How to Avoid These Holiday Fails

Crystal Jackson

The holiday season is here again. We all seem to be besieged by lists, bright lights, and Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You played everywhere we go. This season might be more intense than others, but apply it to any other holiday, and these epic failures remain the same.

Making Holidays about Things Rather Than People

We say that we know the holidays aren’t about gifts but do we really? I mean, really? Because we seem to be having this social media competition for who can load up the most presents under the tree or in the Easter basket or get the most swag on Valentine’s day. Sure, we want to show our love. But are we showing love, or are we just going through the motions because everyone else is?

Holidays aren’t about things. Not that things aren’t nice. They are. Who doesn’t love a present? A pile of presents? That seems even better. But there’s something to be said for a thoughtful gift that doesn’t have to be expensive or a gift we made ourselves. Time and attention can also be gifts, as can experiences.

In my own family of origin, I have long advocated for a change in how we address the holidays. Instead of buying more presents than we can afford and stressing about what to get, we could be getting together to see holiday lights, bake special cookies, and even make a craft as a family. No one else seems to be hopping on board this particular thought train, so I’ve done it in my own home.

Yes, I bought gifts. Maybe I’ve even bought too many. But this year, I switched the focus to doing a few things to spend time together, and it seems to have made the holidays feel more like quality over quantity.

Adopting/Purchasing Pets When We Lack Follow Through

I was almost guilty of this one. I want to be ready for a puppy. I really do. I miss being a pet owner. But I sat at the Humane Society with the cutest puppy on my lap and knew, in my heart, that it’s just not the best time. My life is getting busier, and I want to travel. I probably shouldn’t be committing right now to an animal that’s going to need life-long care.

Because it should be life-long. It should be for the rest of their natural lives. So why do we buy or rescue pets that make cute puppies or kittens that we don’t keep through adulthood and old age? And why are we buying from stores that source from puppy mills rather than rescuing or using reputable breeders?

A pet is a commitment. It’s a commitment to vet visits for wellness checks, flea medicine, and regular vaccinations. It’s grooming and walking (for dogs at least) and finding them somewhere to stay when we can’t take them with us. It’s more than just cute entertainment for when we feel like it. It’s rainy day walks and scooping litter boxes and chewed up shoes or smelly cages.

If we lack follow-through in other areas, pet ownership may not be the right path. Or maybe we just need an electronic pet. It’s definitely an epic fail to get a pet that we aren’t going to commit to taking care of for their forever. It’s not fair, and it’s not kind no matter how cute the holiday pictures turn out.

Instead of adopting, we can volunteer our time at a shelter to get our animal-loving fix. We can visit pet stores to play with the animals or volunteer to pet sit for friends or family traveling. We can visit a petting zoo or simply go see a friend who has a pet. We can have the pet experience without committing right now, and it’s certainly better for us and that pet in the long run.

Going into Debt to Celebrate

Like turning holidays into occasions for things, we seem to think that going into debt over a holiday is appropriate. Whether we’re running up a credit card on dinner or gifts, we shouldn’t take a celebration and dig ourselves into a hole with debt.

The holidays aren’t about gifts, but we’ve turned them into a competition to see who can go broke the fastest. The humble brag of how much we’ve spent and how much we’ve bought not only highlights all the people who aren’t able to do the same but seems to actually reinforce living outside of our means for a one-day occasion.

It’s a sign of an unhealthy relationship with our personal finances, and it might just be a clue that we need to change how we look at money as well as how we look at special occasions. I’m not saying we shouldn’t enjoy the season, miserly hoarding every dime when we’re not counting them. I am saying we can be creative to turn a former epic fail into a win.

For me, it was downloading a grocery rebate app that helps me save money for major holidays through rebates on items I’m already buying. At the end of the year, I have a fund available so that I don’t have to use debt to get what is needed. Many banks offer holiday accounts or other savings options to help us prepare for these occasions rather than relying on high-interest credit cards to see us through the holiday season.

Turning Holidays into Obligations

It’s interesting how so many people sit back and talk about the places they have to be for the holidays. This relative’s house and that one, an endlessly long day of obligation rather than enjoyment. As much as I’ll say that I think our loved ones are important, I also believe that we’re important, too.
Instead of turning our holidays into a lengthy list of obligations, we can start to choose to participate only in activities we’ll enjoy and look forward to attending. Instead of over-booking ourselves, we can let people know that we can’t go to one occasion when we’ve committed to being somewhere else at the same time. We can even arrange an alternate get together for the people we just won’t have time to see during a busy holiday season.
If we maintain healthy boundaries and communicate them effectively, there’s no reason we can’t turn the holidays into occasions we enjoy rather than obligations we don’t.

Forgetting the Reason for the Season

Don’t even think I’m going to make this about religion. I’m not. Instead, think of the reason for each season. The winter holidays focus on generosity and goodwill. Valentine’s Day is about love. Patriotic holidays embrace tradition, history, and a sense of love for one’s country.

We can get so caught up with doing the things of each holiday that we forget why we’re celebrating. This is how we end up getting into arguments in the line during the holidays or treating customer service workers like garbage because we’re frustrated. We can get so wrapped up in the trappings of the holiday that we forget entirely the point of them. We’re too busy counting our gifts to consider kindness, compassion, and generosity to others.

We can use these moments as teaching moments for ourselves. We can remind ourselves why we’re celebrating, which sometimes does have a religious or spiritual component and sometimes just has an overall message of goodness.

Falling into the Guilt Trap

With all of this being said, we can also manage to fall into the guilt trap at the holidays. We didn’t or couldn’t do enough. We did too much. We used credit and wish we hadn’t. We wish we had but didn’t. We were under-prepared or over-exhausted. We weren’t up to doing more, or we did far too much and no one appreciated it. We went to see family and wish we’d stayed home, or we stayed home and wish we’d made time to see everyone. The list goes on.

Don’t fall into the guilt trap at the holidays. Make a plan and stick to it. Change the plan as needed. But don’t feel like there’s a “right” way to do the holidays. There’s not. The thing that matters is if we enjoyed it. Did we make memories? Did we have a good time?

The answer isn’t always yes, and there’s no need to feel guilty for that either. It happens sometimes. A year ago, I gritted my teeth through the holidays, torn between anger and heartache. It wasn’t an easy time of year. We’re allowed to have tough times and to experience that without being shamed for it.

Holidays don’t have to result in an epic fail.

It’s possible to celebrate without commercialism, debt, endless obligations, or buying a living creature for fun that we’ll return in a few months. We can actually go through the entire holiday season (well, all the holiday seasons) with love in our hearts and compassion for others. We just have to want it a little more than we want the trappings of whatever holidays we choose to celebrate.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re like the Whos in Whoville in my house. Lights, decorations, cookies, presents, and more. But we also infuse the season with love. Or at least, we try to. And trying isn’t an epic fail at all.

It’s something better than winning. It’s living well, and I hope whatever holiday you celebrate in whatever manner you choose, you’re living well, too.

Happy Holidays!


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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails:

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