The dilemma of Christmas

The Girlfriend and I are not planning on having children, ever. Indeed, as you may be able to tell from her internet moniker, we are not married and do not plan to do that unless it becomes necessary for some urgent practical reason. We are very happy with our vaguely non-traditional lifestyle 99.5% of the time, but when the holiday season comes around, it becomes problematic. This is because Christmas is for kids and people who have kids.

Now, to be fair, no one harrasses us about when the grandchildren will come along, etc., but the gap is nonetheless there. It marks everything with ambiguity. When you have kids, it’s obvious why you would keep up with your parents and extended family — but how are we to understand the relationship between parents and childless adult children? Neither of us have some unspeakable trauma in our past that would justify cutting off our parents altogether, so opting out of holiday obligations seems gratuitous and ungenerous. But every year, the question lingers: why are we doing precisely this? Does it make any of us happy? Does it bring us closer? Does it remind us of why our relationship is so valuable?

For me, it’s a no straight across the board. Yet I don’t know what else to do. If I pushed for major changes in the holidy routine, that would mean investing more deeply in the holidays, which I clearly don’t want to do. If I just refused to participate, it would send an excessive and cruel message that I don’t want to send. Is there a way out of this vortex? Do I just have to devote a couple days of my life each year to an empty gesture? (I’m famous for being in favor of empty gestures, of course, but this particular one seems excessively lengthy.)

I realize I complain about this situation in some form or another basically every year. This time around it felt particularly bad because we had such a nice Thanksgiving to ourselves and because Christmas came right in the midst of our preparations for The Girlfriend’s big move to Minneapolis — so we vividly remembered that a better holidy was possible and felt the loss of these couple days particularly acutely. But it’s every year. It fills me with dread every year.

Surely someone has found a better solution. Please share it.

8 Responses to “The dilemma of Christmas”

  1. Hill Says:

    I have a kid and actually like visiting my family, but I hate Christmas and don’t go home for it. The trick is living further away. You’d have a much easier time saying no if going “home” involved a thousand dollars worth of plane tickets and a cross country flight. We now do a “neutral site” gathering within driving distance of us over New Years, splitting an AirBnB house. So far just my mom and best friend from high school come but anyone is welcome. I find this much more enjoyable. After all, we’re the ones for whom traveling is a huge hassle (flight anxiety and a one year old).

  2. Werner Herzog's Bear (@wernherzbear) Says:

    My spouse and I were long-distance for a long time (four years), so back then Christmas was a way for us to be together. During the time we were living together before we had kids we used the holiday to have some quiet time together and enjoy each other’s company. I now live 1500 miles from my family, and her parents are local, so we were/are lucky in that it’s too hard for us to go back to my hometown (especially with the kids), and we see her family all the time, so the celebration obligations low key. Now that we have children, things have changed, but I miss having that time for us to be together with few obligations. Recently my parents found themselves alone on Christmas (my sisters couldn’t come to see them either), and they later commented on how much they enjoyed it. I say go with the low-key style if it makes you happy, I certainly miss it. We’ve made the decision that it makes much more sense to travel to Nebraska to see my family when the weather is actually nice and my daughters can actually enjoy doing things outside.

    This year my children were old enough (2 years) to really understand Christmas, and I was a little appalled by the obscene amount of useless stuff they were gifted by my wife’s friends and family (my kids are the only grandkids in her family, which makes it worse.) When I’ve kept the holiday simple and low-key, I’ve actually really enjoyed it, and am trying hard to find ways to make that happen with our kids going forward. The holidays should not be a time of self-inflicted suffering.

  3. Joe Calandrino Says:

    Christmas travel is biblical, or so it is for Luke. I dare say so are the complaints about it. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    I am so happy and sad when my daughter, now 29, comes home for Christmas. She travels alone, as she, too, is in a vaguely non traditional long-term relationship. Their holiday strategy is to split up the traveling dilemmas, each to his/her own home. We live just under 1000 mile apart.

    The trauma for me is when she must go to her own home again. All trauma, no dilemma. She comes and goes. Sometimes I go and she stays home. We work it out.

  4. Christopher G Says:

    Same deal, happy couple happily childless, torn by obligation. As others have suggested, a larger rift in the space continuum is the ideal remedy.

    Barring that (times when we lived closer), we would invert the obligation by hosting an event of our own — to /our/ standards: wine, liberal conversation, no food — on the day or eve, and make it known that family was invited. The invitation served as a regretful rsvp for all other occasions (this is possibly the core idea of all parties). Happily some years we wouldn’t receive an acceptance, leaving us alone to veg out on LOTR instead.

  5. Jill S Says:

    I’m also childless and will remain so. I always return home for the holidays and enjoy it. But I do it without my partner because we both have aging mothers and dead fathers and this is how we’ve decided to handle it. I don’t mind it at all even if it isn’t ideal–in fact not having kids makes doing it this way easier. Of course, it helps that most of my dearest friends also live in the city where my mother and sister live. I tend to feel the pull you describe more when there are family reunions when I’d rather be on an actual vacation or in Europe doing research, etc. I used to be more “selfish” about such choices but lately the losses I’ve accrued have changed my mind a bit. But yes, it’s a tough balancing act, and no answer seems perfect.

  6. Brad Says:

    I suspect any “cruelty” felt by your family for bowing out would eventually be smoothed into “that’s just [x] being [x].” They will, in short, if they are anything like mine, probably get over it.

  7. Z Says:

    Perhaps you could change activities. Still see family but do things that are more fun? Cut out the parts that feel like work?

  8. Formica Dinette Says:

    I’m agree with Brad. Some years I do Thanksgiving and/or Christmas with my family and some years I don’t. It depends on how I feel. When I don’t join in, they do just chalk it up to me being me. If you have to travel to see your families, Thanksgiving and Christmas are notoriously terrible times to travel, so that’s a legitimate excuse not to join them. I hope they can accept your desire to celebrate the winter holidays in ways that are more enjoyable for you.


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