About this time every year people start to get jittery about the holidays. There is so much angst about it that we start to wonder what it's all about.
For some it's the emotions that get triggered about having to get together with family, the expectations that they fear won't get met....again...., the reliving of past hurts and rejections, the hopes that all the bad things that happen every year maybe won't occur this time.
For some it's the lack of friends and family to celebrate with, the lack or loss of traditions. Whether it's due to moving somewhere alone or death or a rift in relationships, often people find themselves without anyone to celebrate with. They are hesitant to ask to be invited by people they know because they don't want to be intrusive, they want to be wanted. Even if being alone doesn't seem like a bad idea you might be worried you will be seen as a loser because you are alone.
First of all, it's important to think about what these holidays mean to YOU and be in charge of your plan for enjoying them. Most of the time we approach the holidays as if we are victims of everyone else's whims. What if you decided for yourself how you want the holidays to be and then invited the people you wanted to celebrate with?
You say you can't change the plans because it's the way your family has been doing it forever? Have you tried? First we have to try suggesting a change and see if there is any flexibility. If you have a rigid family/friend system they may not be willling to change anything but your family/friends might surprise you.
If you have a rigid family/friends who won't change, you do have the choice to not go. I know this seems like sacriledge but we do have the choice to not attend holiday gatherings that leave us feeling hurt, angry, resentful, unfulfilled or disconnected. While it's usually best to tell the truth and tell people why you don't want to come, it is ok for you to decide to handle it in your own way.
Do you get scared that setting a boundary about the holidays, or anything, will mean you will lose your family? Are you worried about the fighting/conflict you'd have to deal with? Does your partner disagree with you and still want to go? Can you go but de-emphasize that gathering by creating your own rituals and traditions and emphasizing those plans? My ex-husband could never consider saying no to his family so after lots of discussions and fights I decided to do his family events but not focus on them. I started up some traditions of my own with friends that were much more satisfying and I put my energy into those times even though they might not have been on the actual date of the holiday. Cookie exchanges, art projects, potlucks or cooking together, shopping dates, travel, car trips, etc can be nice ways to spend time with people you love and feel some satisfaction being with.
Remember that the current dates that have been determined to celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, etc are not necessarily the actual dates the events happened. I mean that Jesus was not actually born on December 25th in America, so you can choose to celebrate on different dates and it doesn't have to feel like it's not as real as the proscribed dates. So if you end up being forced or guilted into going to a family get-together on December 25th, that doesn't have to be anymore important than the gathering of friends you have on December 18th or 26th.
Getting back to the real meaning of the holidays can be difficult and controversial. For example: Christmas has become a hugely commerical celebration costing people a lot of money. People talk about saving all year to buy gifts or taking themselves further into debt they can't handle. How does this have anything to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus? Why is there so much resistance from families to change this? I tried to get my ex husband's family to set a limit on the spending and they got agitated and refused to change their system even though it meant family members were going to be hurt financially.
It's always important to remember that you have OPTIONS to choose from:
You can say no and make your own plans
You can set limits on your spending and your time even if others choose not to
You can make your own plans that feel more rewarding and focus on them
You can celebrate holidays on different dates and still find joy
You can propose changes to the yearly rituals and expect to be respected by having your proposals considered seriously
You can talk to a therapist and figure out why the holidays are so emotional for you and find ways to let go of the past