I have had several clients tell me that they do not enjoy Christmas. Sure, they like having the holiday time off from work or school and the fact that everything comes to a halt for several days. But they don’t enjoy Christmas, or the days leading up to Christmas.
Why is that?
For many, they do not have happy childhood memories of Christmas and as a result don’t have good associations with this time of year. Perhaps there may have been verbal abuse or physical violence in the home, or they associate this time with memories of drinking and yelling and tears. For many of those clients, they’d rather not have those memories dredged up each year.
For many adults whose childhoods involved abuse and neglect, it’s often preferable for them to stay in their own homes over the holidays rather than to travel to see their families. When this is the case, many struggle because they know they will be asked about their plans for Christmas and they don’t know how best to respond. It’s stressful to be “caught” with nowhere to go.
For these adults, “What are you doing over Christmas?” can be a daunting question to answer. If they answer truthfully and say they are staying put, their response will often be countered with, “What? You’re not going to spend Christmas with your family?”, which can be unnerving. They might not be comfortable telling people they don’t come from a place they want to visit, or that there is no one in their childhood home that wants to see them, or that they want to see, and that it’s better to stay in town.
When I work with these adults, I suggest a possible answer they could tell people is, “We’re not that close” when they are asked why are not seeing family. In my experience, this is enough information for most people, and it typically ends any further enquiry.
Which brings us to the second problem these adults face. If they don’t visit their families, then how will they spend the holidays? It comes as a surprise to many that settling in under a comforter, with a bowl of popcorn and a good movie on Netflix on Christmas Eve will be the best Christmas Eve they have ever had. Similarly, making a pot of spaghetti, going for a long walk, and curling up with a good book on Christmas Day will be the best Christmas Day they have ever spent. There will be no yelling. No screaming. No slamming doors. No need to run. No disappointments. There will just be quiet, and calm.
I have been puzzled about how some people can be so unaware as to ask someone who is not going to spend Christmas with their family why they would choose not to go. Perhaps these people don’t understand that sometimes home is not a place a person would want to return to, or even be able to return to.
Perhaps someone who doesn’t understand this has never been exposed to someone who has been neglected or abused. If this is the case, and I think it often is, I wonder how someone can remain this unaware of what happens in their neighbours’ houses.
Sometimes home is so dangerous, so abusive, so incredibly painful that it’s a place to stay away from.
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
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