The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Making Christmas a team effort


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My significant other loves Christmas but I don’t. Unfortunately, I have to drive the bus of “Noel’s”* Annual Holiday Expectations, i.e.: do all the decorating, baking, shopping, etc. BY MYSELF.

If I don’t, it won’t get done and Noel will sulk and hide until I cave. Noel refuses to celebrate with family without me and maintains that it’s only one day a year, I should suck it up, I can handle one church service, etc. (I’m an atheist). This is a very rare instance of Noel’s not budging but I don’t know how NOT to feel pressure and an insane amount of resentment. Please advise!

Do ... Not ... Want!

I believe you’re feeling a sane amount of resentment.

Noel is being a complete child, as you know, and Noel knows it’s not “only one day” — it takes weeks to put on the kind of Christmas you’re talking about. And it’s not weeks of joyous voluntary labor, but weeks of crowds, compulsory KP and forced cheer.

That means you have three choices: Suck it up, go on strike or conjure a new approach.

Most people reading this will think, ugh, go on strike already, it’s years overdue. And they’ll be right.

But marriage isn’t a single-answer institution; it’s a compilation of deals two people make, and each is unique. If telling Noel where to stuff this stocking isn’t the deal you want to make, then you’re right to seek alternatives.

One possibility: This year, let Noel know this is going to become a joint effort (or no effort at all, but leave that off, since that makes it an ultimatum): baking together, decorating together, shopping together.

You can go to some retail mecca as a couple, split up to do your elf thing (two lists), then meet at a set time for dinner at the nicest place there.

When you say, “Okay, let’s bake some cookies,” and Noel resists, say, “If you want cookies this year, then this is how it’s going to happen; I also really would like your company.”

Also ask Noel to help by fetching ingredients, wrapping gifts, whatever you need; announce that it’s wrapping time. Bring as much fun to these things as is realistic after years of sane resentment.

If Noel refuses to do any of these things, then the thing in question doesn’t happen. No to team baking? Then don’t bake. No to team wrapping? Then gifts get delivered unwrapped.

Should this firm position result in no Christmas anything, and if that results in pouting, then you’re down to the other two choices: caving or going on strike.

That sounds like a non-choice — that is, unless you’ve failed to mention some irrational stuff you ask of Noel that would balance out this ho-ho-hostage situation. Context is key.

A strike, to be fair, would also have its on-ramp paved nicely at this point. “For years, I’ve done this for you, when we both know Christmas is not my thing. I will gladly continue, but not as a solo act, not anymore.” His sulk is not your command.

*Name added as relief from the term “significant other.”

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at



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