Holiday joy – Christmas 2018 debrief

Christmas 2018 is done! Although it took some digging, I managed to find some holiday joy.

Pattern change

The first step in paying off our debt has been to stop using credit cards. This Christmas was all cash.

Next year, we will be saving up all year to plan ahead for a cash-only Christmas. We plan to save $20 a week, automatically withdrawn from our checking into its own account. Unfortunately, we opted for the debt free lifestyle pretty late into the year, so there wasn’t a lot of time for saving up.

We had been aggressively saving for our emergency fund, which we finished in November. We ended the month of November with a surplus and we used that surplus for Christmas. We had a family meeting and let everyone know that Christmas would be a little leaner this year.


What if Christmas doesn’t bring joy?

I have a lot of trouble with Christmas, for a host of reasons.

I know we are not alone in this. In a 2015 poll, 53% of respondents said the holidays put stress on their finances. Although suicide rates do NOT increase during the holiday season, stress and sadness are common companions to holiday cheer.

While these stats are true, people don’t tend to talk about it so much on a personal level. When people talk about Christmas, it could be a happy talk or a lighthearted poke at the stress and chaos of it. Perhaps it is a teardown of the financial, environmental or emotional havoc the holiday plays-but these tend to come in the form of think pieces and national stats-not from a personal place of one’s own havoc. Of those who do express true personal distress at the holidays, it is often due to a personal loss that has left them reeling.

My Christmas sadness doesn’t stem from loss or dysfunction. My marriage hasn’t disintegrated, we don’t struggle with substance abuse. While our finances have not been great, we always have a home, lights, warmth, water, and plenty of food. But still I feel sad.

Holly jolly holiday joy
Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

Once again, I find myself feeling alone in my niche, and so once again, I will take to my blog about it, to put words to my feelings and to maybe connect with others who have similar things, so we can both feel less alone in it.

Not enough

Number one on my personal list of Grinchiness: feeling like I am not enough and that our Christmas is not okay.

We don’t have family nearby, and we haven’t been able to afford to travel to family. At a time when it seems like *everyone* has family nearby and has these big beautiful gatherings.

Those who don’t have family seem to do a good job of finding friends who stand in the gap and fill the holiday spirit. We are fairly introverted and our presence is large, so we don’t show up without a lot of planning, and sometimes that planning can fall through. We don’t get invited to holiday parties and we don’t have the money to splurge on holiday events. We don’t spend a lot on presents and don’t exchange gifts with our extended family.

I am not a mom who jumps into cookie baking and crafting, nor do I send Christmas cards. I have a hard time finding holiday joy.


I also don’t want a lot of stuff in my house, so I tend to not want to participate in a whole heap of presents under the tree. At least in the abstract.

Sitting with my feelings

All of this can lead me to feeling like not enough. In years’ past, I have allowed those feelings to overtake me, and I try to fill the void by running out at the last minute and buying gifts that no one needs, often on credit card.

But this year, we have committed to no new debt.


It is our mantra. So I could not run out and just buy things. I had to sit with the feelings of “not enough” and let them pass over me.

Feeling the feelings of inadequacy, unpacking them, thinking of where they came from, putting them in perspective was helpful. Instead of drowning my feelings in plastic, I confronted them and moved past them.

I felt the tree was a little bare, so I set up a treasure hunt for each boy to find one of their presents: a day out with their parents and some spending money at a store chosen specifically for them. Even the retail location was buried in a clue. Creating a treasure hunt was a blast and helped turn my mood around.

Fixing what doesn’t work

One thing that stood out for me this year as a true joy-killer:
Gift wrapping. I HATE wrapping presents.

My back hurts, my space is not big enough, my corners are not creased, the paper never comes out straight. So, I have taken this one into the proactive zone. Instead of saving that first $20 in our new holiday account, I hit up several post-Xmas sales yesterday and spent the first $20 acquiring gift bags in assorted sizes. And bows for cheeriness. I will hit the stores again next week, when the stock will be more limited but the discounts will be deeper. And I will buy more. My stash will be reused in years to come and gift wrapping will no longer haunt my holidays!

Figuring out what is special

Although Christmas has some sadness, I do find it a special time, and our family has some activities that we really enjoy. These are some things that we find to bring in some holiday joy (even if we don’t get to do them each year):

  • A trip to Leavenworth, WA
  • Midnight mass at the local cathedral-even though we are not Catholic, the service gives us a sense of peace and perspective
  • Celebrating Advent-even if it is just lighting a candle every Sunday
  • Two little movies: A Tailor of Gloucester and A Child’s Christmas in Wales
  • Looking at Christmas lights
  • Big breakfast
  • Treasure hunt


The Dude and I plan to have a meeting in October to plan our next Christmas. One thing we will focus on is what makes Christmas special to us. With this meeting and our focus on what works and what doesn’t, we hope to find equlibrium in a holiday that leaves us decidedly unbalanced.