Confessions of a Scrooge

For most of my adult life, I have absolutely despised Christmas and the whole holiday season. As a child, it was a bit different because my maternal family are Jewish, so I grew up with Channukah. While my cousin, who had wanted to become a rabbi instead of an attorney, would become angry with his wife for serving green and red Jell-O (“They don’t make it in white and blue!”) and would seethe as me and the other kids sang Christmas carols, I always enjoyed Christmas carols and seeing all the lights on the houses.

And let’s face it, other than the dreidel song, Channukah doesn’t really have that many great songs. (Although, now we have Candlelight thanks to the Maccabeats! Love it!)

As a kid, celebrating Channukah just made me stick out even more. I was often the only Jewish kid in school. Eight nights of presents sounds really exciting until you see the reality. “Look, a pack of colored pencils and underwear!”

Confessions of a Scrooge

Once I was a teen, I was moved around from home to home so much that the holidays weren’t anything that interesting. In the foster and group homes, we would get a small gift and maybe have a big dinner. That was the extent of it. I hated going back to school after winter break because I had to hear from all the other kids about their cool gifts and their family’s trip.

In my adult years, the holidays stunk even worse. Well-meaning friends would invite me over so I wasn’t alone, but they didn’t understand how uncomfortable it was to be the only non-family member sitting around listening to their wonderful family share their precious memories together, tease each other, and reminisce.

It’s also the time of year when the annual debate between saying Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas revives, and my Facebook stream will now be filled with indignant “Christians” who want to bitch that someone wished them Happy Holidays or called a Christmas tree a holiday tree. (Guess what, the solstice and consumerism are “the reason for the season,” yours isn’t the only holiday that occurs at this time of year, and it’s so full of pagan symbolism. . . don’t get me started.)

It was one reason I was happy to be working in the medical field. Even though I always wished that I could somehow go to sleep after Halloween and not wake up again until New Year’s Eve, working in hospitals was a surprise blessing. We often get paid double to work a holiday. As I had absolutely no desire to be home alone on the holidays or to sit in someone’s home trying to disguise my severe jealousy, I volunteered to work Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and even the day after.

I was the unit/team hero every year, and I loved the extra money. Patients and families would bring us treats because we were “angels” for “having to work the holidays.”

Confessions of a Scrooge

When I got married to a woman who already had children, I had instant family. The holiday season was a bit more enjoyable then. Kids make Christmas more exciting. And now when I sat around the table, it was my family. That was less painful, but I still was always relieved when it was over. My wife stressed out way too much about buying presents for Christmas.

She was the type of person who felt the kids should get everything on their list, while I refused to go into debt for it. Get them some of the gifts they wish for, but nothing says they have to have every single thing! With only one of us working, we just didn’t have that kind of money.

After the divorce (completely unrelated, folks) and my move to Texas to do my chaplain training, I thought the holidays would be better since my sister lived close by, but they still stunk. I was the only non-Christian on the team, so once again I was the “hero” and worked the holidays.

When I moved to Colorado, I had some friends who were single and didn’t have local family, so we would often spend some time together on the holidays. I would make a huge meal for Thanksgiving and have a number of friends over. That I really enjoyed, so I moved up my “sleep after Halloween” dream to sleep after Thanksgiving.

Never did get that to work out, though.


Then I adopted. I obviously couldn’t care less about Christmas, but they grew up in homes that did celebrate it. I decided at that point we would just create our own holiday. Channukah is Jewish but isn’t a religious holiday. I also enjoyed the solstice. So, we made up our own celebration: Chrismakah.

Basically we just took everything we liked about Channukah, Christmas, and the winter solstice, and combined them around our own traditions. We would light the menorah when Channukah started, and the tree would go up the next day. Presents were opened on the day of the solstice. Stockings went up on Christmas Eve.

Taking control over the holiday made a big change for me. Instead of viewing the holidays as just another time of year to feel like crap because I didn’t really belong to a family and didn’t have good memories of this time of year, instead I was able to focus on traditions we created and loved. We were in total control of it.

I started enjoying the holiday season so much we started having movies we watched starting every Thanksgiving. We would watch Elf, About a Boy, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the original animated version). Tigger got too creeped out by A Christmas Carol (with George C. Scott), and he is too young to watch Love Actually with me, so I watch those alone.

Every year I also read A Christmas Carol. There are so many great lessons in there about life in general.

Travel brought a whole new dimension to our celebrations. We didn’t have a tree or a menorah anymore. We did have a couple of ornaments we had brought along with us, but that was it. On the island in Honduras, a turkey was $50 USD. I wasn’t about to pay that. Tigger added a new feature to our traditional meal: macaroni and cheese with bacon. For Chrismakah, I had actually won a raffle at the grocery store, and we had a huge turkey and all the trimmings. That was fun!

Thanksgiving in Morocco

Our traditional foods were now subject to availability. Last year, we celebrated both holidays in Morocco. Our metal box, aka oven, was too small for the whole turkeys they sold fresh. Instead, we ended up with a turkey breast and no bacon for our mac ‘n cheese. When it was time for Chrismakah, we went to an all-inclusive resort in the nearest large city to get a break from the oasis.

After two years of no lights, no carols, and no general merriment, I couldn’t take it any longer, so we set our eyes on Europe for the holidays. This year I’m positively giddy with excitement. The 40-foot Christmas tree is set up and decorated in the town square. They are stringing up rows and rows of lights down the pedestrian street. Decorations are being sold in the stores. I am as excited as a 5-year-old to see all the decorations light up.

As already mentioned, this year we’ll be spending Christmas and New Year’s, in Vienna, a city known for doing Christmas right. I can’t wait to see all the lights, experience the foods, hear the music, and to visit all the holiday markets while Jack Frost nips at my nose.

And the lesson I learned when we created Chrismakah is something that I’ve learned to apply throughout the year—I do not have to be a slave to my past or my memories. Perspective truly is everything. Instead of focusing on pain, negativity, etc., I can selectively choose the things I wish to focus on. It may sound cliche, but it totally works.

I no longer see the lights going up and think “Ah s**t, here we go again. Come on New Year’s!” Now I see the glowing, multicolored decorations and lose myself in the spirit of joy. For me now, the holiday season is a time for celebration, friends, family, and joy.

My new confession is I absolutely love this whole holiday season now. Now come on, Brasov, and light that tree!

Are you currently or formerly a Scrooge, or does your home make the North Pole look less than festive?

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  1. I never had any bad or painful memories around Christmas, but I never really enjoyed it. For me, it represented obligation and boredom – being stuck indoors with my family, who are fine, but not the funnest people. I informed everyone about ten years ago that I wasn’t going to partake in the gift giving/receive nonsense, and it was a great decision. I still haven’t done so, but I’m quite looking forward to being in a place where no one celebrates Christmas at this time of year.

    It’s funny you say Channuka isn’t a religious festival – for me (in the UK), Christmas is not at all religious either – I know people here who identify as Hindu or Sikh who still celebrate it (or at least have a tree and give gifts). My family is largely atheist and they still celebrate. This year I’m mostly indifferent. Glad you’ve reclaimed the season and can get something out of it with Tigger!

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    • I agree Christmas is increasingly becoming less religious, kind of like Easter. I don’t celebrate the religious side of it either. I sing along with the religious carols even though I don’t believe in what they’re saying. LOL I’m mostly in it for the lights, foods, time with friends and family, and usual merriment that seems to occur during the season. Definitely didn’t miss it our first year away from the US.

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  2. I am so looking forward to hearing about Vienna so I can start dreaming about 2014! I base our holidays on being together and having fun with each other, doesn’t really matter what we do. For years, while our son was growing up, every Easter Sunday we’d head off for a day of hiking and we always had a great time. Most Thanksgivings found us in the Sierra mountains, particularly Yosemite, will a full-scale restaurant Thanksgiving feast cooked by someone else, who also did the dishes. Christmas was all about Santa Claus and just having fun, but not just for the 1 day but for all that it encompasses before and after. This year, for the first time in 35+ years we will not be decorating for Christmas and I’m completely okay with that because we’ll be across the country watching our son (and his fiance) start their own Christmas traditions. It’s all about what works for each of us, there are no set rules – at least not in my book.

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    • I’m glad you’re going to be able to celebrate it with family and get to watch new traditions come to life! How exciting! Safe journeys on the road trip, too. I bet you’re really looking forward to it.

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  3. That is so awesome, Talon! Taking control! We did just the same when we lived in the Yukon, far from everything and made a combo that worked for us and created beautiful traditions. After two years in warm climates, our girls requested a white Christmas this year with all the traditions in place. So just like you this year, we are excited to celebrate our traditional way. Vienna sounds like the perfect choice!

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    • Sure makes a difference when you can just grab control and decide how you’re going to do things so that you enjoy them more. How fun for you to get a white Christmas this year! I don’t think I ever had one while in Colorado, but I’m REALLY looking forward to one this year.

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  4. I am a minimalist as far as possessions go (although I imagine your lifestyle takes that to a new level)–so that is my hardest part. I don’t like people getting me “stuff” and so it is hard for me to get into their heads about what they would like. I also get tired of trying to explain to them that I really, really, truly, don’t want anything. I love to make fudge and give it out, though. I love one family’s tradition of donating to a charity that the other has chosen for “gifts.” I would love to do that, but, as you noted, kids compare notes at school and childhood is important. So, there are still gifts, but we are much more scaled back than other people. I am amazed sometimes.

    I am a total scrooge about “Black Friday” and I am about to lose it over Black Friday starting on Thursday afternoon/evening in many stores. Big Lots is starting Thursday morning. Not that Big Lots is my store so losing my business won’t matter to them. It just made my blood boil when I saw the ad.

    Before my daughter was born, I loved, loved working holidays in the hospital. I never had local family so it was the perfect solution.

    We are going to have our first vegetarian Thanksgiving tomorrow. Wish us luck, and may you have a wonderful holiday season. I am a bit jealous of your Vienna location plans. I remember Christmas in Germany very fondly–the markets, the smells, the food, the people!

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    • Black Friday is absolutely horrible. I know it means a great deal to retailers, but I think it’s horrid.

      I’ve done vegetarian Thanksgivings. They can be quite interesting. Enjoy!

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  5. This is great Talon! I think for many things in life taking control and making it what makes YOU happy is the real answer! Onlt thing you have wrong in this post is to not include It’s a Wonderful Life on that movie list!! My favorite movie of all time!

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    • I’m not a big fan of that movie. Just never could get really into it.

      I think it definitely has so many applications in life. I know I’ve seen it a lot in hospice work especially. Sometimes even the most basic element of control (would you like a brownie or ice cream?) can mean a world of difference. Really helps you switch perspective when you can focus on the things you choose.

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  6. Love that you take what you like from all celebrations and invent one of your own!
    And as for movies, since I was a kid, our local tv station always had “Ciné Cadeau” (Gift cinema? Gift movies?) a “festival” of cartoons they run each year (you don’t want to miss your favorites!) They try to introduce new movies, but they can’t change the lineup too much or they’ll be inundated with complaints!
    I’m in my thirties (yikes!) and I see my friends posting links on FB about this year’s schedule; I’ll be travelling to Mexico in December for the 2nd year in a row, so I’ll miss the fun, but I’m thinking of buying the movies and putting them on an external HD to be able to carry them around! 🙂

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    • I put them on an external HD before we left the States. It’s been great having our favorite movies with us. Really helps us get into the holiday season a bit more when we have them.

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  7. My hubby is definitely the one that gets us all excited for the holidays. Living in So Cal doesn’t really help the season to feel like Christmas but it can be nice in it’s own way to go to the beach on Thanksgiving.

    I think cities do it right, small streets strewn with lights and decorations are absolutely lovely…

    And I watched “love actually” this weekend with my 7 yr old (she wasn’t really watching it all and I forwarded past a few bits and I had to “explain” a few other bits) – love that Christmas movie. “The Polar Express” is another favorite along with all the 70s era animated ones that came out… I always force the family to watch them! 🙂

    I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I was reading about you guys being in Morocco!

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    • I know! So hard to believe a year has gone by already!

      Yeah, if it wasn’t for those couple of bits, I wouldn’t even think twice about it. Although, I don’t think it’s a movie he’d enjoy anyway.

      My favorite story line is Firth’s. The scene with him proposing gets my teary-eyed every single damn time. LOL

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  8. I love that you created your own celebration for the holidays!
    I was always a bit of a Scrooge myself. This year I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting a bit more into the holiday spirit again. I used to really try to force a lot of holiday cheer into my life and family but I never got a positive response and grew to dislike the season. I think the more I step away from what society deems a key factor of the holidays, the more I’m liking it… And that goes for every holiday not just Christmas.

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    • Being away from the societal expectations really enhances it for me. It’s much more enjoyable not being inundated with all the commercialism.

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