‘Celebrating Christmas shouldn’t be at the detriment of your mental health’
The pressure to celebrate the joy of the festive season can come at a cost, leaving those who find this time of year difficult all the more isolated. Jennifer McShane speaks to one woman who says she’s never been happier since she decided to stop celebrating Christmas.
Dublin-based Roxanna Nic Liam told me that as soon as she stopped officially celebrating Christmas, she felt a weight lift. There’s so much pressure to create that movie magic of a perfect family and a perfect dinner that more often than not, it left her feeling down and unhappy — the opposite intended effect for this time of year.
When she decided to stop celebrating, she says it was for practical and personal reasons, though she respects everyone’s decision to celebrate their own way. “People are just so stressed about the whole thing. I get on with most of my family but I found that at Christmas all we did was argue. It’s down to the pressure. I love my family but I don’t enjoy Christmas — I always think we’re meaner to each other at Christmas because we’re forced to be around each other! Plus, I always feel down at this time of year, I think most people do. You’re walking around town seeing all couples, lights and people getting engaged and it can just serve as a time of year that makes you feel inadequate if you don’t have all of that.”
She used to enjoy it all, she says, when she was young, but it quickly lost its allure when she got older, finding that any anxieties she had regarding the festivities were amplified. “I come from a family of six siblings so we always celebrated as usual when we were kids but as soon as we got older, I felt it wasn’t the same. Plenty of people don’t always see eye-to-eye with their families so why should you feel obliged or forced to spend that time with them if it doesn’t make you feel good?”
She makes a valid point: fraught relationships with family members can feel all the more tense when there is a duty to spend Christmas together.
“Christmas is supposed to be fun and enjoyable — it shouldn’t be at the detriment of your mental health.”
“I think if you are feeling sad because you’re on your own or that you don’t have a good relationship with your family, you do feel worse. And if you feel down in any way, it can feel even more isolating. I felt sad about it for so many years.”
And there are, of course, practical elements too — those we can all empathise with.
“It was always hugely expensive too and I hated being broke in January and then made feel guilty for celebrating Christmas at all, when the New Year, New You stuff kicks off.
“I have very little time off during Christmas as I work at night so the three days I have, I’d sooner just spend watching Christmas films trying to catch up on sleep. I love my family, I just don’t think there needs to be this massive pressure to express that around Christmas when you can and should be doing it at any point during the year.”
The ‘selfish’ stigma
She says there is that stigma, that you’re being selfish. “Last year was the first year I did it properly and initially, yes, my mam was a bit upset before I explained I felt better overall for it. It’s taken me ages to get over that — I even told a fib to one person last year and said I’d be away, simply because I felt I couldn’t say it —but my family know how much they mean to me and I don’t think we need to show or prove that to each other, simply by having a Christmas dinner together.”
She says this time of year might be made a lot easier for people who feel they don’t want to celebrate (but still must) by changing around the idea of what is seen as a ‘tradition.’ “I’m comfortable in my own skin now that I’m a bit older and I love tradition and the idea of that, but I do think that Ireland needs to be more adept when it comes to trying to alter those traditions. We’re so reluctant to change that any change or going outside the box of what’s expected can be deemed a selfish choice — and maybe if we re-evaluated our traditions, this wouldn’t be the case.”
“If it really is about family and being together, it doesn’t mean that we all have to be together for three days, driving each other mad —we can make new traditions and celebrate those instead.”
Read more: Snow is falling: the Christmas playlist that gives us (terrible) flashbacks to our retail days
Read more: “People often ask me ‘when does grief end?’, but the truth is it doesn’t”
Read more: ‘I was advised not to have kids as there’s a high chance I could lose my leg’