Bah Humbug! Am I a Bad Person for Hating the Holidays?

It's the holiday season, a time when most people seem to be happy and cheerful. But it is never a happy time for me. I hate the holidays! Forced schmoozing with family I wouldn't otherwise want to see ... an obligation to spend money I don't have on others ... crappy weather. I can see how couples who have kids might be able to appreciate the holidays, but for a single person like me, they're just the worst. It's just a reminder of how single and lonely and adrift I am. Am I a terrible person for feeling down when everyone else seems to be so merry? —Bah Humbug
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Dear Humbug,

You are not alone—not everybody loves the holidays, and plenty of people hate them. Thanksgiving is only round one. Not long after, you get socked with a real haymaker, the endgame (literally, December)—Christmas or Kwanzaa or Hanukkah or whatever version of party-on you choose … or that’s been chosen for you, I suppose.

Not to mention it gets really dark really early now and, depending where you live, perhaps freezing cold and snowy. The celebrations you don’t feel part of, plus the longer nights, the light deprivation, and the crappy weather, can cause emotional and physiological reactions that make you feel even worse.

A lot of people struggle with the commercialization of the season as well; many stores set up holiday displays and started piping in seasonal music before summer was out! For many people, the significance of the holidays, or what they’re supposed to stand for, is lost in the hustle and bustle.

No, you are not a terrible person for feeling down this time of year. A great many people feel depressed and stressed and lonely and grief-stricken and resentful this time of year. It may seem like everybody else is celebrating with special loved ones and you’re not, and you may feel all alone and, worse, obligated to join celebrations you don’t feel are for you. But remember, not everyone has family, not everyone has family they want to spend time with, and not all families have learned to put aside the family drama and just let everybody have a good time together.

There’s a store near where I live. Every year about this time, they put a sign in their window: “Sharpen your knives for the holidays.” It’s a hardware store, so I read it literally—bring in your knives and we’ll sharpen them right up. But for what? I always wonder. Are those knives for slicing up turkey and ham or for self-defense? Do we kind of feel like turkeys and hams, sitting around the big table with all those relatives we have nothing to say to and who don’t like us much either?

No, you are not a terrible person for feeling down this time of year. A great many people feel depressed and stressed and lonely and grief-stricken and resentful this time of year.

Do you have to see your family? Spending time with friends instead can be enjoyable. Would you feel guilty if you did that?

Put aside for a moment family obligations. What would YOU like to do? What would make YOU happy? Some reflection on why, specifically, the holidays are so rough for you may help guide you as you search for ways to get through them. Any form of self-care might do. You deserve to feel taken care of, even if it’s you doing the caretaking.

Forget, for a moment, everyone else’s expectations of you—which are probably based on the expectations others have of them, anyway. What are YOUR expectations, both of yourself and of others? The weight of feeling like you have to meet someone else’s expectations can add to heaviness of the holidays. Know what matters to you and strive for that, first and foremost.

On the other hand, how long do the holidays last? Two dinners together can’t last longer than, say, twelve hours all together? Six hours each, maybe? Of course, in some families, even that much time can feel like an eternity. It may be that you have to set boundaries in order to ensure that your needs are met. This could mean limiting your exposure to family gatherings or festivities in whatever way makes them manageable or palatable. Two hours per event? Three? A $10 limit per gift? No gifts? Whatever you decide, no guilt necessary; you’re simply doing what you need to do.

Is there somebody you can talk to? There is always somebody, even if that person is a therapist, support group, help line, or faith or church community. I can assure you that you are not alone, and that many other people out there would likely find comfort in knowing you feel the same way they do. If you can’t bear the thought of family time, let like-minded people be your tribe this season—a season that will mercifully pass.

Sincerely,
Lynn

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
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  • Leigh

    Leigh

    November 20th, 2015 at 9:35 AM

    No this does not make you a bad person
    But you could look at the bright side of the season and be grateful for the wonderful things that I know you have in your life right now
    The tendency is to always focus on the things that we long for and do not have, but let’s flip it around this holiday season and be thankful for the love that we do still receive and have in our lives.

  • anonymous

    anonymous

    December 13th, 2016 at 1:42 PM

    Leigh,
    I understand where you are coming from when you say that we should focus on the things that we are grateful for instead of what we are lacking. However, I do not believe this is the wisest thing to tell someone who is suffering through the holidays. Yes there are many people who are worse off than us, who do not have shelter or food or loving families but this fact should not be used to minimize the suffering of those who do have all of those things. For many, the aversion towards the holiday season comes from not only being single or alone, it could come from being forced to be surrounded by toxic family members or acquaintances in an environment in which the expectation is to be in a relationship or have a career and be happy. Those expectations become heightened around the holidays which is why telling someone (who may not only be single but maybe career-less or maybe stuck in a career they don’t like) that they should be grateful for those same family members and everything they do have this time of the year can cause feelings of guilt shame and self loathing. This person might think that something is wrong with them because they cannot show gratitude. I may have veered off a bit but my point is that we don’t know exactly why a person is suffering, it could be because of multiple reasons, it could also be because the environment in which they live is toxic, but telling someone to be grateful for the things they have when we don’t know what they are thinking inside or where they come from or what exactly they are suffering from is not the wisest thing to do. That is just my opinion, hope it doesn’t come off as rude.
    peace.

  • Kim

    Kim

    November 20th, 2015 at 4:54 PM

    So…I need therapy if I hate the holidays. Hmmm. Sorry. Not true and everyone reading this needs to know that.

  • Liz

    Liz

    November 18th, 2017 at 1:57 PM

    I know that this comment is two years old, but I fear that someone will read it and get the wrong impression. First, nowhere did the article say “You need therapy if you hate the holidays.” What it did say was that it’s OK if you want to talk to someone about it who understands. Whether that’s a friend or a therapist is up to the individual. And even if you end up needing a therapy session, that does NOT make one weird or dumb or any other negative word; it makes you human. :)

  • matt

    matt

    November 21st, 2015 at 7:57 AM

    I don’t really like the holidays all that much either. There are seriously times when hearing a Christmas carol makes me want to throw up. Just curl up and sleep from the end of November through New Years Day.

  • Logan

    Logan

    November 23rd, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    If you are missing someone in your life at this time of the year and this was someone who was important to you then it is only natural to just wish for it all to be over.

    I think that most of us can understand that feeling of hurt and loss that can also come around with the holiday season.

  • chase b

    chase b

    November 24th, 2015 at 2:42 PM

    There are probably more people like you out there than you know!

    I think that many of us sort of get holiday overload, and it isn’t that we don’t enjoy the time of year or couldn’t enjoy it, but it does feel so rushed all the time like you don’t really have all that much time to enjoy it.

    I am pretty sure that if I could stop and be a little more mindful of what the season really is all about versus the retail nightmare that it has turned into, then I could enjoy it all a little bit more.

  • Janice

    Janice

    November 25th, 2015 at 12:05 PM

    Just hibernate til January

  • Jordy

    Jordy

    November 26th, 2015 at 9:33 AM

    It doesn’t bother me that there are people like you for whom the holidays are no fun. I get it, it’s not for everyone. But what does bug me is that there are some people (not necessarily you, but there are those people) who want to then ruin the holidays for everyone else. If you are not happy, then that is your own battle to fight and i am happy to help out any way that I can. But do not think that it is your responsibility or necessity to ruin it for everyone, because there are still some of us who actually enjoy the gratitude and hope of this time of year.

  • allene

    allene

    November 28th, 2015 at 1:05 PM

    Maybe you aren’t the scrooge but the realist and it is the rest of us who are being done in

  • Please over

    Please over

    December 23rd, 2017 at 11:28 AM

    Holiday means for me, shop, clean cook, shop clean cook, it is like a job you hate. Probably a job you can quit, holiday cannot quit. Please leave me alone on holiday.

  • Keifer

    Keifer

    November 29th, 2015 at 1:32 PM

    Why should I be made to feel like I have to apologize for not getting into the holiday spirit like everyone else seems to? I don’t have any family and generally spend the week by myself, and what is there to be happy about with that? I have friends I could hang out with but they all have family so I don’t want to intrude on their time together. I don’t know, it’s like the holidays are not meant for single people without family.

  • Charity

    Charity

    December 16th, 2015 at 11:38 AM

    Open yourself to the world of possibilities that loving the holidays could bring into your life. This can be a magical time of the year for you if you would just let it be that.

  • The Honest Truth Of All

    The Honest Truth Of All

    October 27th, 2016 at 1:46 PM

    The holidays would be Great if you have a loved one to spend it with. And if you Don’t which it would really Suck.

  • ScottyChicago

    ScottyChicago

    November 20th, 2016 at 7:34 AM

    What helps the least is comments like “Don’t ruin the holidays for everyone else” and “You need to focus on being grateful for what you have.” The thing is, I agree with both of those statements but never appreciate it when holidays seem to be mandatory and you’d better do it all well and with a smile on your face. Mainly, I’d appreciate a chance, some years, to opt out of a big holiday gathering. I personally don’t think I’d be terribly missed or would ruin anyone’s holiday. And I absolutely do not want to go to a gathering and talk about how much I hate the holidays. I’d like everyone (including me) to accept and be OK with everyone else’s best way to deal with the holidays.

  • Wolf

    Wolf

    November 23rd, 2016 at 10:04 PM

    I’m in the same boat as the OP. The winter holiday season is absolutely meaningless to me. It’s a very real struggle trying to distance myself from it all while simultaneously trying not to ruin it for my partner. I’m not remotely religious, I find the music, TV specials, parades, shopping, and forced gatherings all to be literally nauseating. What I want most every year around this time is just to be quietly left alone – no gifts, no dinners, no work parties. The worst is when I’m given advice on how to reclaim my “holiday spirit”, when I have no concept of what that is in the first place. Yet, I know that being a hermit somehow is hurtful to other people and I don’t want that either, but I can only fake enjoyment for so long before it becomes obvious that I’m seething on the inside. I don’t wish to take Thanksgiving and Christmas away from anyone else. I just don’t want to keep myself as far from it as possible.

  • Not Crazy

    Not Crazy

    November 27th, 2016 at 10:01 PM

    I have to say, I am completely disturbed that I keep finding posts claiming that people who hate holidays are depressed or needing therapy. I am perfectly fine, not remotely depressed, and I too hate Thanksgiving through Christmas. I grew up in your typical household where my parents played santa and we went to one or the other grandparents house to celebrate. By the time I was 15, I was so over it. I had already given up birthdays so it seemed easy to give up Christmas too. I am a Christian. I can celebrate Christ daily. The ritual of buying and giving gifts to people just absolutely escapes my understanding. I don’t get it. I don’t want anybody to buy anything for me. Not my husband, not my kids, not my parents. If I need something, I will get it. If I can’t afford it or don’t know it exists, I don’t need it. It has been hard to try to provide a ‘normal’ holiday time for my children when I hate the season so much. We do NOT put a lot of emphasis on presents. My kids know mom doesn’t like gifts. My husband isn’t a big gift giver so this works well. My birthdays don’t exist.
    What I would say to anybody reading this is, don’t force yourself to do holidays just because you think you are supposed to. You will end up resenting those you did it for. And, lets be honest, it makes others way more uncomfortable to hear that we don’t like holidays than it is for us to say ‘No thank you, I don’t celebrate Christmas.’

  • Annie

    Annie

    December 8th, 2016 at 4:04 AM

    Your feedback really gave me a fresh/positive perspective on my situation. Thank you for this.

  • mjmadrid

    mjmadrid

    December 20th, 2016 at 11:24 AM

    I’m not Christian, I hate X-mas music, I hate spending money I don’t have for people I don’t like, I don’t believe in Santa Claus, I don’t like large crowds, I’ll celebrate anything they want to give me time off from work for – so, I don’t think I need a therapist, I think people who believe in “Peace on Earth” for a single month out of an entire year need the therapist!

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    December 20th, 2016 at 4:12 PM

    Hi mjmadrid– if you think people who believe in “Peace on Earth” for a single month out of an entire year need a therapist, what about people who believe in “peace on earth” all year round?
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • charles

    charles

    December 14th, 2017 at 9:26 AM

    I think you might’ve missed the point. I do not celebrate Christmas for the reason stated. It comes across as disingenuous or naive to suddenly be so caring and fuzzy-lovey through the holidays. Our hearts and compassion should be on display 365 days a year.

  • Joeshmo

    Joeshmo

    July 4th, 2017 at 9:58 AM

    Ahhh the 4th of July. Why do I hate thee? Maybe because of everyone being so fake on this day, while hundreds of thousands of our fellow earthlings have died for us to celebrate this day? Maybe because over a billion pounds of trash gets littered into the air, streets, rivers and oceans thoughout the USA? Maybe because my family and friends think this day is about wearing Red, White and Blue and getting drunk in public and eating dead animals on a BBQ? Maybe its because I’m an Alien from another planet and I need therapy? Yeah, I think all holidays suck, even my birthday. So there you have it.

  • Me

    Me

    December 2nd, 2017 at 7:06 PM

    i’m just so happy knowing that I’m not alone… to me, holidays just mean that I’m forced to show love. that just feels unnatural, I’m a very affectionate guy towards everyone that I love, but in my opinion, it’s of uttermost importance to be spontaneous in doing so, not because social requirements demand it.

  • The Real Truth Is

    The Real Truth Is

    December 14th, 2017 at 3:16 AM

    Well i certainly have a very excellent reason why i hate the holidays. And being alone all the time with no family of my own really hurts since so many other millions and millions of people have been very extremely blessed to be married with their own family. And it is the kind of women that we really have nowadays that are so very sad and pathetic altogether that have really destroyed the dating scene for many of us good innocent men that really should’ve been all settled down by now with our own good wife and family that many of us still don’t have today. Most women today aren’t like the old days which tells the whole true story right there to begin with. With so many women now that are so very high maintenance, very independent, selfish, spoiled, greedy, picky, narcissists, and very money hungry has a lot to do with it as well. It is these type of women that will only want the very best of all and will never settle for less either which just goes to show us men how very awful women are nowadays since it does take two to tango. And many of us men have no reason at all to blame ourselves since it is really the women of today that are really to blame why many of us good innocent men are still single today as i speak.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    December 14th, 2017 at 10:08 AM

    Dear Real Truth,
    It is awful to be alone all the time. I wonder if you might have family or friends who might help you through this difficult time. They could keep you company, or even help you find suitable outlets for your anger.
    I suggest also that you might consider consulting with a clergy person or a therapist– someone who would share your feelings and perhaps assuage them.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • The Real Truth Is

    The Real Truth Is

    December 29th, 2017 at 10:25 AM

    To Lynn, Well it is the very truth what i have said with my last comment which you may or may not agree with me. It is very unfortunate how the women of today have really changed from the old days since finding love back then was very easy for the men in those days that were really looking for it. And this is quite a different time we live in now since as you can see how the women of today really are compared to the old days. And speaking of the old days which i can see why our family members were very blessed to be born at that time which love really did come so very easy for them when they met one another. Just look how most women nowadays have changed for the worst of all since they just like sleeping around with different men all the time as well as getting real wasted with their girlfriends since they just like to party very much instead of settling down with only one man. Most single women unfortunately will never be marriage material at all to begin with since even God has no control over these women today to begin with since they’re really out of control now more than ever. When you look at all of these very stupid reality TV shows that they have on now as well as social media which it has certainly corrupted most of these women’s minds altogether now too which makes these women just very sad and pathetic today. And it is a very real good thing that most of the women in the old days were real ladies and very old fashioned which is a very excellent reason why most women in those days really did put these women today to real total shame altogether as well. It was just a very bad time for many of us men to fall into since i do have friends going through the very same thing right now since they really hate being single and alone as well. Most women today don’t even have no respect and no manners at all when many of us good innocent men will try to start a normal conversation with a woman that we would really like to meet. And most of the time which unfortunately they will be so very nasty to us and walk away as well since it really has become very extremely dangerous for many of us men just to say good morning or hello to these very troubled women today. Like they say which it really does take two too tango today. Well thank you very much for your support. Peace.

  • G

    G

    June 18th, 2019 at 10:25 AM

    Feminism has really destroyed the dating scene now for many of us good single men looking for love unfortunately. Not easy today at all compared to the past when it was definitely a lot easier with no trouble at all.

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