A cheerful holiday mantel is decorated with Christmas cards, an advent box and candles. Throughout the house, 420 flames are lit for the Grant Park Candlelight Tour of Homes, when all electric lights have to be turned off.
Photo: Text by Kat Khoury/ Photo by Reann Huber
Photo: Text by Kat Khoury/ Photo by Reann Huber

Should this be the year you stop doing holidays with the fam?

'Tis the season, right? While you probably aren't planning cookie exchanges or Black Friday strategy yet, a few months ahead of the holidays is an ideal time to decide whether you'll spend these holidays with your family. Why wouldn't you? Only you know the reasons it might be better for you to loll on a beach or huddle in your cramped, bitterly cold apartment instead of setting out for another crummy family holiday.

» Why most people don’t want to stay with relatives during the holidays

But still, even the most downtrodden family members tend to wait until they're ringing the doorbell Christmas Eve to think "Nope. Nope. Nopety nope." And then, of course, go through with it anyway. This year, though, could be different. Hordes of life coaches and advice columnists who do really big business on just these type of holidays have a message for you: It's OK to skip a family holiday if it's going to make you miserable. How would that work? Here's a crash course in figuring out whether to skip the family scene this holiday:

Don't miss a holiday on account of money. According to a 2017 Mr. Cooper survey on Business Wire (conducted in plenty of time for people to be alienated by each other's presidential politics), one in three people sure would like to miss the family holiday in any given year. This one probably doesn't qualify as a reason to skip, though, because that reluctance was based almost entirely on not wanting to go further in debt for gifts. In that situation, it's probably best to proceed with the holiday, according to Forbes. Instead of opting out, consider sticking more closely to a budget, earning a bit of extra cash or downsizing.

» 6 ways to survive the holidays with toxic relatives

"You aren't obligated to match the price point of everyone's gift to you," Forbes stressed. "In fact, minimalism is in — tell people you're downsizing and trying to give small, meaningful gifts this year instead of filling everyone's home with stuff. Or offer to get together for dinner or a holiday outing rather than exchanging gifts."

Skip the stress and visit another time. An unpleasant Thanksgiving visit with some distant relatives put the Christian-based Beliefnet blogger Joan Ball on a mission to "gladly pick up the horns and pitchfork to make my personal pitch for skipping oblications" and, instead, taking self-gratification vacations. "I've always liked the idea of having family around for the holidays, especially since most of our immediate family lives in India. But the reality of it? Well, it was a stressful mix of polite conversation and pandering, at least until one relative got a little too comfortable and started sharing his racist views on the world. At that point it just became a ticking time bomb before I simply lost it." Now Ball recommends that everyone ask themselves ahead of a holiday why they would choose to "travel halfway around the country to interact with relatives I may or may not like." In its stead, Ball makes it a point to see her loved ones, like her mom, at a less-stressed time when they can both enjoy each other's company. "Why give in to this so-called 'holiday spirit' and spend $400 plus, and spend a headache-inducing week being polite?" she asked. 

» 6 evenings out for all ages in your holiday family group

Let yourself know it's okay. If you have issues with family members, spending a lot of money on gifts and travel time is a poor way to work them out, according to the What's Your Grief blog. As well as being an advocate for anyone who wants to skip holidays for reasons ranging from their life partner not being accepted at the holiday to their ex being present when he was an abuser, WYG reminded everyone that any decision isn't for keeps. I am not sure if you've noticed but, for better or worse, the holidays roll around every year. Making a decision about this year has no bearing on whether you celebrate next year. If this has been a particularly rough year, you may realize you just can't handle the holidays. You need a break, at least this year. Next year you may feel totally different and that is absolutely okay.

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