Declare Your Independence from Holiday Hype

It occurred to me when I was proofreading my last blog post that the wonderful, simpler Christmas my family experienced the year I had pneumonia might not have happened if my husband had been the one to get sick.  Why?  Because the person who was always trying to create the lavish, "perfect" holiday was me, not him.  If he had been ill and recovering, I would probably have gone ahead with my usual preparations.

Jon, left to himself, would have created roughly the holiday I described. 

  • He would not have felt guilty about not entertaining or baking a bunch of picture-perfect goodies.  
  • He wouldn't have worried about special clothes or a formal family photograph or Christmas cards.  
  • He probably wouldn't have bothered with gifts except for the kids.  
  • He'd have written some checks to charity and made phone calls to loved ones on Christmas Day.  
  • He'd get the kids to church on Christmas Eve, but he wouldn't have worried if they didn't participate in a dance recital that year.

Traditional gender roles

The pressure to create a special holiday came from me, not Jon.  Or more accurately, it fell to me.  The expectations placed by our culture on this time of year were laid on me, and without being conscious of it, I definitely felt that I had a standard to live up to.  After all, it isn't the men's magazines that feature covers about "Your Best Holiday Ever."

Way back in 1991, Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli noticed that women were the ones who believed they had to be the "Christmas magicians."  In their now-classic book, Unplug the Christmas Machine, they wrote about the common complaint of women ("Why can't I get my husband more involved and enthusiastic about Christmas?") as well as the common concern of men ("Why can't I get my wife to relax and enjoy the celebration?").

Those questions represent completely opposite points of view.

The season of sky-high expectations

If there is any season of the year calculated to play on a woman's perfectionism and performance anxieties, Christmas is it.  (I would guess Hanukkah is the same.)

And why is that?  I can't think of much that's intrinsic to the holiday itself that would put this kind of pressure on us.  Maybe the need to prepare a "feast?"  And certainly musicians have always had plenty of work to do to prepare for special holiday services.  As someone who has often sung Handel's Messiah and Bach's Christmas Cantata, as well as plenty of other music both in church and out of it, I know how busy a musician can be during this season.  Dancers too, with all of those Nutcracker performances. 

But those are professional obligations, and non-professionals have a choice about such involvements.  Let's face it... the Christmas Magic that is supposed to be produced – mostly by moms – has been largely created by retailers.

After all, it's a retailer's make-or-break season.  From Black Friday (the biggest shopping day of the year) to December 26th (the third biggest shopping day – although in Canada it's #1), most retailers make a very large chunk of their annual profits.  They depend on selling us more stuff every. single. year.

Related article: How to Get 100% Off This Black Friday

I really, really want to stop serving the retailers.  I want my life to be determined by me and my family, not by the needs and demands of the profit-makers.  And I want these winter holidays, which are supposed to have spiritual significance, to remain focused on that.  You don't even have to be religious to long for more peace, joy, goodwill, contemplation, and appreciation, and less shopping, competition, and stress.  What we remember – long, long after the gifts, d├ęcor, and overeating – is the love and togetherness.

So ladies, I address you directly, because we tend to be the ones who try to outdo ourselves every year.  Just stop it.  Say no.  Declare your independence from the overdone, materialistic holiday hyped by advertisers and the media.  Stop letting your holiday be what the retailers are selling (with maybe a little dollop of spirituality on top).  

Turn it on its head.  

Make your holiday all about the spiritual aspects (religious or not), all about spending quality time with people you love, and toss a little dollop of gifts and glitter on top of that solid foundation.

We can do this!  We can push back against the Holiday Machine and promote peace and enjoyment, rather than some company's bottom line or yet another "perfect" post on Instagram.

Updated June 2023


  1. This post hits home, and yes, I'm female. I was thinking many of the same things this week -- but about weddings. I work in an office of 10 people, where 9 are men and 1 (me) is a woman. We're all in the second half of our lives and make roughly the same salaries. Several of the men have daughters who are marrying this year or next, and their sole role is to pay for the wedding. I, also having a daughter who's marrying, am not only paying for it, but I'm planning it. I see such a dichotomy between men's and women's perspectives on the incredibly hyped-up wedding industry. Women again need to say no to the industry-driven, budget-busting, go big or go home mentality.

    1. Absolutely true, Bette! The one-upmanship in weddings just keeps growing and growing.

      I was married over 37 years ago with a pretty simple ceremony and reception. My daughter got married over 10 years ago, and we worked hard to keep it simple, but the pressure to go big (even from family members) was heavy. Several nieces have been married in the last couple of years, and WOW! One wonders whether the purpose of the ceremony is even remembered, since everything else overshadows that simple moment at the altar when those vows and rings are shared. It's like the important moments have become when you see the bride's amazing dress for the first time, or when you enter the sumptuous, magically arrayed reception hall for the first time. The emphasis is on what will be photographed, rather than on the meaning of the event -- when two people and two families are joined.

      And the DEBT that some families or couples take on for this one day (although I guess it's become more common to have events over an entire weekend) -- they could use it as a down payment on a house or start married life without student loans and with emergency savings.

      It's easy for most men to say "relax" when they are not the ones with this pressure upon them.

      I found some articles at The Frugal Dollar that might give you some inspiration (also the disturbing tidbit of information that couples who spend the most money on their weddings actually face a higher risk of divorce) --

      Thanks for your comment, Bette, and stay strong!

  2. just found your blog and this post....reminds me of the Dec 11 birth of my daughter 51 years was the one Christmas that I was ready ahead of time and not stressed!

    1. A new baby just forces you to slow down and rest when you can! It must have been a magical holiday.


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