The Hit List - A primer for opting out of the holidays

Last year, I decided to opt-out of the holidays. Instead of the hustle ’n bustle of hosting Thanksgiving dinner or making the trek to see loved ones on Christmas, I stayed home in my pajamas. I was burnt out after my book launch and wanted time for myself.

It was heavenly.

So I decided to do it again this year. I managed to take a shower, put the pjs back on and enjoyed a quiet day at home. Except that peace got destroyed by a few relatives who took umbrage with my desire to do nothing. Instead of respecting my decision, I was bombarded with guilt trips, anger, and accusations of selfishness.

While I understand the objections, the reactions weren’t inspiring me to change my mind. In fact, it did the opposite.

Because I deserve to have a holiday to myself without having to explain it to anyone.

For many of us, the holidays aren’t a thrilling time anyways. As a kid, mine were often filled with drama and arguments. It usually began with dad having too much to drink and then screaming about how “this would be the last holiday ever.”

As I got older, I never felt like I had permission to opt-out even though it has always been my not-so-secret wish. My mother had a black belt in guilt trips and would push me to come and spend time with people I didn’t like. I have another family member that I never wanted to engage with on the holidays due to his alcohol-induced rages. His rants made dad’s look like a pleasant debate. I would ask mom to let me come on a different day so I could have peace – and she would agree but when I showed up, there he was, with a full tumbler of vodka in his hand. Ugh.

If you’ve dealt with a family like that, you can probably understand how draining and toxic the whole notion of the holidays might seem. They don’t feel overtly merry to me – they feel more like an obligation.

After my parents passed away, I found myself still doing holidays with my siblings. I no longer had to see the vodka swilling rage-o-holic because I stopped speaking to him. Things were decent enough but again…I longed for my fantasy of sitting home alone, with nothing to do except curl up with a cat and a good book. I desperately wanted to opt-out.

Which meant breaking the cardinal rule that many of these types of families enforce: I said no when they expected me to follow the unspoken rules. Those rules: “You are obligated to do this because that is what families do. We want to be together even if you want to be alone. And damn it, you’re going to come together and do this no matter what. Because your needs don’t matter. Ours do. The tribe has spoken and the tribe stays together no matter what.”

Needless to say, my peace may have been temporarily disrupted but I’ve decided to commit to my new tradition: doing nothing. This seems to be the best way for a peace-loving introvert/workaholic to operate. I know I’m making a few people uncomfortable or mad but frankly, I’m tired of being a people pleaser. I want to please myself. You may feel the same  way but may also have a family steeped in obligation and well-versed in passive-aggressive behavior. This primer for opting-out of the holidays might help you navigate this decision with a modicum of grace. Read on, gentle readers:

If you’re thinking about opting-out too, here are a few guidelines to consider:

  1. You’re going to get flack for it, especially if your family tends to be heavy on the obligation and light on the respect for personal freedom. Steel yourself and be ready to stick to your guns.
  2. You don’t have to offer any explanations. Your no is valid. Know that.
  3. Don’t lie or make excuses. A simple “not feeling it” is good enough. Your truth may be met with skepticism, tears, or anger, which may make it tempting to lie. Don’t do that. You’ll only feel bad later.
  4. Be kind when you say no and remain kind even when you’re being assaulted with accusations and guilt trips. Take nothing personally. Let it go as best as you can.
  5. Do not take abuse of any sort. That abuse includes: getting screamed at, nasty texts, guilt trips, emotional blackmail, and accusations. If the other party insists on that, cut the conversation short. You don’t need that.
  6. You might want to let people know way in advance so that you can enjoy your day without drama. (I made the mistake of saying nothing and assuming they’d be cool since we didn’t do anything last year. Don’t do that – put the word out well in advance so everyone has time to adjust.)
  7. If you feel called to send cards and gifts, do it. It is a nice way to still be present even if you are not there in person. You might also want to schedule in a Skype session too if it feels right.
  8. On the day of your opt-ed out holiday, put on your favorite pjs, grab a mug of tea and some cookies, curl up with your favorite furry friend, turn on Game of Thrones reruns or some other fare, and then, most importantly, turn off your phone and computer so there is no way for anyone to contact you and put the pressure on. BLISS.

If your loved one wants to opt-out but you’re not down with that:

  1. Time to take a deep breath and chill.
  2. Respect their no. Holidays should never feel like an obligation for anyone.
  3. Angry texts or guilt trips serve no purpose except to make everyone feel shitty. Do you really want someone at your home if they don’t want to be there? What kind of holiday spirit is that?
  4. Take nothing personally. Even if it is personal. Let all of that go and instead, focus on surrounding yourself with people who want to be there and are totally into it.
  5. If someone says they are opting out, the proper response shouldn’t be manipulative tactics. Instead, express your disappointment kindly and then open the door for another opportunity to hang. Here’s an example of a sweet and loving response: “Oh bummer. We were so looking forward to seeing you and Uncle Sam! But we understand – this is a hectic time of year and we know how hard you guys have been working lately. Let’s not let too much time go by without seeing each other though. Perhaps after the holidays are over, we can schedule in time for a dinner at this fab new restaurant we have been dying to go to? Let us know what works for you guys. Have a great quiet holiday! We’ll be thinking of you guys as we’re downing the spiked nog! Cheers, Sue and Ben.”  This type of response is positive and opens the door for another non-pressure way to be with the people you love. Psst…if I got a response like that, I’d be making the reservations as soon as New Years Eve was over!
  6. Feel free to continue to send cards or gifts unless the person specifically says they don’t want that. It’s a way to stay in touch and keep the spirit alive, even if the tradition of being together isn’t happening.
  7. Enjoy your day and drink plenty of that spiked nog!

Holidays should never feel like an obligation. Ever. If you want a big ole holiday, have at it. But if you don’t, don’t. Simple as that.

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Need a good Christmas gift for that tarot loving friend on your list? Get a copy of The Tarot Coloring Book and a box of Prismacolor pencils. You’ll be the coolest gift giver ever!


What I’m Grateful For:

More time off to write

Getting caught up on my work

Extra strength aspirin

Warm parkas

Tech support


Soundtrack for 11/25/17:

Back in the USA by Green Day <-I love the They Live reference!


© Theresa Reed | The Tarot Lady 2017

images from stock photography

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