Everywhere I go this week, I’ve faced the usual holiday small talk: What did you buy on Black Friday? Are you done with your Christmas shopping yet? Did you get a real or fake Christmas tree? Are you hosting a Christmas party? Are you putting up lights outside this year? Do you want some Christmas cookies?
It seems like all everyone wants to talk about is Christmas shopping, decorating, eating, and over-indulging.
I’ve learned to smile politely and say simply but firmly: “I quit Christmas.”
Usually, the conversation shifts immediately to something else, but every once in a while, someone wants to know “why did you quit Christmas?”. I’m happy to share my why and thought I would also write about it in case anyone else is considering quitting Christmas this year.
It Started With The Christmas Math
Twelve years ago, my husband and I decided to do some Christmas math. We calculated how much we had spent the year before on Christmas. Then we asked ourselves the 3 transformative questions from Your Money or Your Life about what we spent:
- Did we receive fulfillment, satisfaction, and value in proportion to life energy spent?
- Was this expenditure of life energy in alignment with my values and life purpose?
- How might this expenditure change if I didn’t have to work for a living?
Answering these three questions lead to several compelling insights. While it was important to both of us to observe Christmas as a religious holiday, we also realize that:
- We didn’t receive fulfillment, satisfaction or value from what we spent doing Christmas.
- We were spending, decorating, consuming, and socializing to meet other people’s expectations of us.
- Every January, we were left bloated, cranky and resentful.
- If we didn’t have to work for a living, we would unplug from the Christmas machine and flee the country for the entire month of December!
And just like that, we quit Christmas.
It may sound dramatic, but it was a simple decision: no more Christmas shopping, Christmas gifts, Christmas trees, Christmas decorations, Christmas parties, Christmas party clothes, Christmas family pictures, and/or Christmas cooking. We will continue to observe Christmas as a religious holiday, but we quit everything else.
What Happened When We Quit Christmas
Instead of buying stuff and doing Christmas like we had every year before, we put the same amount of money into traveling for as long as possible during the month of December. And during that time we created a new family ritual we call our “annual retreat“. During this time we reflect on the past year, celebrate all of the unexpected blessings that came into our lives, envision our future, and plan our goals for the upcoming year. We also intentionally eat healthy food, exercise daily, and unplug from technology.
Concretely that meant we rented a small condo, used airline miles to buy tickets, and headed to Mexico (where it seemed so much easier to celebrate Christmas as a non-consumer religious holiday). We spent two weeks slowly working through our annual retreat process. We prayed on Christmas morning and then spent the rest of the day on the beach. Christmas supper was fish tacos and beer.
As enjoyable as it was to slow down, re-connect with each other, and disconnect from the Christmas-machine, it also felt powerful to consciously and intentionally choose how we spent our time and resources. Doing so in a way that was aligned with our highest value (freedom) meant we not only enjoyed our annual retreat, but felt refreshed, renewed, and ready to go when it was all said and done. In other words, it was a true holiday.
Every year since, we revisit this decision using the same 3 steps: 1) what did we spend the previous year, 2) answering the 3 big YMOYL questions, and 3) letting new insights drive our decision about how to spend the holiday. Over the years we’ve continued to choose our “annual retreat” in Mexico over Christmas at home and we’ve evolved our annual retreat process so that the time spent away launches us powerfully into the next year (I’ll describe that more fully in a future blog post).
Have You Ever Wanted to Unplug From The Christmas Machine?
You may love Christmas and your answers to the big three questions may be “yes”, “yes”, and “I would do exactly what I’m doing now!”. If so, that’s great! Keep on doing what you love!
But I wrote this for people who don’t enjoy the ever-escalating consumerism of the Christmas holiday season, who find that meeting social demands doesn’t bring fulfillment relative to the cost, and who end up feeling exhausted and resentful over their spending in January.
If that’s you, I hope this provides a concrete example that it is possible to quit Christmas and create your own holiday rituals. Your choices may be different than mine, but it’s worth considering what changes you can make that will create a meaningful holiday for you.