Christmas is one of the hardest times of the year for me. Don’t get me wrong. The trees, lights, and music thrill me every year, and the cold UK weather is perfect for snuggling up in front of the TV and watching Christmas movies. Hot chocolate optional.
However, the dark side of Christmas is the day itself. The dreaded family lunch. People I have not seen in years all gathered around one table. Everyone else laughing and joking, like they’re a part of some club that I wasn’t invited to. I sit next to someone I barely know, and make small talk that is almost unbearable. I cringe at the thought just writing this.
When I say I’m terrible at small talk, I don’t just mean I back into my shell and nod and smile. I get incredibly awkward. You probably know someone like me. Inappropriate jokes. A random swear word in front of children. In my attempt to be “social,” I completely mess up, and I simply can’t stop it. I never know what weird thing is going to come out of my mouth, so I feel like I need to filter myself by having a mental checklist going. Don’t talk about politics or religion. Auntie May is self-conscious of her fake tan. She’ll probably be offended if I mention make-up or skincare. Avoid that. In fact, just keep quiet.
Now, I love my family. I love spending time with them. Just not all together. There is no real quality conversation, which, as an introvert, I thrive on. To be completely honest, I could not care less about little Suzie’s dance recital or your opinion of the weather. Topics like that make me feel sick as I don’t know how to engage. And if someone makes a comment about how quiet I am, I might blow a fuse!
And after all this effort, I’m left feeling alone. Surrounded by people, and still alone.
Christmas is like this for so many introverts that some of us have come to resent it. And if you’re anything like me, some of your excuses over the years have ranged from being sick to having an important deadline that you simply cannot get out of. Really anything to avoid having to be in this environment that is supposed to make you feel happy and connected, but rather leaves you feeling drained and lonely.
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And by the time you leave, you’re left with the feeling that you’ve disappointed someone (in my case, this is usually one of my parents), and most likely someone will point this out to you, making you feel even worse. Post-Christmas calls and texts will inevitably include something like “Were you ill?”
Many members of my family have a basic understanding of introversion, but somehow they still find me to be weird. Or they think being an introvert is something that I have control of. I get told to “make more of an effort” or “just be happy,” as if I am some child throwing a temper tantrum.
Alternatives to the Traditional Family Get-Together
I wish I had a magic wand so that all these problems could be solved, but I don’t. I do however have one suggestion for those of you who love Christmas but cannot stand the thought of another year of watching what you say and feeling out of place: charity work. Every year, hard working charities need volunteers to help out over the Christmas period. Tell your family that you’re busy on Christmas day because you are giving back to others. Go and help out at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen. Get involved with a children’s hospice or an animal welfare charity. Anything that is near and dear to your heart.
By doing this, you are not only taking back control, but you are doing something worthwhile. And if your family thinks that’s odd, invite them to join you. You will be able to have some meaningful conversations with them and reduce small talk anxiety.
Some of my favorite options include:
- Visiting an elderly care home to spend time with residents who do not have families
- Dressing up as Santa and the Elves for some children in need
- Volunteering at a crisis network for individuals who are at risk over Christmas
You can go a step further and decide to donate money that you would have spent on presents to your charity as well, saving you from the dreaded crowds at the local shopping centers.
I’ve personally found this to be a great way to spend Christmas. Doing something that really matters to me, raising awareness of an issue along the way, and avoiding meaningless chatter. By getting my family involved, they are also able to know more about me, rather than relying on me to tell them. They get to see me in action, and I get to have meaningful conversations with them.
Sometimes, being an introvert, we’ve had to do things everyone else’s way. But it is okay for us to take charge and offer an alternative.
Other options for an introvert-friendly Christmas include:
- Hosting a family Christmas yourself. Make your own rules. Ask everyone to bring along their favorite book and read a passage. Have a set time after lunch for some quiet with a Christmas movie.
- Host or join an Introvert Christmas. Connect with other introverts who may be feeling the same as you, and put together your own Christmas lunch.
Christmas is the time of giving, sharing, and enjoying ourselves. So let us find ways to make this day a happy one. (No awkward small talk included!)
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