Bad at Christmas

I don't mind the holidays — they just don't like me

Bad at Christmas
Jessie Hynes illustration

Christmas is tough. It's not that I don't like it, it's just that I'm terrible at every aspect. Cherished holiday pastimes like baking, decorating, singing and spending time with loved ones just aren't activities that come naturally to me.

I'm not great at giving gifts. Not because I don't like being generous, but because I have a hard time understanding what other people might want. I can only imagine that they want what I want, which is an oversized Adidas track suit á la Sporty Spice and white platform sneakers á la Baby Spice. Receiving presents is somehow even more difficult. I'm only good at receiving a gift when it's something I don't want. Give me a candy-cane-themed scarf or itchy, thigh-high wool socks, and suddenly I'm an actress in the most important role of her life. I'll go above and beyond necessary thankful behavior, wearing items I hate every day for nine months straight just so the gift-giver doesn't find out I don't like what they gave me. But if I receive something that I really like that will be genuinely useful to me, I'll say something like, "Thank you, wow, I love it so much," in the most stiff and sarcastic-sounding tone imaginable. I don't know what's wrong with me. I need voice lessons or something.

Decorations don't make any sense. Why do people hang strings of lights to highlight the shape of their house? What does holly have to do with anything? It's like I have a very specific neurological disorder that prevents me from understanding Christmas traditions. Apparently you can put literally any toy, ribbon or snack food on your Christmas tree and call it an ornament, but if you pin something other than an oversized felt sock to your fireplace, suddenly it's a fire safety issue. Is there a rulebook I could peruse? One year I bought tinsel for the tree, thinking maybe I finally found a decoration I could stand behind. It's just shiny shit you toss everywhere — what's not to love? My cat ate some of the tinsel strands off the tree, which I only discovered on Christmas morning when I saw the festive dingleberries hanging from her ass in a neat little row, connected by shiny, undigested tinsel.

But hey, I'll keep trying, because what is Christmas if not an exercise in finding joy in incomprehensible and ill-conceived traditions with people who expect it to be deeply meaningful? If past Christmases have taught me anything, it's that when you try to make a snowman with your boyfriend's family and accidentally roll through the doggie bathroom area, you might not end up with anything that resembles snow nor man, but you still gain memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life. ♦

Chelsea Martin is the Spokane-based author of five books, including Caca Dolce: Essays from a Lowbrow Life. Her website is

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