How to Get Through Christmas When You Don't Have Any Holiday Spirit


Somewhere buried in a box, there is a photo of me on Christmas Day when I was 9 years old. I’m slumped on the sofa, my new art box on my lap full of paints and pencils. There is a smile vaguely on my chapped lips, lost amongst the pale, sunken face and dark, hollow eyes. My hair is limp, flat and dull. It looks like the base makeup for a “Walking Dead” extra.

This was just the beginning of my myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), before anyone in my family, or even any doctors that I saw, knew what ME was. None of us knew that I would still be slumped on that sofa on Christmas Day over a decade later.

Since then, I have had a love/hate relationship with Christmas and especially New Year. Each year I try a little bit harder to rediscover my Christmas spirit, but each year, I hate it just that little bit more. Every Christmas I am suffocated by the things I can’t do; I can’t wear sparkly dresses to cocktail evenings or office parties. I can’t go for long walks in the frost of candlelit villages. I can’t sit at a dining room table packed with 10 people, all yelling above each other that make my ears and head sore, or raucously, drunkenly laughing while I stay sober. I can’t hold the concentration to play board games. I can’t go about bustling shops to find the perfect present or battle the chaos of January sales. But most of all, I can’t go out on New Year’s Eve, I can’t countdown the year without each second flashing a failure or disappointment of the year gone by, and I can’t have people wishing me a Happy New Year, or slurring “This will be your year! This will be the year you get better!” when I know there will be very little happy about it, and it most definitely won’t be the year I’m cured.

Normally, I’m so strong and hopeful and positive. But when we hit December 1 and those adverts begin, it’s like a switch. I become a month-long scrooge.

So what do I do to stop myself having a Christmas breakdown, from burning all the decorations, from lunging a turkey at a drunken uncle?

1. Accept it.

Being in denial that you hate this season, and forcing the ignorant, false happiness onto yourself will make it even worse. Imagine that every time you force some holiday spirit onto yourself, someone is shaking a Coke bottle, until one day, probably Christmas Day, a hyped up child complains about the sprouts and undoes the lid — boom. Fizz everywhere.

2. Embrace it.

My Dad, being a postman, hates Christmas, too. Every year, we jokingly make our Christmas all about the Christmas tips he receives, which drives my very religious mother bonkers. It is a way of making it humorous and light-hearted, it avoids all the very traditional customs, and having someone else who also wishes December ends quickly makes it easier, too. You can even get in touch with me to unleash your inner Ebenezer.

3. Use it to your advantage.

Christmas means shopping. This luckily, can now be done from the confines of your bedroom. So no one needs to know that only four out of 10 items are presents for other people and the rest are for you. It also means an abundance of food. I have IBS and so I avoid the usual big meals, and the Christmas dinner can sometimes be a nightmare. But the leftovers! Being able to snatch a cold roast potato, or a slice of turkey, because you can’t be bothered to make a sandwich. And, as it’s Christmas, eating a tub of Mini Cheddars at 3 a.m. because that’s what you woke up craving is perfectly acceptable. Remember, calories don’t count in December.

4. Don’t give in to peer pressure.

So you want to spend New Year’s Eve on your sofa with an enormous takeaway and a blanket by yourself? Then you do that. Don’t let friends or family make out that you will have a much better time wearing itchy clothing, in a sweaty, crowded environment, not even being able to leave early because “You must stay for the countdown!” If your gut is telling you that that’s what you want to do, you do you. You can all go out on another night, when the atmosphere is not so forced. Ninety percent of people will always say that their night out on New Years was overrated and anti-climatic. You know what’s never anti-climatic? Egg fried rice.

5. Don’t shy away from your emotions.

Be angry, be resentful, be in despair, be sobbing at a puppy in a Santa hat. This time of year is nostalgic for everyone. We look back on all we did and didn’t do in the year gone by and we relive everything we felt. It’s all part of the closure for the new beginning on January 1.

6. Don’t compare your year or Christmas to others.

There are those who have had the perfect year; my brother always seems to have the perfect one, he goes from strength to strength at his job, in his relationship, at his whole life. Every year there’s another big successful milestone for him. And yes, I am a little bitter, and a little jealous, but I’m also incredibly proud of him, and very aware there have been elements that he’s kept to himself that were difficult. There are things I did this year that even the healthiest people are jealous of. Avoiding social media on Christmas Day is very beneficial; do you really want to see another Christmas Day engagement ring or another Pandora charm? Or that girls pile of expensive presents while you mainly got thermals or heat pads? I know, I know; it’s like watching a really gross video – you don’t want to see, but you just have to. But do try not to.

7. Count your blessings.

Literally, count them. When you’ve just seen a Snapchat of everyone in sequins drinking champagne while you’re in pajamas and drinking decaf tea, count 10 things you’re grateful for; Your dog, your Netflix, your partner, your independence if you’re single, your strength, your favorite lipstick. Whatever comes to mind, however big or small. Every time you feel a little resentful or bullied by life, stop and count.

8. Remember it’s not forever.

By January 2, the Christmas spirit is good and buried, those blinding lights are taken down, those presents you saw on someone’s Facebook is probably in a closet and remember; it really could be your year. Never lose hope.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead photo by Thinkstock Images


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Antique Silver Spoons on White Background

What I Wish For Most This Christmas as Someone With Severe Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

I still remember the excitement of making a Christmas wish list as a child. I would scour my magazines for the latest toys and painstakingly handwrite a letter to Santa with my chosen cut-outs pasted next to my list. Some days later, I would receive a postcard from Santa himself, assuring me I would have [...]
photo of decorated Christmas tree and gift boxes against burning fireplace

A Holiday Wish List for the Chronically Fatigued

I adore Christmas; it really is the most wonderful time of the year. Last year, however, I was left wondering if I’d somehow ended up on Santa’s naughty list as I was gifted with the unholy trinity of flu, pneumonia and, ultimately, chronic fatigue syndrome. This year, taking my current health into account, I’ve developed [...]
young woman throws snow on winter field

All I Want for Christmas as a Person With ME/CFS

Remember writing to Santa as a kid? You’d ask for gifts so big and so fantastic that Santa would need more than one Christmas season to fulfill the request. For me, it was a horse. Every Christmas, even after I stopped writing to Santa, a horse was always at the top of the list until [...]
girl sitting alone in a park

Dealing With a Chronic Illness Relapse Just As You Get Your Life Together

This day two months ago, I was in the Canadian mountains on the back of a horse — no hat, no reins, no care in the world, the autumn sun on my face. I was trotting around the stable grounds, listening to the crisp leaves falling off the trees, the clomping of hooves in the earth, [...]