To Enjoy the Holidays, Lower Your Expectations

by Sarah Miller
Originally Published: 

I don’t know why everyone always says Christmas/the holidays are so awful. But I can guess. Allow me to let you in on a little secret I have figured out after 45 years of a life marred by almost perpetual disappointment—during which I have lately emerged, more or less, in a decent mood, even though this is not my nature: The secret to enjoying the holidays is the same as the secret to enjoying life. 1. Lower your expectations. 2. Aside from paying taxes and going the speed limit and so on, don’t ever do anything you don’t want to do.

©Luke Stehr/Flickr

I talk to all these people who tell me that they hate going home for the holidays. They complain about how their mom feeds their kids too much sugar and how their stepfather is a jerk or how their sister-in-law is racist. I don’t have any of these problems, but I still don’t like going home for Christmas. Why? I don’t know. I just don’t.

I’d rather go see my parents when it’s nice out and we can get out of the house. I don’t feel like being around my nieces and watching them text their friends about what they got, because watching teenagers text each other seriously just makes me feel old and angry, and who wants to feel like that? So. You know that little voice telling you that you don’t like going home for the holidays? It’s not telling you to go home for the holidays and then complain about it. It’s just telling you not to go.

Another big complaint about the holidays: all the money spent on gifts. There is such an easy way around this one. Don’t fucking buy anyone anything. Or rather, don’t mandate yourself to get anyone anything. Maybe just get one thing for one person as a nod to holiday goodwill. For example, this year, I got a friend who is not even a super-close friend of mine some books, just because I knew she would like them. My gift to her stood in as my gift to everyone I know. How did I get away with this? I don’t know. I just bought her the books and then said, “Phew, my Christmas shopping is done!”

This practice obviously excludes children old enough to know about presents and young enough to care—it is way easier, just looking at everything through a cost-benefit analysis, to just buy shit for them than to explain why you didn’t. But as soon as children are old enough to understand that stuff costs money and that they probably don’t want that much stuff anyway, just tell them. Everyone is always feeding kids so much bullshit about how they need to study and go to college so that one day they too can spend all of their time earning not quite enough money to live, and I am going to assume they appreciate the small doses of adult reality they receive as much as I appreciated the ones I got.

The no gift thing works for holiday parties as well. I hate holiday office parties. So guess what? That’s right: I am not going to mine! I’m not even making up an excuse. I’m simply not going to attend! Whee! (By the way, you know how I said you should buy one random gift for someone? You don’t also have to attend some random holiday party.)

What else am I not doing this holiday season? That’s hard to answer, because I am pretty much not doing anything. I have a fantasy of drinking some bourbon and watching the movie The Ghost Writer for the fifth time. I realize I said that you were supposed to lower your expectations about the holidays, and you’re reading that thinking, “But that sounds so incredibly fun!” Sorry to be so inconsistent.

Maybe I am simple-minded, but I feel like being given a few days off at a time of year when it’s acceptable to sit inside and watch television is as good as it gets. If you have any trouble re-conceptualizing the holidays as something you could enjoy in a very mild way rather than dread or find disappointing, just say the words aloud to yourself a few times: “The holidays. The holidays. The holidays.” They’re so generic and unthreatening. Drink them in like supermarket eggnog. Mmmm. Supermarket eggnog! Expectations raised!

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