A 20something Christmas

With the holiday season upon us I thought it appropriate to bring up a topic of conversation I have noticed among myself and a number of friends. What happens to Christmas when you’re an adult?

Alternately we ask: Why, now that I’m in my mid/late twenties, does Christmas not seem so much fun? Why do I feel depressed as soon as Macy’s decks out in the green and red? Why am I so much more senstive to the materialistic aspects of Christmas than I was as a kid (or even a teenager). Why can’t I just be happy about this season?

Even I have turned to Peter and proclaimed, “If I hear one more Christmas song on the radio I’m going to drive off that bridge!” I don’t really mean it, of course, but as someone who used to sing Carols all year long I’m surprised to hear myself say that.

So, why?

Many have heard of the “Quarterlife Crisis”. A brick wall many hit as they leave college and can’t seem to find the answers to some big questions; “who am I” “what do I want to do with my life” “why did I major in underwater basket weaving and not business” ???

I think I’ll dub this discussion the “Quarterlife Christmas Crisis”.

Once, when I was maybe 8 or 9, my Mom told me that she used to spend Christmas with her aunts and uncles and all her cousins (people I see maybe once a year and certainly not on Christmas). I was surprised. At first I couldn’t fathom that she didn’t spend Christmas the way I did… with my aunts and uncles and my cousins. Once I figured out that my cousins hadn’t even been born then I started to realize that at some point in my life I too may have to spend Christmas without the “carved in stone” regimen I was used to. At 8 I figured I’d have a long, long time to deal with that thought.

So here I am a “long, long time” later. And now that I’m married I have to deal with the fact that every Christmas can’t be exactly like I remember it. People grow and change, family dynamics change and, ultimately, traditions have to change. I think this may be what causes this “Christmas Crisis” in so many of the 20somethings I know.

As adults we recognize different aspects of the holidays then we did as children. Spending on presents is only one tiny part of it. We now see all the family dynamics that come into play. We must figure out how we fit into the grand sceme of things. Who buys presents for who? How much do we spend? Are you expected to host a family party? Must you split the day between in-law families? Should you set up a tree in your little apartment that only you will see, or just enjoy the one that your parents have? All of a sudden instead of simply enjoying a holday, we must now start to plan and analyze it.

Our parents all went through this…unfortunately it was 20 or 30 years ago. And well before we were able to watch how they reacted and adjusted. We can see now how they react to our going to college, getting married, having children…and will recall those reactions as our children go through the same stages. But we don’t have the benefit of watching our parents bloom as adults or seeing how they delt with these changes. And so we go through the same confusion they did. How do we fit in as adults in this Holiday?

This confusion leads to feelings of depression. Thoughts that, “everything was better when I was a kid” come to mind. We may also feel lonely, there’s no collection of family ornaments for the tree, no family friends stopping by, no idea what to buy your parents now that you don’t live with them and can’t see what they need/want on a daily basis… We may start to project these feelings on the holiday in general. If these questions make us sad, and they’re related to Christmas, then Christmas must make us sad. And thinking about how Christmas makes us sad only depresses us more.

Ultimately, however, this stage must pass. The cousins will all get married and have families of their own. At that point the aunts and uncles will split off and have separate ‘family’ get togethers (as my Mom and her cousins did). We’ll all begin to form our own Christmas traditions with our own nuclear families. Once we settle into a new routine, I suspect, our love for Christmas will return. We will rejoice in watching our children get excited, in welcoming our extended families over for parties, for surprising our spouses with unexpected gifts… and the ‘perfection’ we remember from our childhoods will solidify into family folklore we tell our children (who will sit in footie pj’s with eyes wide with disbelief).

6 thoughts on “A 20something Christmas

  1. christine

    R — the beautiful thing about being where you are (pre baby and when the baby comes) is that you and Peter have an opportunity to create new traditions with one another. You’ve become a family by bonding together. And while it is sad to leave behind the 9 year old in you, you have the opportunity to become the architect of something new, different, beautiful, and truly your own. Embrace that.

    I’ve been married going on 15 years (holy crud! no! Really???!!! that’s… unpossible!) and Doug and I didn’t have a lot of time before Jessica came to make traditions. She was born shortly after we were celebrating our first anniversary. So we only had one christmas together before becoming parents and having that whole new wave of experiences to deal with. We’ve allowed the kids to guide our decisions, our making of new habits, our choices… but I would have liked to have had more time as a couple to build on something.

    Twenty Something is awkward, like pants that don’t quite fit right but you know they’ll shrink in the wash the first time round or you just need to get a belt. Eventually, you’ll find your fashion.

    much love,

  2. Rebecca

    Christine: Thanks for your kind words. I think that while contemplating this post, and then writing it I was able to move past many of the issues presented in it. Peter and I are looking forward to forging new traditions and reworking old ones.

    My impetus for this post came from conversations with several friends who weren’t able to pinpoint why they felt so ‘down’ this time of year. I found my answer and I hope that they’ll find there’s.

  3. krista

    Christmas always depressed me, even as a kid-8 9 years old. I remember thinking then that when I got older, I was going to go to Maine, rent a hotel room for the week of Christmas and New Year’s and just spend it alone. Christmas becomes more difficult because our relationships change, what used to be like, love, hate, have all gone from solid answers to shades of gray. We have discovered what it’s like to give a present and feel awkward for the person who didn’t reciprocate, and know what it feels like to get a gift and realize we got that person nothing. We know what money is and does to people. We know what it’s like to break Xmas ornaments, tie a tree to our cars, and the set up and break down of holiday decorations. We know what it is to stand in line, wear heavy coats in the mall, and look desperately for a parking spot-even if it’s a spot three miles from the mall. We know what it’s like to give and recieve crappy gifts. We know about Yankee Swaps and office parties. Christmas is different, then, now and forevermore.

  4. jennifair

    Bec – I know what you mean. It is an awkward limbo-type space that is scary and frustrating and depressing… and yeah, being depressed about Christmas does make one even more depressed!!
    You know and see that things change in regards to everything, but the holidays are a time that we all hold dear, so it is more pronounced. Embrace the fact that you and Peter can start to create new traditions as YOUR family becomes reality this year. There are definate places in the new traditions for the warm memories of the old, but there is more space for your own special creativity! I personally look forward to that myself… perhaps when I’m in the midst of it all I will need reminding (which I leave to you, dear!) but it sounds like an exciting opportunity from here. 🙂

  5. Katie


    What an insightful post… I think part of my own holiday depression that differs from yours is that I’m not yet married, and being the only single person when my brothers and sister all have significant others is hard too… also I live with a couple and you feel even more alone…

    I also think part of holiday depression is holiday stress. When you’re a kid you don’t have to worry too much about buying presents for everyone you know; your parents help you with that and pay for it too usually. When you’re an adult, you have to worry about the financial aspect of Christmas and buying the presents which causes a lot of stress, and if you’re hosting Christmas or having a party you have that much more to think about.

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