work is busier, harder, more emotionally complex). No I cannot pick up all the extra shifts this week. No I can't help with a childrens toy drive after my 12 hour nightshift.

But the biggest ones were personal. No I can't spend my only day off at some extended family event. No I can't drive accross the state after work to then turn around to drive back to work nightshift the next day. No I can't try to get out of my shift on Chistmas evening or New Years Day. To manage the stress from holiday season at my work I need my downtime to be super dull and stress free. It's hard to get this accross to people. Previously I've made time to go to events, I've enjoyed them, but they drain me and I suffer some inevitable mini-breakdown somewhere inappropriately down the line.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:46 AM on December 17, 2015 [12 favorites]

No I can't drive accross the state after work to then turn around to drive back to work nightshift the next day.

Shoutout to my little brother who has made all of the family gatherings of the last few years possible for everyone else.

For some geographical perspective: my brother lives in Jacksonville, at more or less the exact midpoint between where my parents live and where the rest of the family lives. ("Rest of the family" = uncle's family + grandma.) Distance between grandma and parents is 6.5 hours.

Today, my brother and my dad, after a full day of work, are driving to meet at the halfway point to do the dog handoff because for whatever reason my brother doesn't want to subject our 91 year old grandma to several hours of driving in a pickup with two 70lb pitbulls.

Tomorrow, after a full day of work, my brother is driving all the way down to get grandma. My mom was trying to sell uncle on doing the same halfway point handoff with grandma to save my brother car hours, but uncle doesn't want to or can't for some reason, so my brother is doing it all.

Then Saturday morning he and grandma are driving all the way up to our parents house to meet the rest of us.

That's 11 hours of driving. He's doing the same thing on the return trip a few days later.

He has also volunteered to shuttle me between Jacksonville and parents every time I fly home because it's cheaper for me to fly into Jacksonville, but I was able to get a flight to my parents' city this year, so that saves him a bit.

He has, in years past, done things like drive all the way back to Jacksonville early am and all the way back to parents late night when he's been unable to get, for instance, Dec. 26th off work because "being together for the holidays" is important.

He drives and drives and drives to help make that possible and easy for everyone else and the only time you hear him complain about it is if one of the dogs (or grandma) gets the farts in the car. (Compare to me, who bitches up a storm about having to fly 1000 miles (with dog, but otherwise I don't have to do anything for anyone else) every time there's a family thing.)

All of his shuttling definitely doesn't go unnoticed or unappreciated by the rest of the family, but if he suddenly stopped one year it would really complicate things for everyone else.

He's also the first to volunteer if someone forgot to get something at the store and it's 10pm on Christmas Eve. He just goes and gets it done in the interest of family harmony.

Three cheers for the little brother!
posted by phunniemee at 9:12 AM on December 17, 2015 [10 favorites]

Choose discomfort o'er resentment
Falala lala lala la laaaa.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:20 AM on December 17, 2015 [11 favorites]

Every attempt to address this fails -- "Maybe you could send one big, expensive thing and one small thing, instead of 4200 little plastic pieces of crap?"

Ah yes, this conversation. What is really, really hard in these conversations with some of my family members is that for them, expressing love is done by giving things. And regularly. And it doesn't even have to be good stuff, or things that people actually want. So with the stuff comes a lot of junk. I tend to see love through gift-giving when you carefully pick something out that someone will not simply take for granted because they already have a million other things that come regularly throughout the year, and in an avalanche at Christmas. So, I'm a bit irritated at all the stuff that we do not have room for, and for which we have somewhat started to stem the tide by asking for fewer or more expensive things, or (and this was one of our strokes of genious) experiences for our kids like tickets to museums or even Disneyland or something. What got under my skin a lot more is the fact that in the inability to consider broader perspectives on gift-giving, it muted my ability to enjoy Christmas by seeing my kids' faces light up because they got something they have been wanting for a long time and deferred gratification for or it's part of a thoughtful and limited set of toys that they can collectively enjoy, instead of just being buried under a pile of stuff like some twisted version of Midas, where everything they touched turned to toys. It's been getting a little better over the years, but I never thought that "stuff" would make me start dreading what has always been my favorite season of the year. And much of that was because my parents were really careful about not giving too many gifts for no good reason, and it made Christmas a very special and anticipated occasion.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:37 AM on December 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

In the absence of family pressure (due to, uh, lots of my relatives being dead or estranged...yay?) I've winnowed the decorating down to Things I Actually Care About:

1. Lights on the front of the house (actually don't care, but husband does, and I am happy to let him)
2. Tree (this year, the tree is lights-only, because we have A Cat Who Climbs and I am not going to let him smash the fragile glass ornaments my grandma left me. I may have to wait till he dies or gets too old to climb to ever decorate a tree again). Mostly to have a place for presents to show up Christmas morning. I would put the non-Santa ones out earlier, but see: cat.
3. Stockings. I finally found mantel hangers that work for the damn things. Again mostly for Santa purposes.
4. Countdown calendar: felt, no candy, the kid likes to move the little dude each day.

I left the rest in storage, with the cat/the fact we're still unpacking from our move as the excuse. All of that stuff; Nativity scenes, ornaments, figurines, random garlands, etc. is only really important to me because it came from my mom. If I was having a big Christmas party and had places to put it all, I might get it out.

The thing where you change all your towels to Christmas towels and even the pillowcases on your bed and have 200 Santas everywhere; this, I don't get. We were going to make sugar cookies this year, but then I decide, fuck it. My kid doesn't care much and I'm tired. There are excellent ones at the grocery store should I need them.

I might get a wreath at the after-Christmas sales, I think it would look nice on the door next year. That's about as much more as I'm willing to do.
posted by emjaybee at 9:49 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

this year Christmas Eve dinner is black tie, because, hand to God, the dog is wearing a bow tie and my mother-in-law didn't want the dog to be better dressed than the people

You could write a whole play based on this prompt alone.
posted by emjaybee at 9:54 AM on December 17, 2015 [19 favorites]

You could write a whole play based on this prompt alone.

somebody: hey, how about we just take the bow tie off the dog instead?

everyone: good idea!

posted by SpacemanStix at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2015 [9 favorites]

I have had many stupider reasons to buy and wear a nice outfit. I would absolutely dress up so as not to let the dog outshine me, because that is hilarious.
posted by asperity at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2015 [11 favorites]

We haven't gotten a Christmas tree in a few years, mostly because (a) it always becomes a mad Tetris game of where in the house it goes, (b) year and a half old cat, and (c) none of us feel like hauling down the lights and the ornaments from the attic, unpackaging them, hanging them, and then reversing the process a week later.

So I put my LEGO holiday diorama on the mantel, we watch all the Rifftrax & MST3K holiday episodes, and everyone is (relatively) happy.
posted by Lucinda at 10:54 AM on December 17, 2015

We haven't gotten a Christmas tree in a few years, mostly because (a) it always becomes a mad Tetris game of where in the house it goes, (b) year and a half old cat, and (c) none of us feel like hauling down the lights and the ornaments from the attic, unpackaging them, hanging them, and then reversing the process a week later.

We had one recent christmas where the tree stayed outside, still bundled up in its nylon wrap and leaning against the house, because we didn't even have it in us to do the whole drag inside and stand it up thing, let alone decorate it. My mom went out at some point with scissors to unfurl it and drag it by a window, then came inside and opened the blinds so we could at least see it. I honestly don't remember if we had a tree at all last year.
posted by phunniemee at 11:04 AM on December 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh gosh, and then there was the time when I was in high school, where it was afternoon on Christmas Eve and we still didn't have a tree and my mom was freaking out because "company" (family) was coming into town, so she sent my brother and me out into the cold to find one.

After driving around for hours we finally found one that didn't look like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, and no wonder it still hadn't been purchased--it was easily over 9 feet tall and had a $150 price tag. Just a gorgeous tree, and the last one in their lot. I think it was close to 5pm by that time, getting dark, and I remember standing in the parking lot at Hester and Zipperer arguing with the guy that no one respectable enough to spend $150 on a tree was going to be out tree shopping at 5pm on Christmas Eve, and he could either sell it to us for $30 bucks and go home and spend time with his family or he could stand there and be stubborn and miss dinner and still have a tree and $0 by midnight.

I won.
posted by phunniemee at 11:11 AM on December 17, 2015 [10 favorites]

(My mom was very pleased but added that I was a horrible and manipulative person.)
posted by phunniemee at 11:12 AM on December 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

For five years, Shepherd and I lived in Sherbrooke, QC, which was an eight hour drive for my in-laws and another country for my family. With the exception of one year where my in-laws stayed 10 (!!) days over the holidays and one voluntary 5 day largish family visit, we spend our holidays alone and oh my gosh I love it. We're headed to Toronto this year to have a Christmas dinner at my SIL's apartment, but have not told Shepherd's family we're staying longer than Xmas Eve/Xmas because we want to enjoy ourselves on our own, by god. I mean, we could be honest with family and say, "Hey, we are excited about spending the actual Christmas day with you but we are gonna spend a few extra days on our own going out to eat, walking around TO, etc" and all my MIL would hear is "WE ARE TERRIBLE PEOPLE WHO LIKE SPENDING TIME WITH EACH OTHER NOT YOU."
posted by Kitteh at 11:58 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Growing up, we put all of our Christmas effort into baking. We got low-key gifts. Dad bought some amazing chocolates that we pretty much never got otherwise. Mum did some decorating (I don't think she even necessarily cares about it, but people visited us who did, or who she thought did.)

One year, my parents decided not to take the lights off the house right away because it was too snowy out or they were too lazy or something, I genuinely don't know. Somehow the time got away from them, and hey presto it was December of the following year and the lights were still up and all they had to do was plug them in again. Ever since, they have just had this curmudgeonly single perma-string of lights.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:25 PM on December 17, 2015

I'm an only child. My dad left when I was 10. We were poorer than ever after he left. We lived in a tiny town, and I'm pretty sure my mom felt humiliated and ashamed that holiday when we couldn't afford an actual Christmas tree. Because Southern Baptist! Because God! Luckily, my mom was resourceful. She went out alone and came home with a lovely, bare branch. Together we covered it in tinfoil, as it was called in those days. The silver branch hung with our ornaments was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It's the only Christmas tree I remember from childhood. Thanks, mom! Wish I could tell her that in person but poverty creates casualties. She died 18 years ago, just before her 63rd birthday.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:29 PM on December 17, 2015 [24 favorites]

The silver branch hung with our ornaments was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

That is a really lovely Christmas memory. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:34 PM on December 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

Oh, yes, time to post this link to Frank Kelly's "12 Days of Christmas" again!

Really, folks, reclaim your lives from this consumer insanity. Find out what winter would be like without the drama. Create your own rituals to celebrate the return of light: whether it's in the sky or in your heart.

May the best of this season be upon you!
posted by Mesaverdian at 3:59 PM on December 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

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