It’s OK To Ditch The Holiday Get-Togethers That Drain You

by Alicia Stein
Closeup of a mother leaving a house with her son, as they're holding hands

In non-pandemic times, my in-laws throw a huge Thanksgiving, with upwards of 25 people. My husband loves going to Thanksgiving at his parents’ house. There’s yummy food, family he hasn’t seen in years, and the night usually ends with games, a sing-along, and lots of laughter.

I like all of those things, too, in theory. But every time I go to Thanksgiving there, I need to hibernate for three days afterwards just to recover. I get sensory overload in situations like that, and although most of the people invited to this Thanksgiving are basically okay, someone always says something that rubs me the wrong away—about my kids, my weight, my job, politics, etc., and I end up feeling upset/pissed off for a few days.

On top of all of this, going to an event like this with kids in tow—especially kids who are picky eaters, easily bored and cranky, and who have sensory overload issues just like I do—is not fun at all.

I’ll be honest: one of the silver linings of the pandemic for me is that it meant that I was able to have a good excuse for not attending Thanksgiving for 2020. I was pretty happy skipping some of the other family holiday events that year too. Call me a grinch. Call me a jerk. But I just don’t see the point of these large holiday get togethers.

I would much rather just stay home with my little family—or maybe with a few extended family members—and call it a day.

To me, there is something really special and magical about a small family gathering. It’s more intimate. You can be yourself. You can truly connect with the people you are with. And you don’t have to spend days cooking, preparing, trying to please a million different people.

I work full-time, and when I get time off, I hate spending it doing things that drain me. Isn’t the point of time off to do things that relax you and feed your soul? Large holiday gatherings suck my soul out until it’s writhing on the floor and screaming for mercy.

Obviously, my husband and I don’t always see eye to eye on this. He misses alllll the pre-pandemic holiday stuff. He’s aching for a time when it’s totally safe to celebrate the holidays with his giant family and all of their friends. He thrives in large groups. He finds these types of events inspiring and invigorating.

We are clearly polar opposites here. It sucks.

But I will say this: if you are someone like me, and find holiday get-togethers draining, demoralizing, stressful, too expensive, or full of too many toxic people for you to deal, you are not alone. It’s okay to feel this way, truly.

Most importantly, there is nothing wrong with you. For many years, I really thought I was the defective one when it came to not wanting to participate in these things. But as I got closer to my 40s, and I saw that my feelings were not changing no matter what I did, I came to realize that this is just who I am.

Even before the pandemic hit, my husband and I had struck a deal that we’d do at least a few of the big holidays at home. I didn’t think it was fair to say that we’d do no holidays with our extended family, but I needed to skip a few of them each in order to stay sane.

I think it’s reasonable to make a few compromises when you and your spouse have different approaches here. No one is obliged to continue to do things over and over for years that they hate.

I also think it’s important to note that if there are people attending your holiday get-togethers who have been toxic or abusive to you in the past, you have absolutely no obligation to attend. Zero. Same goes for someone who is disrespectful of your sexual orientation, race, parenting style, whatever.

These types of things are really non-negotiable and I give you permission to cancel your upcoming holiday plans immediately.

Again, no one is saying that there is no value in celebrating the holidays with others. It’s just that the way so many of us have been doing it for years just hasn’t been working. It’s time we acknowledge that and then come up with a sensible path forward.

It sucks when you find something that is supposed to be fun and merry absolutely exhausting. It sucks when that event leaves you in turmoil. And really, life is too short to continue to do things that make you feel that way.