Ah, December and the winter season. Families have started to decorate their trees, light their menorahs, prep their kinaras, start cooking for Chelle Night, build the bonfire for Lohri – whichever winter customs those of us in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate. The streets are full of laughter and snow and I…
I’m on the phone with my doctor, arranging my yearly increase of anxiety medication for the holiday season.
You see, I’m a Grinch. I used to hate that title for a lot of reasons. Mainly because, when people bring up the Grinch, all I hear in my head is the line from the eponymous song: “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.” I’m definitely not mean, I’m way more cuddly than a cactus, and I’m infinitely more charismatic than an eel! But it is true, there is a certain time of year that makes me want to hide out in a cave. Now don’t get me wrong–I don’t hate the holidays, in fact I love a lot of aspects of them, but in my case the good does not outweigh the bad, and the holidays are just a Bad Time. If I could find a way to hibernate after Halloween and fast forward to mid-January, I would.
There are many different reasons one may become a Grinch, and these are just a few:
- Holiday-related Trauma – It is hard to be filled with goodwill when the holidays, for a Grinch, are associated with trauma. This could be the loss of a loved one, tough holidays as a child, or a completely unrelated incident that happened around the holiday season.
- Family conflict – This can have a huge impact on the holidays. Are you married or your parents divorced? Who are you spending Christmas with? What if you have two places to be, and both will be mad if you aren’t there? We always tried to see both grandparents when I was a child, but dinner with one was always late, so if we arrived after my Nanna’s annual birthday cake for Jesus… well, it wasn’t pretty.
- Finances – Having not enough money or too much money (stay with me) can cause stress during the holidays. Imagine not being able to afford gifts for your children or loved ones, or not even having enough to host a nice dinner. Me? I do okay–I can afford the things I need, and I can usually splurge on a want. When I see someone I know spending money to buy me something I don’t need or could have bought myself… it would make me happier if they spent it on themselves, but that’s not what the season of giving is about.
- Capitalism – There is a lot of pressure to shop during the holidays, and I think everyone has had that experience at least once in their life where they saw a gift-giving deadline and just froze. Will they like what I get them? What if someone got them the same thing? Oh gosh should I have gotten a gift receipt? If you have experience working in retail, you know the endless returns at the end of December are much worse than the long lines at the beginning of the month. Personally, I love presents. But I don’t need an excuse to buy them for the people I love. If I see something that just screams someone’s name, I buy it and gift it. I don’t need Hallmark to dictate when.
The focus on Christmas, and to a lesser degree Hanukkah, also excludes roughly 52.2% of the world’s population who do not identify as being members of a Judeo-Christian faith, as well as those who may not celebrate for religious or cultural reasons. If several customs mentioned in the opening sentence of this article left you puzzled, it’s a good reminder that Christmas and Hanukkah aren’t the only game in town, so to speak.
Interacting with a Grinch
So what should you do when you come across a Grinch in the wild? Approach us cautiously, sure, but please whatever you do, don’t ask us why–at least not until the moment is right. Usually when my less-than-festive self shows up at an event, I get asked some iteration of “Not your thing” and I’ll reply “No not really.” And then the questioning begins. “Why not? How can you not love it? It’s the best time of year!”
Our reasons are our own. Mine is a combination of all of the reasons listed above. For whatever reason someone identifies as a Grinch, it’s not your business. By pressuring a Grinch to tell you why, you are asking them to share personal information they may not be comfortable sharing, and also potentially asking them to relive trauma they are trying to leave in the past. Your holiday party is also not the best time and place to share that information. If your Grinch is willing to share, find a time and place where both parties feel safe and comfortable.
That being said, don’t leave a Grinch out! Invite us to parties, ask us if we want to take part in the gift swap. It is up to the Grinch to set their boundaries, and hopefully they will communicate them clearly. I love any occasion to put on a silly outfit and spend quality time with my friends. At the same time, I know when the conversation shifts and my mood starts to sour that it’s time for me to bow out of the festivities, so if your Grinch leaves the party early or takes a mystery phone call when their phone never rang–it has nothing to do with you.
Being a Grinch with Grace
Now, it’s important to note that my Grinchitude does not give me the right to interfere with someone else’s holiday joy. As I mentioned, there are aspects of the holiday season I love. I get to see family member’s I don’t typically see during the year, I get to eat lots of good food, and I get to absolutely spoil my niece with presents. As a teacher I have a collection of ugly holiday sweaters, and you bet I dress up for every spirit day. There are still positive moments I can find in an otherwise tough situation.
This part is so important. To all my fellow Grinches out there… our trauma, our hate, our dread–it’s our own. No Grinch has the right to ruin someone else’s holiday spirit. The worst thing a Grinch can do is show up at a celebration and sit in the corner and pout the entire time. If you absolutely loathe theme parties, don’t show up in jeans and a t-shirt and then give everyone grief. Just don’t go, my dude.
That said, if you do go, remember to set some healthy boundaries for yourself. Find comfort in your loved ones, or make some (harmless) chaos in the crowd. You could even reach out to the host beforehand and suggest some non-holiday related party games or find out what the itinerary is so you can work out when you can slip away from the party before any potential trauma triggers. Remember that your friends and family love you, and while they might not understand how you feel about the holidays, they have your best interests at heart. Rather, they should. If they don’t, that’s a different article in Take This’ Holiday Health Series.
So this holiday season, please go ahead and take a moment to think about the people around you. The holidays, by default, are stressful–last year 31% of adults reported feeling more stressed about the holidays that year than the year before. If you come across a Grinch in the wild remember–hands visible, slow movements, don’t make eye contact, and puff yourself up to–
HA! Kidding! If you are graced by a Grinch during the holidays, just let them move at their own pace. We’re not necessarily curmudgeonly old naysayers; we’re here with you because we want to be with you, we just need to do that at our own pace. Will you catch me under the mistletoe? Never. But I’ll definitely be causing my own holiday chaos hiding that mistletoe in the strangest places I can find.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice or professional counseling. While we at Take This want to provide you with resources, we do not recommend or endorse any particular site, treatment, therapy, or resource. We provide these links at our sole discretion but have not necessarily vetted or reviewed any particular resource. We assume no liability for the use of the information or resources on these sites and encourage you to use your own best judgment when reviewing these resources.
If you live in the US and you’re having suicidal thoughts, reach out to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or call/text 988. If you’re outside the US, you can find local crisis lines at Suicide.org. If you’re even debating whether you should call them, you should call them. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline handles all psychological crises, not just suicide.