Hate Actually: Can the Holigays Heal a Gay Grinch’s Heart?

I didn’t always hate Christmas.

That’s what I tell people when I’m explaining that: No, I don’t want to watch It’s a Wonderful Life or Love Actually. And No, I don’t want to go see the lighting of whatever green thing in whatever place. I don’t want to sing carols. I don’t want to bake cookies. I don’t want to wear a reindeer scarf. All I want for Christmas is not to hear Mariah Carey sing All I Want for Christmas and for New Year’s Eve to happen two weeks after Halloween.

My third grade teacher told my class there was no Santa Claus. Not in a vindictive way. She wasn’t mean. She said, “We all know Santa Claus isn’t real,” the same way she talked about adding fractions. I cried alone in a bathroom stall until lunch, and then I remembered that most grown-ups can’t hear the Polar Express bell, and so why should it surprise me that she didn’t Believe?

I Believed.

I Believed enough for everyone.

When the ceramic snow village came down from the attic and the tree went up in my living room, everything was going to be okay. Christmas would make it okay. My mom threw dishes, smashed them against the floor and the wall, but she never even chipped her Southern Living Christmas china. My dad wasn’t home very much; he had to travel all the time for work, but he never missed a holiday moment. He chopped down the tree. He untangled the lights. My dad made a “Santa Stops Here” sign for my birthday one time, and he was right: During the regular year, we had to choose between crutches for my broken ankle or cigarettes for my mom, but Santa always gave everyone in my family something so good. My mom bought elves and she bought angels. She displayed them in every nook of our house. Nobody got slapped at Christmas.

I was Head Elf of the Hogan Family Christmas Factory. Fighting about ribbon? Why are we fighting about ribbon? Just give it to me; I’ll wrap everything. Did I say I wanted an air hockey table? Well, that’s just crazy. What I meant to say is I want a new baseball cap. Use that money to buy mom a nice bracelet. Should we sing carols? I think we should sing carols. Mom, your voice sounds like hot chocolate. Dad, that snowman tie is just the thing. Let’s drive around and look at lights! Let’s drink cider and watch every Christmas movie! Scrooge didn’t know he was hurting people, you see. Christmas showed him how to love. Maybe next year we can put up the tree on Thanksgiving!

Head Elves don’t quit when things get tense; they ramp up the merriment and keep on Christmasing.

Head Elves don’t quit when they outgrow the costume; they wrap tinsel around their hats and carol even louder.

Head Elves don’t quit when their dad leaves and Christmas dishes finally get broken.

Head Elves don’t quit when their mom threatens to kill herself at the Christmas tree farm.

Head Elves don’t quit when Santa stops coming, or when their dad can’t make it this year because he has plans with his new wife, or when they don’t have any money left to buy presents because their mom needs “just a little loan,” over and over, all year long.

When I was a kid, studying the Sears Christmas Wishbook, sipping milk from my mom’s nativity scene coffee cups, looking into the kitchen every ten minutes to marvel about how happy she was — baking gingerbread cookies in a reindeer apron and humming along to Burl Ives — I’d never even heard of the “cycle of abuse.” No one had ever talked to me about mental illness or personality disorders. I knew my mom had an alcoholic father who’d beaten the hell out of her her whole life, until she got pregnant with me and married my dad. I knew she had an uncle whose name was always hissed with the word “rape.” She was up-up-up and down-down-down, and sometimes when she made me cry, she said she was doing it just to see if she could. I think she wanted to stop the cycle. I think she wished for it more than anything. She could not. But she could keep it at bay, for Christmas.

I quit my job as Head Elf on a Sunday afternoon in December, sitting across from my mom at the county jail, separated by a piece of bulletproof plexiglass, talking on a grimy prison telephone. My mom was wearing an orange jumpsuit and twisting shredded pieces of paper in her hands. She hadn’t slept, had been crying for hours, I could tell, but she wasn’t out of tears. She sobbed into the phone, said it was my fault she was in jail. She’d stolen checks and identities and money, not for herself, but for me and my sister. To buy us Christmas presents. We were greedy. We demanded so much. Why couldn’t we just love her?

Don’t you dare leave me in here, is what she said. I would never leave you in here.

I had $50 to my name and college tuition due so soon. I put $45 in her commissary account. And I left her there. I hadn’t asked for anything for Christmas in years.

I followed my mom from jail to jail that December, putting what little money I had into her accounts so she could buy snacks and cigarettes and paper to write me angry letters. At the small jails that didn’t have commissaries, I took her warm socks. One tiny jail in the north Georgia mountains had a Christmas tree in the lobby and free peppermint sticks for visitors. I didn’t want to see her, I told the lady behind the desk. I’d heard that she could have thermal underwear here, so I brought her some. And I didn’t know if she got to bring the bras and undershirts I gave her at the other jail, so I brought some of those too. The jails didn’t usually allow outside snacks, but it was Christmas, the lady behind the desk told me, so I went to the only gas station in town and bought my mom all the Oreos.

I was once Susan in Miracle on 34th Street, actually able to see Kris Kringle. I was Olive the Other Reindeer, mistaking a song about Rudolph as a cry for help from Santa, and becoming a holiday hero anyway. I was Buddy the Elf, giving out hugs because they’re my favorite. I was Cindy Lou Who. I was Tiny Tim. But mostly I was Kevin McAllister from Home Alone, protecting my turf from the dark forces that threatened to sneak in and ruin The Happiest Season of the Year.

Back before I woke up sobbing, choking, pulling my hair, plagued by Christmas Eve nightmares of what will one day happen to my mom because I had to walk away, I really, really Believed.

I wonder sometimes if the magic of Christmas might still be alive inside me. I stop in the street when I hear jingle bells, even if it always turns out to be a bike messenger. My girlfriend’s mom read Elf on a Shelf to us this week, and I laughed at all the best parts. One of my best friends took me to Temple Square in Salt Lake City to see the lights and hear the choir last year, and I sat stiller and longer than I ever have in my life. It was the first time I cried about Christmas in a good way in over ten years.

Holiday spirit flares up in me, it’s true, but it’s always smothered by the memories of dark Christmases and the guilt of knowing I failed at being Head Elf.

Moving to Autostraddle this year changed me. Lifted me up. Opened my heart. Brightened my soul. Strengthened my smile. Tethered my waning hope to something real and deep and powerful.

Did you know Carmen Rios is practically Santa Claus and Riese just wants to take her girlfriend Abby (who watches ALL the days of ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas) to Disneyland to see the Christmas lights? And Yvonne’s review of Love Actually is one of the funniest things I’ve heard and Rachel is planning for when we can have real office Christmas parties and Ali keeps an eggnog alternative in her back pocket? Laneia takes care of everyone all the time and Rachel’s everyday grace feels like an actual miracle. I work with these women every day, women who know how hard and dark the world can be, but women who get out of bed every day determined to make it better. Women who love Christmas. They make me think maybe I can learn to love it again too.

Last night, walking home from dinner with my dearest friends, we passed by the lights and carols and ice skating rink and enormous tree at Rockefeller Center. I stopped, and gawked; my eyes were moons. “You hate Christmas?” my sweet friend whispered when I mumbled it to myself. “You hate Christmas?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah. I really do.”

But when I got home and looked at the picture of us in front of that tree, I was smiling so big.

I didn’t always hate Christmas.

I was born to Believe.


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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


  1. You are the most amazing person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Thank you for always sharing your stories with us, and always in such beautiful ways. You are the best one.

  2. Heather. I love you so much, and meeting you and becoming friends with you has shown me that miracles can happen in this life. You know this. I’ve told you this.

    When I asked, surprised, that you hate Christmas, it’s because I’d never encountered anyone who felt like I did about the holidays. I hate Christmas. I hate Thanksgiving. I hate 4th of July and New Year’s and birthdays and Halloween and god, I think I even hate Labor Day and Memorial Day.

    When I was growing up, we weren’t allowed to see anyone outside of family on holidays. And those were always miserable experiences. Yelling and breaking things and things going on behind closed doors that no one wants to talk about.

    As an adult, especially as one who has actively chosen to live on the opposite side of the country from my family, I now determine for myself whether I want to see family on holidays. And usually I don’t. But because of how I was raised, and because I’m a raging introvert, I also don’t want to crash anyone else’s holiday. Holidays are for family. So I spend them alone.

    I’m fine with this. But dear god, no one else is. The horror on people’s faces when I say I’m not doing anything for a holiday would be comical, if it didn’t always make me feel so squicky inside. “You’re not normal,” their faces say. And they try to adopt the “orphan” for the day, as if leaving me alone for the holidays would be the worst tragedy known to man.

    Not to say I’m not grateful to have friends who want me to be happy on the holidays. It’s so kind of them! But we live in a society that expects everyone to be so happy from Halloween to New Year’s, and no one will talk about how suicide rates go up when Christmas music starts playing.

    People expect us to be extra grateful and extra nice this time of year. And we are, for the most part. But holiday cheer can be beneficial all year long! And that’s the most wonderful, amazing thing about you, Heather Hogan. You don’t need carols and pine trees and nativity scenes to be so, so generous and warm hearted.

    You hate Christmas, and I agree with you, and I think your reasoning is much more valid than mine. But if there really is a thing called “Christmas spirit,” you are the type of person who carries it around in your soul, spreading it to others, all 365 days. So thank you.

    • I clicked the thumbs up button.
      But it’s not so much a “like” as “Oh my god, yes this, all this, jesus on a pogo stick, this.”

      Why do we not have a “You guys! All of this!” button?

  3. I’ve ben staring at this page for the past 43 minutes because I cannot seem to find anything remotely adequate to say. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for continuing to be one of the most generous people I have ever had the pleasure to know and one of the most generous writers on the entire internet.

    Just thanks.

  4. Thank you for writing this. The holidays are such a tough time of year when everything is supposed to be shiny and happy and yet so often it’s a stark reminder of all of the innocence lost, either that year or in years past. Thank you for putting all of those feelings into words and sharing them with us.

  5. heather, this was amazing and moving and amazing. i am so glad things have gotten better, and i’m sorry anyone / anything / circumstances of life ever took your christmas spirit. <3 <3 <3 <3

  6. Because I genuinely believe you haven’t heard it enough–when’s enough?– you’re a wonderful human and this article was just perfect. My family has it’s own really terrible ghosts of Christmas past that throw shade over the whole holiday, enough to make me want to just want to hold my breath and wait for it all to pass.

    But Christmas is such a special time. Strip away the magic, the mythology, the dead tree we’ve all decided to still collectively take into our homes and dress up and stare at adoringly–and I think Christmas is really magical because it’s about possibility. What can happen and who we can be, and trying to be the best version of that.

    Plus, I mean, santa. Thanks for contributing to my holigay feels. So glad auto straddle’s your new home.

  7. I just finished reading this and am gutted. Thank you for sharing so much of your story and soul with us HH. And I agree with Tammy above that even if you don’t find the holiday spirit inside yourself around this time of year, you spread so much joy and truth to us all the other days and for that I, and many others, are grateful to you.

  8. This is so beautiful and honest and powerful. And you should know that you’ve given us so much life, too, that you came in at a time when morale was often on the rocks and reminded us why we do this and, more importantly, that we’re good at doing it, and that people notice that. It’s so easy to succumb to negativity and exhaustion, but you don’t let us do that anymore. You’re our Head Elf, is what I’m saying. (carmen is still santa claus though, obvs)

  9. <3 <3 <3 <3

    I’m wishing all the good things this holigay season for, and for all holigay seasons to come.

  10. Even that tree doesn’t shine as bright as you do Heather.

    ***Merry everything in the universe to you***

  11. Your ability and willingness to share never ceases to amaze me. You are an amazing human and that giant smile in front of that enormous tree is heart warming.

  12. Thank you Heather. You are amazing. You write so beautifully.
    I am moved to tears. Shouldn’t have read this in the office.

  13. I have a very different reason for hating Christmas.

    I live on a different continent from the rest of my family. My childhood was very different from yours – no thrown plates, no slaps, no choosing between medical care and cigarettes. Christmas was about family, spending time with people who I loved, people who had been there for me my whole life.

    As adults, my partner and I decided to move to Australia. And for eleven months of the year, I am really happy with that decision. Sydney is a city that I really enjoy. But then December rolls around and the shops are full of snowflake decorations and nativity scenes even when it’s boiling hot outside, and suddenly I remember just how big the Pacific Ocean is.

    My wife’s family in Sydney (aside from her sister and brother-in-law, who are wonderful) are conservative Christians who like to pretend I’m her weird roommate. So our Christmases are low-key, maybe spending time with our other “orphan” friends, but never quite feeling right.

    This essay really affected me. Thank you for writing it, Heather!

  14. Heather. Heather. Heather. I don’t know what to say other than that I am so glad you are here at AS, that you chose to share this with us. You are a holigay miracle.

  15. You define , for me, the strength of being a female….. and for you as who YOU are!
    And I love you for showing me that I can be strong too.
    You are a teacher.
    And I want to hug your Georgia self!

  16. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Heather. Couldn’t have been easy, but it’s an important thing to have done. So thanks for your bravery and honesty.

    I haven’t celebrated Christmas since I was a young teenager. But this year, maybe I’ll do something different. I’ve just moved to NYC. I’m gonna trek over to Rockefeller Center and see that giant damn tree so I can take a picture for my friend back home who is the embodiment of the spirit of Christmas. Just so he can experience it with me. Maybe, just maybe, this will be a good Christmas.

  17. Heather I hope you can forgive me for not reading this story in it’s entirety before posting. I’ve already had more than my fair share of sad news in the family these last couple weeks and it’s hard enough to keep up usually positive outlook without having to read through another tale of hardship. Plus, I’m always apprehensive about reading anything with the word hate in the title and had to skip through the opening and closing to get for the real jest of it.

    That said what I did read was truly inspired and it’s seem like you’ve been trying to hold on to that childlike faith despite all the heartaches of time. Anytime can be a hard time to feel like celebrating and sounding cheerful when bad memories won’t fade. Even while so many other are gearing up for a good time that the feeling should be contagious. In fact, that can make you feel all the worse for seeming cut off from expectation imposed the by the rest.

    But remember (if anyone else hasn’t already made clear) the Christmas spirits reside in past, present, and future for a reason. The importance of looking for the good and chance to do good within a harsh and cruel world is not just important one day of the year, but all the year round. While time can be a great enemy, knowing of what we can do with time might turn out to be a great friend if we let it be.

    Note: By sure coincidence I was watching this Christmas episode of one my favorite childhood cartoon shows the other day and one quote stuck out in my mind as I was sitting here reading this morning. I couldn’t find a written transcript so try watching it here at about 17:25 to 17:45

    If anyone would rather I try to write it out in another post, please let me know.

  18. Okay I finally get through this thing and yes everyone was right. This was every bit as brave and inspiring as a imagined it would be.

  19. I think I just stared at my screen for a solid 10 minutes trying to figure out what I could possibly say that would express how much I appreciate you opening up yourself to all of us readers. A lot of what you talked about resonated with my youth personally, so it was nice to know that there are others out there that struggle with the holidays for similar reasons. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your story.

  20. This article hit home. I remember that year I spent the holidays stuck in my house because I was too sick to leave. Lying in bed, crying. My sister came home from college for winter break, only to want to build a snowman- but I couldn’t leave my bed. (Sorry for the Frozen reference…but it works.) I may still refer to myself as a bitter Jew who doesn’t like the winter holidays, but maybe I’m just happy to be able to breathe, to live. When I was in the hospital, my roommate mentioned spending Christmas there. My dad snuck candy bars into the hospital to give to her. Who wants to spend Christmas in a hospital, away from your family?

    I wish I could express myself as eloquently as you can, Heather.

    Tales from the closet, holiday edition: bah humbug.

  21. Heather, I think it is very courageous of you to share your experiences, and to end with a positive note. <3 Writing is good for the soul, and good for others, too. Thank you so much for being part of Autostraddle~

  22. I don’t know what to say except thank you. I know this is a deeply personal piece, but even things that speak of the most painful personal memories can still cause a total (virtual?) stranger to think, “that seems right.” And in some way it’s validating to hear someone openly and candidly say that they feel this way, and they’re okay with saying so, even if they’re not overjoyed by any means. It opens a door for me to say maybe what I feel is okay too. Maybe that’s a selfish thing to take away, but, selfishly, I need it.

    Your piece is raw and wonderful as well as evocative. I see it is your 34th article. I hope for many more.

  23. Heather, I love this and I love you so much! You’re such a wonderful writer and person and we’re so lucky to have you in our world!

  24. Thank you for writing this. This was such a powerful piece. You are a really great writer and human!

  25. Wow, this really hit me in the heart. You explained things that are also part of my life so much better than I ever could. Thank you for writing this. I’m still not looking forward to Christmas, but now I feel a little less alone.

  26. You have an amazing strength and courage Heather and all of that has been forged by by your inheritance and your life.

    Maybe you can love that past one Christmas at a time. Love Diane.

  27. Thank you for making me feel less alone. My fiancee has taught me to love the holidays again, but I struggled with them for so long.

  28. Oh. I just…no words. Thank you for sharing this. You’re awesome. I hope you’re able to fully Believe one day. <3

  29. Great article about a taboo subject.

    After decades of going into a dark pit between Thanksgiving and the New Year, I’ve come to a certain level of detente with the holiday. The catalyst was my partner and I having a daughter and if I don’t look forward to the whole thing, at least I’m not miserable to be around.

  30. Great writing! It’s been said but the smile on your face shows us that you’re kicking “sad holiday” ass! It reminds us all to tell a different story…a better one. Thanks :)

  31. You are an eloquent writer, capable of expressing even your darkest emotions with a positive spin- here, that you’ve found people to spend the holidays with who truly make you happy. “Head Elf” is a great way of describing that trait, but it isn’t limited to Christmas, and the vast amounts of love in your heart make you someone I strive to emulate. Thank you for sharing this piece, and thank you for joining the Autostraddle team.

  32. I am also a huge bah humbug person at Christmas for similar reasons. My girlfriend is the biggest Christmas elf of all time and is teaching me that the ghosts of Christmas past don’t have to ruin the holiday. Hopefully all of us bah humbugs can be so lucky to find someone who brings the magic back for us.

  33. Been thinkin’ about this actually. Used to love Christmas. But now when it comes around, it’s just a reminder that I’ve always had a family that was completely checked out and never there emotionally. It’s a less explosive kind of thing than what you’ve written about, but, it leaves as sour a taste in your mouth. Our little stage show of a holiday season didn’t fall apart in screaming and jailtime, just in the realization that everyone involved was actually horribly depressed and stressed the whole time and yet still certain people go on trying to pretend they still have a happy normal family.

    This is going to be the last time I ever spend Christmas with my family. My mother’s already off to California and never really had the bug for it anyway, and now dad is going to Colorado, leaving my disabled ass to couch-homelessness. And mostly I just want it to be over with. I want to take the shit he’ll insist on blowing a massive chunk of cash on, sell everything I don’t need, lug my computers into the back of my Buick and get the fuck away from him, maybe forever. Certainly for a long, long time. I wanna stop having to pretend I care about a family that doesn’t speak to me. I want to stop tiptoeing around everything like I’ve been doing since I was in grade school and start stomping around in my docs like I was meant to. I want to take up space.

    Yeah, that’s what I want. I want to start taking up space in my own life.

    Merry fuckin’ Christmas, I guess.

  34. Thank you so much for writing this. I had a friend in college who hated Christmas for similar reasons and I hated it when people would question her on it, like she was Satan or something.

    I’ve always loved Christmas, but the holidays have been pretty rough the last couple of years since my mom died. She was always Head Elf, and it’s weird trying to fill that void. =/

    • I can relate–Christmas was my mom’s time to shine and since she died ten years ago (a few weeks before Christmas, too) it’s been a rough rough holiday season. fortunately, I decided that after so many Christmases spent with other people’s families, I’m going to be with my brothers this year, being our own family again.

      Colleen, I really hope that you can find some way to ameliorate the hurt of Christmas without your mom. it’s not a hole you can fill, but I believe that there are people who can help you make it feel less empty.

  35. I am head elf in my family. Christmas has always resulted in my emotionally abusive mother doing things like throwing the cuckoo clock my dad got her onto the concrete, smashing the giant lawn mushroom I got her, throwing the lunch onto the lawn before anyone ate it, sending half the family away on a drive to the water only for us to return and find she had been yelling and abusing my auntie.

    It has taken me my whole life to realise her actions are abusive. That her verbally abusing me, trying to cut me off from friends and stalking me over all social media platforms… Facebook, tumblr… Then sensing offensive messages berating me for something i posted to the point where i had to delete everything and now go by an alias. I can’t add friends to tumblr because they use their full name or business site and she is a professional stalker.

    There are so many things and I can’t list them all here but oh my gosh, I feel for you.

    This year I am going with my gf’s family for Christmas and mother dearest has taken this as a personal attack against my brother visiting. She has accused my gf of keeping me away from my family when it is actually that my brother doesn’t communicate, he just books a ticket and expects everything to fall into place the week that he is here. I am working up to Christmas. She has told the family not to buy presents because she isn’t, has refused to call our early family Christmas by the name and has given my old room to my brother. I suggested that my gf and i come up the night before and stay and she said there is no room for us. Complete lie.

    The tint ways and large ways she hurts me just add up. I have always ignored it as the head elf and just pushes through with more cheer. This year i felt the need to find perfect gifts to make up for no one else giving any to the point that i had no money for food. I was staying up all night anxious that i hadn’t done enough, that she would take the monetary value i spent compared to another as an insult. That i couldn’t fix the day.

    This is me realising that this is not my job. She is probably pissed that she doesn’t get to ruin the actual 25th of December because I will be four hours up a mountain on a farm, surrounded by people who love the holiday to the point that they squeeze 50 plus people in a room and watch each other open gifts one by one. I will have peacocks, chickens, dogs and cows. They will make room for me to stay.

    I know my problems are miniscule compared to others but tonight I feel a weight has lifted. Heather, by golly, you may have just saved Christmas.

    Over and out

  36. I’ve never teared up at work before and now I’m trying (and failing) to not tear up now.

    thank you.

  37. I never use to hate Christmas and I don’t know if I really hate or just treat it as any other day. 14 years ago we moved back to the city my parents were originally from and where my grandparents and uncles lived so Christmas was always a big thing we would go to my Dad’s mom’s house on Christmas eve and have a traditional Ukrainian dinner and after cleaning up we would open presents. On Christmas morning my mom’s mom would come over and we would spend the whole day together as a family.

    6 years ago we moved provinces and my mom’s mom ended up getting cancer and passing away a month away from Christmas. With my mom travelling back and forth every weekend and us spending a week making funeral agreements and house cleaning. Christmas just kind of came and went and we didn’t really notice. Ever sense it has become a chore for the whole family to get into the Christmas spirit and it seems the tree goes up later and later every year.

    Thanks Heather for sharing your story with us.

  38. Heather, you are the reason I came back to AS after a long break. This post is the first one I read. And it just reminds me why you are my fav blogger. As usual, there are also parts of it with which I identify quite a bit…

    Growing up, my Christmases were great. My family didn’t have much but we had each other. Nowadays we all still live together and still celebrate Christmas together. But. BUT. I am currently in a situation where a family member is stuck in a cycle of bad decisions. And has been for years now. I keep trying to detach. But it is hard to do so when I live in the same house and that person’s decisions affect others. Some who get pulled in by choice and some who cannot choose for themselves and end up undeservedly suffering the consequences. That makes it harder not to care. I have been alluding to some stuff on my blog but I swear, nowadays, I alternate between feeling super sad and feeling murderously angry.

    Holidays are not as fun anymore because I don’t have the same relationship – things are not as they used to be when we were little. Family arguments are entirely more frequent, mainly thanks to this one person’s actions (a person who is usually not present when the fallout happens). The result of these arguments is that everyone leaves them more emotionally battered and the culprit continues as is, guiltless.

    This toxic environment, not the fact that I am still in the closet from my parents, is the number one reason I want to move out. And I have been understanding more and more why people cut others out of their lives. I don’t know that I will ever get there but I empathize with the courage it took and the struggle you had to endure to get to that place.

    Glad you are now getting to enjoy Christmas a bit now though, even if you do still technically hate it :).

  39. Thank you so much for sharing this! The things you discussed here have helped shed a little more light on my own complicated feelings about this time of year, and for that I am grateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  40. I read this when it was first posted, but haven’t had the time to comment on it.

    For the past decade or so, the holidays have been a source of tremendous depression and anxiety for me. My patterns of disordered eating started when I was 18, and with the onslaught of goodies available during this time of the year, I’ve come to associate the Christmas season with periods of bingeing, feeling sick, starving myself, hating myself, wishing I could just be “normal” and stop after one Lindor chocolate, not be hiding out in front of my computer in the dark, crying into an empty box with a mess of crumpled wrappers in front of me. For years I’d watch the numbers on the scale creep up with every day I spent gorging on Ferreros and cookies. I know it all sounds very cute and silly in an Oxygen movie of the week kind of way, but when food becomes your point of reference for everything, it’s so emotionally and spiritually draining, especially at Christmas. I couldn’t enjoy anything because I all I could do was fixate on how much weight I was going to gain by the time New Year’s rolled around, a day which would be marked by my resolution to be “good”, and to lose 25 pounds by summer. Oh, and because I’m Ukrainian, my family does Christmas on January 6th/7th, as well. So much for that resolution, as a deluge of more food was coming my way.

    In addition to my struggles with food was the tension that spending time with my family brought as I got older. I used to look forward to spending time with my extended family, but as adulthood brought with it greater awareness and perspective, I’d started to notice just how much no one in my family really liked each other. My worn out mother and I would rush around, trying our best to accommodate everyone while my aunts and uncles sat on their asses and never offered to help. My aunt would have the nerve to roll her eyes at me and tell me to go help my mother in the kitchen as I sat down to eat while she had long finished her meal and wasn’t doing anything. You could just tell that no one really wanted to be there, but that they were trying so hard to make Christmas “work”. There was no sincerity, no warmth, just a lot of going through the motions.

    Last year, my older sister, with whom I’d always had a tumultuous relationship, assaulted me and threatened to kill me after I chewed her out for constantly dumping her son off on our mom, who already had a lot to deal with taking care of our 95-year-old grandmother. As scary as that incident was, it gave me a “get out of jail free” card, a legitimate excuse to not have to show up to any more holiday fetes at my mother’s. I didn’t want to spend the holidays worrying about my safety. Despite this, my mother continues to try to guilt trip me into coming to holiday events. She’s made that incident about her, dismissively sighing, asking me why I can’t just be the bigger person, why I have to be so “dramatic”, because “there are worse things going on in the world”, and I’m miserable because I’ve “alienated” my family. I’m sorry, but no. An adult woman with a child (who was in the house at the time) freakin’ threw me into a dining room table and bashed my head in before telling me in great detail how she was going to rip all of my teeth out and “murder” me.

    My dad had a heart attack on Christmas Day last year.

    Over the past year, my grandmother’s health has deteriorated, and my nephew’s become more of a handful. There’s never any peace at my mother’s. There’s always screaming, whether it’s the holidays or not. Over the past few weeks, my beloved 12 year old kitty (who lives with my mom) has developed a wanderlust and has been staying down the street with a kind old lady whose kitty he was friends with before her cat died. I dunno whether he’s going there because he’s getting ready to die himself, or whether he needs a break from the tension and noise. I was at my mom’s last night, and I was just overcome with so much sadness over how much things have changed, and not for the better. I just sat on her couch and sobbed.

    I don’t know if anyone’s familiar with “A Cosmic Christmas”, but there’s a moment in the special when the visiting aliens (don’t ask) ask the main character, “Is this love? Is this caring for others?” when confronted by the overall hostility and bitterness of angry holiday shoppers and urbanites. Those are the questions I was asking myself as my mother and grandmother roared at each other downstairs while I cried in the living room.

    On the plus side, I’ve lost 25 pounds and gotten a better handle on food since moving in with my dad. I still have my bad days, but they don’t derail me in the way they used to. Nonetheless, I can’t help but dwell on my darker days when the holiday season begins.

    The one glimmer of happiness comes from the fact that someone from my past reached out to me a couple weeks ago, pretty much out of nowhere, and has expressed an interest in reconnecting after nearly 10 years of not communicating. Our drifting apart wasn’t due to any sort of hostility, but just to quietly falling off of each other’s radar as we didn’t see each other around anymore. He and I sort of tentatively circled each other for a bit in university, but I was too scared to get to know him and ran away. So the chance to finally get to know each other a little makes me excited. But with my track record, especially during this time of the year, I’m expecting to be let down.

    I’m trying to make the holidays less about “shoulds”. Guilt over how I “should” feel, how I “should” spend time with my family, eats away at me. But I’m working on carving out my own traditions, now. It’s still hard though, as my friends make plans and go away with their families. Meanwhile, all I do is stream Christmas TV episodes and specials like there’s no tomorrow. And I spend Christmas alone, but I spend it happy.

  41. Thank you for opening up and sharing something so deeply personal. I’m so relieved to find other people who don’t like Christmas. As a kid I absolutely hated Christmas. It meant time with the family that I couldn’t get out of, dealing with mom’s temper and having to pretend to be happy. I used to have do increase visits with my psychologist and increase meds simply to make it though the holidays without harming myself too badly. As an adult, Christmas is so much more enjoyable. Part of it is living out of state and knowing how long I can before losing my mind, but I think most of it is my refusal fyi to visit the extended family.

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