Holiday Reform

Since about the middle of October, I’ve been getting increasingly anxious about the approaching holiday season. Like jittery, physically ill anxious. For the past few years I’ve been trying desperately to like Christmas (or to at least appear to) and berating myself harshly when I fail. But this year, which will be the first holiday season since I discovered my autism, I’ve been able to accept that I don’t like it. I just don’t. It’s a stressful, overly social, event with sensory attacks waiting around every corner. Plus, I’m an atheist. And going into autumn, I felt the tremors of an incomprehensible avalanche of stress hurtling towards me.

So I made a list.

I listed all of the things I find stressful about the holiday, by category. You can take a look at it here: Why is Christmas Stressful? (the rest of this post will make more sense if you do). Just making the list made me feel a lot better and more in control of the situation, which is definitely a good thing. I later went over the list with my boyfriend and then my Mom, and we came up with some practical solutions to make this Christmas not so bad. I’ll be straight up here: if I had my way, I’d simply forget about Christmas and never celebrate it again. But, my boyfriend actually does want to celebrate it (thankfully in a quiet, laid-back, autism-friendly way), and I’m going to compromise with him.

Here are the solutions we came up with:

  • We’re going to only have decorations up for one week, and we are going to keep them minimal and in one room only. This way, the decor situation will be contained and won’t overload me as much.

  • We’re going to eat the same food in the same amounts as we usually do. This will help keep things more routine, and avoid me feeling sick because of sweet foods or just too much food in general.

  • My boyfriend and I aren’t getting surprise gifts for each other; instead, we’re going to pick out something for both of us together.

  • We’re not going to wrap said something, in order to avoid the sensory issues giftwrap causes.

  • We’re also not going to leave wrapping, boxes, bags, or any other crap lying around the house. I need my space to be neat, and taking the time to put things away is worth it for me.

  • We’re getting gift cards or just Christmas cards for other people. This will help in both limiting the time spent in public, and in reducing the stress of picking out gifts.

  • Social events will be limited in frequency and duration. They will also be planned with rest periods in between them.

  • On Christmas itself, we’re going to mostly stick to our usual routine.

  • We’re not doing the whole “week of festivities” thing. It’s mostly going to be a normal week.

  • New Year’s will be acknowledged, but we’re not doing anything to celebrate.


So, overall, this thing is going to be much less of a big deal than it usually is. Keeping things routine and sense-comfortable is very important to me, as is having lots of time at home. I don’t ever expect myself to be all “yay Christmas!”, and it’s actually liberating to not have that expectation anymore. Still, it would be nice to not dread December so much, and to make it through without a meltdown or a lot of stress. I’m already feeling better than I usually do at this time of year, so that’s a good sign. Just knowing that something is being done, and that those who matter are supporting me and not thinking I’m a monster, is a big relief.

I know I can’t be the only autistic person who finds the holidays to be a stressful ordeal. So I hope my solutions (or just thinking about it in general), are helpful to others in some way.

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3 thoughts on “Holiday Reform

  1. Oh my god your list is brilliant. I mean the list of stresses is brilliant, and so is the list of solutions and compromises. I really, really hope this is helpful. It really sounds like it will be!

    Christmas has never been my most stressful holiday (thankfully). I even sort of look forward to it because my families have very strict routines and rituals around how the day and the season go, and because we aren’t religious either, it ends up being a lot more about family and presents and expected fun than token visits to random people we feel obligated to spend time with.

    HOWEVER I think I DEFINITELY need to make a list like this for Thanksgiving! For me it is unfamiliar and unpredictable and socially humiliating and a sensory nightmare. And while I would be fine wiping it off the face of every calendar ever, it’s super important to certain people in my family and there are weird expectations on me that are never made explicit. Anyway, now that I have a lot more people understanding where I’m coming from with autistic and sensory processing stuff (my boyfriend, one brother, aunt, dad, and stepmom are all aware) maybe I could try something like this to get ready for next year!

    • Thank you! I think it is going to be helpful. I’m already doing pretty okay, which is odd this time of year. I think when one’s stressed, it’s easy to see the stressful thing as just a big, incomprehensible mess – the list helps get it organized and therefore manageable.

      I hope your Thanksgiving list is helpful! There’s no expectations on me for Thanksgiving (thankfully), but I would definitely find it stressful if there were. I hope the people who know about your autism can help you make it better for next year (and maybe even explain that weird implicit stuff).

  2. Pingback: Open letter berating myself about my holiday nonsense - Wealthy Single Mommy

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