Festive season phobia

The internet says that the irrational fear of Christmas is called festivalisophobia. I don’t think it’s irrational and it doesn’t have to be about Christmas.


It’s about the times you used to love to share with your partner and now they just hurt. And it’s about those big events with family and friends where everyone’s trying a bit too hard, which you can normally face but not now. If your people’s annual blowout is Elvis’s birthday then it’s about that.



Humans can endure just about anything if we know when it will end. We enjoy good times more and accept difficult times more easily if we see them as exceptions to our everyday experiences. Christmas is only one day. Diwali’s only five days. Chanukkah is only eight days. Thanksgiving to the end of the New Year parties is only about six weeks. Carnival can vary from one day to about six weeks. We can do that. We don’t need to do all of them but we can each get through one.



Christmas is the hardest festival to escape. There are only about a dozen countries where Christmas is not acknowledged and for more than half of them, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against travel.


However, Christmas is celebrated on different days in different places so… some members of the former Soviet Union, plus Ethiopia celebrate on the 6th or 7th January, which could be an interesting change.


If your aim is to escape certain people or responsibilities rather than a whole cultural tradition, then solo holiday companies offer lots of options though they do fill up quickly. If you’re footloose, could you pet sit for a family that’s going away? Or house swap, like in The Holiday, and probably not meet a nice widower who looks like Jude Law, but you never know.



Places as a volunteer in a homeless shelter on the big day can go like hotcakes so enquire as early as possible. Ask your local volunteer bureau about what else is available. Also, is your local university looking for hosts to take in overseas students, often just for the main meal or part of the day?


People who spend Christmas alone tend not to talk about it so ask among your friends. You might be able to find a buddy or a new squad and plan your own festive-free adventure.



You will find lots of online support. Whatever holiday you dread, someone has written a guide for that. Somewhere, there is an online community cheering each other through this period. On the day itself, hashtags will spring up across social media so you can find each other.


You could have a look at our guides from last year if you like.


And if your dread of the season is starting to affect you already, find a therapist. Bereavement counsellors see this problem all the time. If you feel you’d like to try psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, aromatherapy – it doesn’t matter what, really, so long as you check they’re accredited and it makes you feel better.


Closing your eyes won’t make this festival go away but you can wave to it, let it know you’ve seen it coming and that you are ready.


Update since publication:

What’s Your Grief have made pictures you can post on social media to find any friends who might also be available



Sarah Millican organises the annual #JoinIn hashtag on twitter for those who don’t want to be alone, to keep each other company on the day, online



First published in Widows and Widowers magazine Issue 12

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