How to deal with the dread of going home for the holidays

Illustration by John Miller | The Signal


Illustration by John Miller | The Signal
Illustration by John Miller | The Signal


If you have a family who expects you home for the holidays, it’s about this time of year that you begin to feel the looming threat of having to visit them for the holidays.

Maybe you see them regularly, but something is different this time of year.  There’s something more sinister about time with your family.  There’s something expected of you from them, something beyond the usual.

This is the time of year when traditions are being performed.  You’ll likely have to interact with family members you haven’t seen or spoken to since last year.  There might be a tree or a menora, and there will definitely be food.

You’ll be assailed with questions about your time at school.  You’ll be asked what you’re doing, how it’s (whatever it is) going, who you’re spending time with, and what you’re studying.

All through this you’ll be screaming internally because not only do you not know how to answer most of these questions, you hate having to tell these people you barely know.  This is the dread of having to go home for the holidays.  But luckily, there are a few things to keep in mind to make them more bearable.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that your mere participation is important to your family.  Just to show up at the family gatherings and to be yourself, no matter if you speak a lot or just a little, is likely enough for them.

Second, it’s important to remember that they’re asking you questions about your school not because they want to embarrass you, but because they’re genuinely curious.  Your answer doesn’t have to be in-depth, but don’t be flippant or sarcastic either.

Small-talk is a great way to give the illusion of communicating even if no communication is really taking place.  Remember, family events are, by and large, a performance, so simply keeping up appearances is enough.

If you don’t comport yourself as a respectable member of your family now, you will gain a reputation among your contemporaries’ offspring as being a ‘black sheep’ of the family, and you will lose respect.

But beyond the concern for respect is the concern for the fleeting nature of the lives of each of your family members.  These rituals exist for a reason, and that reason is to have some semblance of togetherness for once every year, signposts that affirm that there is indeed a sense of family amongst these drifting bodies.

And that is probably the best reason of all to behave yourself, and to maintain a sense of composure during this season’s family events; your parent’s won’t’ be around for long, so show them that you are willing to at least passively give yourself to their traditions, however meaningless or lame they might seem to you now.

There’s a false conception that suicide rates spike during the holidays, probably because people assume those who don’t have families to go home to are especially depressed because they’re lonely and the weather is dreary, but the opposite is actually true; suicides are most common in the Springtime.

The idea has salience besides the evidence contradicting it, though.  Christmas can be a lonely time if you don’t have anyone to go home to, for whatever reason (readers of Catcher in the Rye will recognize this dilemma).

And I don’t mean to leave out those of us who don’t have families who cruelly expect our return to home; their struggles are greater than our own.  They grapple with loneliness, which is more painful than a thousand holiday homecomings.

Yet, isn’t it paradoxical that those of us who whine about having to go home for the holidays never consider the alternative?  If we were not to go home, what would we be doing?  I’ll tell you: we’d be wishing we had gone home.

This is the ultimate irony of all of this dread: it’s not dread at all–it’s more like apprehension, apprehension that we feel before doing something we’re not accustomed to, but really do want to do.

Like getting out of bed, or going to bed, it’s simply a change of pace that is at first met with resistance, but is quickly gotten used to.