16 Ways I’ll Probably Ruin Christmas

by Janelle Hanchett

I love Christmas. I love all of it. I love the gifts and the candles and the lights. I love the horrible music. I love the movies and eggnog and excitement and decorations. I’m slightly pathetic about the whole thing, actually. But it doesn’t matter how much I love it.

I’ll probably ruin it anyway.  Chances are good, at least. The more important the day, the more likely I am to fuck it up with my questionable behavior.

I made an infographic to visually summarize this phenomenon.


But this year I thought I’d give my family a nice, clear, fair warning about how I’ll probably ruin Christmas. I’m thinking this might help.

So here we go.

  1. I’ll probably stay up too late the night before wrapping the fourteen thousand seven hundred and fifty three gifts I bought for the kids because when I was a kid we were pretty broke, and my mom every year said “This Christmas is going to be small, kids,” and I smiled and felt a little pang but didn’t show it, but then on Christmas my big brother and I woke my mom up and trotted into the living room and the gifts were tumbling over themselves in a massive insane heap and it didn’t feel small at all. So now I do the same, and it’s shallow and materialistic and unenlightened but I couldn’t possibly give fewer shits about that. I freaking love it.
  2. But because I stayed up too late I’ll be irritable and you’ll be bouncing off the walls so I’ll probably snap at one of you. I’ll snap at you as I watch you in your Christmas pajamas and think about the next gift I have for you, that one you’re not expecting, because I know you’re just going to love it and it’s the little ones like that make my stomach flutter and Christmas becomes the same as when I was you. I’ll snap and feel immediately terrible and apologize and think “You can’t do that! It’s CHRISTMAS!”
  3. I will for sure say something stupid though. Once I opened a gift and said the first thing that came to my mind and it was the wrong thing to say and it made my mom’s face fall and I knew I ruined Christmas then.
  4. I’ll probably say “tits” at the Christmas table and regret that immediately too. On the way home I’ll ask Mac why I always have to sit by the classy people in the family and he’ll say “Right. That’s the problem. The seating arrangement.” And then he’ll tell me it’s not a big deal, Janelle, and I’ll be vaguely grateful it wasn’t an F-bomb.
  5. My mouth ruins a lot of Christmases.
  6. I’ll probably overbook the day because rather than learn from mistakes I like to keep doing them over and over again a few hundred billionty times because you never know it may work this time and then when we’re all wrestling ourselves off the couch and into nice clothes I’ll probably ruin Christmas by being angry and frustrated and kicking myself because I want to stay home and swore last year I wouldn’t do this again. I’ll wonder what the fuck is wrong with me.
  7. No. We’re staying home this year. I WON’T RUIN CHRISTMAS THAT WAY, KIDS.
  8. I used to ruin Christmas by drinking too much. Once I ruined it by not even showing up at all. There was one when I found myself alone for a moment in the bathroom after all the gifts had been opened and as I was getting up from the toilet after peeing I thought for the first time that my kids would be better off without me and it was my first and perhaps only real thought of suicide and it was shocking in its anticlimactic nature and the smoothness with which it passed through my brain. I thought about it like I might think about an item we needed from the grocery store. It was matter of fact and plain and clear. In that it terrified me. I went outside and watched my son who’s now 9 ride around on his new Hot Wheels in his footed Christmas pajamas. I poured some whiskey in my coffee and didn’t die.
  9. I’ll never ruin Christmas by not being there again.
  10. I’ll eat too much and practically bust out of my clothing though and that won’t ruin Christmas but I’ll feel like a cow.
  11. I’ll get mad at you for not looking at the camera.
  12. I’ll forget your tights. I always forget the tights. Damn tights.
  13. I’ll yell, probably, because really JUST LOOK AT THE FUCKING CAMERA FOR 12 FUCKING SECONDS KID. And then I’ll bribe you with See’s Candy and win at parenting.
  14. At the end of the day I’ll probably go out on the patio with your dad and I might start blaming him for the ways Christmas was ruined because that’s easier than realizing I ruined Christmas by being overtired and cranky and the stakes are just too high. And I’ll want to stop but I won’t because there was his pain and my mom and brother and I and my dad, and my grandmother who’s gone now, and the way I used to wrap presents for her every year, and the ache in my gut and brain and eyes to see her again and the wrinkles in her hands and tell her goodbye, mostly, or even thank you. And there are those thousand Christmases of them and me and you and those to come and I’ll feel it all right then. Through the lights strung on the porch that you hung badly. I got a little mad when it happened (because the neighbor’s are perfect) but laughed when I realized poorly hung Christmas lights are a fucking family tradition at this point. It’s our Griswold moment.
  15. And I’ll ruin Christmas when I lie down at night and think of you the oldest kid in your bed and you and you and look down at the baby, 6 months old, and watch him nurse and know he will be you, the first, 13 years old, so close to gone. And I’ll shut my eyes with the memory of snapping at you as we sat around the tree. And I’ll wish I could go back there. This year’s gone already. Next will be later still. Further still.
  16. I’ll ruin Christmas because it’s never enough. I’m never enough, for you. For this. How could I be? How could I be the light to make a day perfection? The mother bustling about the tree. The one with the gingerbread and sugar cookies. Oh these stakes are just too high.

Damn you, Christmas. The perfect, ruined day, every year. You just keep getting better. In my mind, my heart, you get that much better every year. And you, kids.

I can’t wait to see your faces.


  • Ola

    I’m right there with you but I’ll ruin it b/c I’ll be too sad that my parents and sister can’t be with me. But luckily my kids are still little and a tree and gifts are enough. Maybe one day I’ll get it right. Nah.
    I don’t even have anything cooked yet. Bit well, I have one of those kids who will do anything to keep me from going what I need done around the house. So Christmas will be ruined. (
    (Btw, I needed to retread your post about your son-one of those kids- from Dec.2012 cause I definitely have one too. (Just almost 3) There’s light at the end of the tunnel, huh? Your sun looks do grown up.
    Anyways, thanks for writing and keeping me sane.
    Merry Christmas!

    • Suzy

      Janelle, you made me cry. Thank you 🙂

  • Diana

    Great post. I wish I could write as well as you do. I think as well as you do, though 🙂

    Merry Christmas!!!

    And P.S. I used to live in the Bay Area, and would kill for some See’s candies 🙂 🙂

  • To. Ribbett

    I’ll ruin Christmas too. Not for all the same reasons (although I will be tired and cranky), but in my own special way. I loathe Christmas, despite not having any particular reason to (no seasonal deaths or anniversaries or major personal disasters etc.), I’ve just always hated it. That false jollility, the enforced bonhomie. I live in the Southern Hemisphere and the images are still of snow and crackling fires and flaming Christmas puddings and such. It’s so freaking hot here, puddings are likely to spontaneously combust! So I hate that, and “Frosty the Snowman” and “Winter Wonderland” and all that cultural misappropriation and it makes me think what colonial damage we are still doing to our indigenous peoples (& that’s another whole rant). Mostly I realise my Christmas hatred is unfounded and awkward and makes me a freak, but there it is. I try to rein it in as much as I can and just be as minimally involved as possible, but I just can’t hide it. I let the kids revel as much as they like, but I don’t participate. I’m good at faking things for their sake much of the time, but not Xmas. It’s too big. It beats me down. So Xmas fails me, and I fail the children.

    • Rose

      Thank you for validating my own thoughts and feelings about Christmas. I do not know why I have grown to dislike Christmas. But during the season of “Ho, ho ho! Everything’s gotta go. Let’s grab it all up. And put up lights and ornaments for show, you know?,” I fear the true meaning has been lost on most people. And so what I’d like most to do each year around that time is to bury my head and hope that it all blows over. And people will ask (’cause they always do) “Are you ready for Christmas?” I am NOT. And I am pretty sure that it will come and go no matter what I do ~ or don’t do. For the past two years we did not even put up a tree! So… just thanks. 🙂

  • Peggy

    I almost sent this to my daughter(36) as a sort of apology. But I don’t have your guts 🙂
    Merry Christmas.

  • Jo

    I always forget the tights too, and if by some miracle I remember, they’ll have a hole in them within 30 minutes.

  • Sara

    Please sit next to me. We can swear all evening.

  • Chloe D

    Christmas is overrated

  • Corinne Knight

    Your kids are so grown now and damn fancy in that pic.
    I hate when our expectations and visions do not match the day! I ruin lots of days.

  • Jessie B

    You just nailed me. To the Christmas cross. Trying so very hard to do it different this year. I’ll get back to you on that…

    …and my infographic looks very much like yours except you swap out MY WEDDING with MY BIRTHDAY, and there you have me.

  • Sara

    I recognize myself in all of the points of the list, but the one that strikes me the most is this one:
    “I’ll ruin Christmas because it’s never enough. I’m never enough, for you. For this. How could I be? How could I be the light to make a day perfection? The mother bustling about the tree. The one with the gingerbread and sugar cookies. Oh these stakes are just too high.”
    That one kinda stings… Why do I always have Betty Draper in my head as an image of a perfect mom (first season, and not her actions, her image!)? Why is that an ideal for me? It’s so absurd and “counter-productive”… That’s not really what I want to become! So why is it my mental image of a good mother? Whyyyyy???

  • Sarah B

    I love you Janelle. Christmas sucks in our house. Not as bad as it used to, and not as bad as it could. The kids don’t care. They don’t know it sucks. Or maybe they do. I always want to buy them everything. They don’t ask for much. This year my daughter (who is 12) just asked for the Divergent box set and for her baby sister to be born safely. She got both of those things. And some clothes. We opened our Christmas presents Sunday morning because Dad had to leave for the week and we didn’t want to make them wait till after Christmas. That’s one thing that makes Christmas suck. He has to work every year. I try to put a positive spin on it and tell the kids “We get to have Christmas twice. Once with dad and once with the rest of the family.” I hope it works. When I was a kid, we didn’t celebrate Christmas. Every year I sat around and watched the other children in my family open their presents and be happy and I resented them. I try every year to make Christmas special for our kids. We always seem to run out of money though. Something always happens and we don’t get to buy them everything we wanted. I should plan better and start shopping sooner. I’m terrible at planning. I ruin Christmas every year because I can’t plan ahead and because shit happens and this year I just had a c-section and I tried to plan ahead and shop before the baby came but I failed. Again. Next year will be better. I swear. Some day I’ll figure it out.

  • Renee

    Don’t sweat the small stuff – if you don’t get the cookies made or the lights up straight, who cares? Certainly not your family and who are you trying to impress? And if “whoever” isn’t impressed, do you really give a damn? Took me a long time to learn this but I finally have in my old age! All you have to care about is your family and friends and the rest can take a hike! And as for the yelling, do you really think they care? You just have to be there for them; all the yelling in the world won’t drive them off. Kids are funny like that……By the way, damn good looking bunch! You and the hubs are doing a great job! Merry Christmas!

    • Alexa

      This is so true – nothing has to be perfect, it is the feeling and excitement around Christmas that makes the memories, the presentation of it all, right? 🙂 Merry Christmas all!!!

  • Cayenne

    I have no idea if you write (in part) to make your readers truly just roll around and marinate naked and raw in the truths you confront… The dichotomous painful gorgeous gritty delicious truths… But I seriously love it. It’s an unsettling yet exciting feeling to identify with someone’s writing. Nice work.

  • MomtoThree

    Happy Christmas J. Thank you for another year of grit, insight, smiles, laughter and truth. Keep on doing what it is you do. Without you to remind us of the real, we’d still be hankering after some Hallmark idea of parenting. This Christmas post brought home some familiar truths too. Enjoy your little ones … And your hubby. We only have this time once, and this is the first Christmas for us where none of the kids believe in Father Christmas anymore … another milestone, but bittersweet.

  • TN_Meg

    Thanks for sharing. I have a 13 year old daughter, a 2 year old son and one on the way. You get it! I get you! Merry Christmas!

  • Emily Donahue

    Reading this on Christmas Eve at my in-laws where I have spent every Christmas for the past 29 years I feel as though my life just flashed before my eyes. This year Christmas is ruined because my 23 year old is a man working in his first real job in New York and couldn’t get off for the Holiday. I ca not get the lump out of my throat.

  • Pam Myers

    Ok, this post? Here? This is why I love you. I had the best lead-up-to-Christmas ever. Then, Christmas, Yeah, I lost it with my husband over something that was probably stupid. Like I do every year. Yup. EVERY YEAR. Merry freakin’ Christmas, and I am the one freaking. Glad I am not the only one. THANK YOU!

  • Rachelle

    Thanks for this J. Such good reminders of how we, as moms, look at ourselves and beat ourselves up over EVERYTHING! And then, just by reading the stuff that comes out of someone else’s thoughts, it just reminds me that all of that really doesn’t matter much. The memories we make for our kids will be their memories and they will be GOOD ones! I’m quite positive my mom felt the same way you do, about many things at Christmastime, as well as her perceived failures as a mom. But honestly, I just feel grateful to have had what I consider to be a “Norman Rockwell” childhood. LOL Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  • Rosa

    Look at those gorgeous happy kids! YOU did that, put those smiles on those precious little faces!

    I want to give little Janelle from #3 a hug, she needs a hug;)

    Oh the expectations we place on holidays. I catch myself every year!

    Hey man, Griswold lights rock! We call our lights the same or “linus lights” and they clearly state to the world, “Hey, we are not asshats who take ourselves to seriously!”

    I watched my mil put everyone around her under immense pressure to live out her idea of a successful xmas and I said to hell with that existence! We don’t spend holidays over there anymore.

    Instead I enjoy shopping for gifts and then we just do whatever we feel like for the day-no pressure-just hanging out enjoying each other, munching on good food, telling each kid how wonderful we find them to be and how lucky we are to have them and snuggling them. Ya know, between the yelling at them for fighting or being too noisy, overdoing it with the nerf guns, making colossal messes, etc. Ah making warm fuzzy memories.

    I do identify with the pressure we mothers put ourselves under to make holidays special but it does not need to be that way.

    You are way too hard on yourself but you know that already and as time goes on you will relax more as you put the past further behind you and enjoy how far you have come. You deserve it, to allow yourself to relax and be happy without being haunted.

    You are on your way!

  • Kristin

    I suffer from the buying/wrapping too much, but I too LOVE it for the kids. I love hiding the big surprise in the pile so that the excitement is HUGE.

    I also am very guilty of, in my great fatigue, saying the wrong thing. My husband gave me a pocketbook this year and my assessment was that it looks like a vagina. I said this out loud and not just in my twisted mind.

  • Alana

    That isn’t that bad. Yesterday, I got to listen to my father-in-law tell me about how the World Trade Center attack REALLY went down (it’s pretty complicated and involves “the jews” and “the government”). The day before, my step-father told me about how he never sold heroine – just “crystal” (meth) back in the seventies. But, my buddy’s Dad takes the cake with his boasting of: “I only smoke crack around other people that smoke crack.” I’m just glad that the children are not old enough to catch any of this…

  • Sara

    Follow-up comment: This year, I ruined Christmas by accusing my partner of ruining Christmas… Great, just great. I’m still trying to recoup for the emotional damage I’ve done. Hurray for me.

  • DLynn

    Great post. I’ve learned to create the Chrismtas that I most want, with minimal obligations. Two things stand out to me about Christmas:#1That as mothers we (generally) seem to have imposed the job on ourselves of “making Christmas happen”. So if we’re going to take that on, then let’s give ourselves a break and NOT overdo it. If we’re not happy, no one else is either. #2That Christmas can bring about volatile feelings for some. My father used to have a zillion gifts waiting for us under the tree when I was a kid-and I now know it was to make up for the fact that he bullied our (abused) mother right our of our lives.(hence my memoir/blog!) So too many gifts and too much time w/ my family of origin at Christmas makes me feel icky and is to be avoided.

  • Janet

    Christmas Eve is my birthday. All I want for my birthday is someone to celebrate that I am alive. I don’t need any presents. Every year I have to beg for Felix to put up the tree and the deer outside so I can enjoy my birthday and Christmas. I use a walker and this year I can’t even walk very well because both my knees are killing me. Every year Felix disappoints me and ruins my birthday and Christmas. Next year, I’m not celebrating his birthday in March, nor am I getting him something for this Christmas like I do every year for him. If he can’t celebrate my life, then I’m not celebrating his life. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that, every year my birthdays and Christmases really suck!