Victoria Presser said she was lying on the couch, “nauseated by the smell of roasting pork” when she knew she had to change the way she did Christmas.
“When my children were young, I did make a big song and dance and I would invite people who had no families to celebrate with, that seemed to take the edge off my reaction, which felt like a 24-hour psychosis,” she says.
“My sight would blur, I felt nauseous, my whole body became leaden and I had no desire to do the big cook up
Victoria isn’t alone. The pressure to maintain traditions and create the harmonious scenes we are told Christmas should look like can leave many feeling more dread than joy.
But “boycotting” Christmas doesn’t make you a Grinch.
Christmas on your terms:
- Communicate about what’s causing you stress
- Be open to change and willing to negotiate
- Try to make your actions reflect your values
For many, it means putting an end to the parts of the season that cause stress, waste or are simply unrealistic.
Now Victoria simply doesn’t do it. Christmas that is.
“When the kids were both safely in their teens, I told them that they would have Christmas with their father and that I would have them the night before; it may not sound like much of a shift, but it worked for me.”
She says she no longer puts the pressure on herself to cook and instead gets supermarket platters. A decade on, it still works.
Negotiation is key
Many people experience panic attacks, sadness, anxiety and feeling of guilt around Christmas, says Relationships Australia Psychologist Sian Khuman.
But breaking from tradition can be stressful too.
“Christmas holds a lot of importance and emotion to many families and changing that can often be more difficult,” Ms Khuman says.
So how do you tell your family you want to change the way you do Christmas?
“It’s about negotiation and responding to family and traditions, and respecting that, but also upholding your own ideas and values if they’re different.”
“And with that comes with needing to be more adaptable and flexible with traditions.”
Toning down traditions
Jason Phillips said he has had a few Grinch remarks thrown at him for not getting into the spirit of Christmas.
Instead he and his family are toning it down by not decorating the house or giving gifts.
“I’m proud to live in a diverse suburb where many residents don’t celebrate Christmas,” Jason says.
“I like to fit in with this community so we decided we’d have a more sensible Christmas.”
While they will still meet up with relatives for lunch, Jason says it is time to “move on from this highly commercial ritual”.
‘A waste of time and money’
Stephen Ward says he and his family stopped doing Christmas when his now-adult children were in school.
He says they were “cool with it”.
“Too much money is spent, too much food wasted and presents are destroyed within days.”
He said the last straw was seeing children’s gifts being destroyed an hour after being opened.
“Now we treat it as any other day.
“We get real gifts, not garbage pushed at Christmas, at other times. Like when our child did well at school.”
He said they would much rather celebrate their children’s achievements.
Avoiding uncomfortable situations
Ms Khuman says making decisions about whether you spend Christmas with family can be a major cause of stress too. Especially if there is tension.
Francis Adrian Roberts, an observant Catholic, has made a decision and says he’ll spend Christmas on his own to avoid awkward family politics.
“The politics of Christmas with my secular-minded children is just too awkward these days,” Francis said.
“I shall dine alone at the yacht club and enjoy the ambience sans the stresses one found at my children’s festivities.”
Heather Gridley, a community and counselling psychologist, says with more people ticking “no religion” on the census, Christmas may not hold religious significance to as many people as it once did.
“All religions and cultures have special days and we should respect that, even if they are not our own.”
Ms Gridley says relationships are complicated and deciding how to tackle tension comes down to what feels right for the individual.
“I think that it is quite a useful thing to think about matching your values with your actions,” she says.
Making the roads safer
Win Martin and her husband Arthur put an end to long drives to family lunches on Christmas day 20 years ago.
“We were stressed and exhausted by the travelling,” Win says.
“We see our children and grandchildren around Christmas on any mutually convenient day.”
Win said when both their mothers passed away, they no longer felt obliged to host or attend large gatherings.
“It was such a relief. Now we just have a quiet meal for the two of us.”