I’m no Scrooge

It can be difficult for others to understand why some of us don't feel the holiday cheer.

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watercolor painting by Julia Poppa

For many, it's the most wonderful time of the year. But for children who come from broken homes, the holidays can evoke anxiety and sorrow.

By Julia Poppa, North Allegheny Senior High School

Under certain circumstances, the holiday season can be joyous and beautiful. The snow falls silently on quiet streets lined with houses decorated in festive lighting. Fires heat the hearths of homes and smoke billows from the chimneys, creating soft clouds as families come together to celebrate traditions they hold dear. 

What’s not to love about the holidays? From one break to the next, four-day day week after four-day week, snow days looming on the horizon — things simply could not be more perfect. 

In fact, that’s why it’s always difficult to explain why I don’t like the holidays. 

People will ask, “Well, don’t you at least like Halloween? Or Thanksgiving? How do you not like Christmas?” And suddenly I’m forced to discuss my past as if disliking Christmas is simply unacceptable.

Others have compared me to Scrooge. However, I don’t dislike the holidays because they cost me too much money or because I feel that I’m being forced to care for strangers. My reasons are more complicated.

Like a lot of kids, I come from divorced parents. I grew up in two different homes since the age of four, and I can’t really remember any holidays that my parents spent together — that’s just how it’s been. It never bothered me that the traditional big family Christmas would not find its way into my life.

I question my choices every day, and as the holidays grow closer and closer, questioning those choices doesn’t get any easier. ”

But just like many kids of divorced parents, I grew closer to one than the other.  I’ve lived with my mom since 9th grade, and I haven’t spoken to my dad in two years. I don’t mind sharing that information with others, because I understand how difficult it can be to live with decisions like that; I want other people to know that there’s no shame in having made them.

Yet I question my choices every day, and as the holidays grow closer and closer, questioning those choices doesn’t get any easier. 

I don’t hate Christmas for the sake of being “edgy”. I wish more than anything that I could decorate the Christmas tree without wishing that things were different with my dad and that he were there to do it with me. I miss being able to go to family dinners, and I even miss the boring drives between the houses of relatives we see maybe twice a year. 

So when people judge me for not liking the holidays, it feels like they’re judging my choices, judging my doubts, and it makes the mental battle so much worse. Being outcast for not succumbing to the Christmas bandwagon is frustrating, and I know that I’m not the only one. 

NASH is no stranger to swarms of kids from divorced or split families. And as the years progress, the strain on those relationships grows. I have many friends who no longer talk to one of their parents or try their hardest to avoid interacting with them. 

For kids who no longer talk to a parent, or have lost them, the holidays are a brutal reminder of the life they could have had. Social media is a constant bulletin board of happy families, and the merriest christmases, being shoved in the face of those who would do anything to not have to think about it. Each year is just another year of feeling torn up about the past, another year’s holidays spent filled with remorse over relationships lost. 

The holidays can be stressful for everyone. In-laws, gift shopping, decorating, the rush to see everyone you care about all in one day — it’s rough. But for kids who come from broken homes, it can be much worse. ”

Even when parents are split and still in the picture, kids are often forced to choose who they should spend the holidays with, and sometimes they get no choice at all.

I’ve been a victim of this dilemma ever since I was young, and I was never given a choice of who I wanted to see on Christmas, Thanksgiving, or New Year’s Eve. I felt like I was being cheated out of the experiences that everyone else got to have. As kids, of course we don’t get to make all of our own choices, but there’s always a nagging presence of “what if?” questions flooding the minds of thousands. Instead of dreaming of sugar plums, the dreams become about what life would be like if it were more closely matched with the “normal” idea of an American family holiday.  

And for children still struggling with parent relationships, the holidays can be even more emotionally taxing. Parental alienation is a common problem seen in families where the parents are no longer together, and the holidays do nothing to make things better. When families start to split up, parents often feel that they need to somehow “win” their children over to their side. 

I’ve seen countless scenarios, and perhaps been in some myself, where the holidays are used as a sort of parental dance to woo kids into picking sides, or hating the other parent. There is a fight to get better gifts, overly festive parties, and there are holiday dinners that are almost uncharacteristically cheery, all just to attempt to prove that life with one parent is better. But often, kids just want to spend meaningful holidays with their parents feeling loved, rather than as a prize to be won. 

The holidays can be stressful for everyone. In-laws, gift shopping, decorating, the rush to see everyone you care about all in one day — it’s rough. But for kids who come from broken homes, it can be much worse. 

As the festive season begins to envelop us, it’s important to be consciously aware that not everyone has the same heartfelt experiences. Not every broken home finds a way to celebrate, but for the many that do, I hope this year and all the years to come bring nothing but the best.

This story was originally published on The Uproar on December 11, 2019.