“What do you want for Christmas?”

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
What with Christmas coming and being autistic, I’ve been specifically asked what I want for Christmas by a relative and I’ve no idea how to say ‘I would like X please’ without sounding rude or demanding!

realsocialskills said:

One option might be to create an Amazon wishlist. (Or a wishlist on some other platform). Then you can say “I actually have a wishlist, would you like the link?” or just email them the link if the initial ask was in an email.

That way it doesn’t seem like you’re demanding a particular thing:

  • It’s important to some people to pick the gift themselves.
  • Some people like to buy some kinds of things but not other kinds of things. 
  • (eg: Some people might not want to buy political books they disagree with, or might have an aversion to pink things, or whatever).
  • Or might have ideas about what Good Gifts are.
  • (Eg: Some people might think that stuff you need and would buy anyway isn’t a good gift.). 
  • A wish list lets them decide which kind of thing they want to buy.
  • It also gives them information about your tastes and what kinds of things you like…
  • …which lets them pick a thing that’s not on your list, based on what they think you’d like.
  • (For whatever reason, some people are more comfortable giving gifts that are their own idea).
  • Giving people options makes it more likely that one will be comfortable for them.

It also would be good to put things on the list that cost different amounts of money because:

  • People usually have an amount in mind that they want to spend.
  • But for whatever reason, it’s considered rude to talk about how much gifts cost.
  • So, unfortunately, “How much were you thinking of spending?” is a rude question.
  • But if you put things on your list that cost different amounts of money, then you don’t have to talk about that.
  • They can just look at the list and spend the amount of money they want to spend.

tl;dr Sometimes people ask what kind of present you want, and it can be awkward to answer directly. Wish lists can help, especially if you put things on the list that cost different amounts of money. Amazon wish lists work pretty well for this.

A Christmas message


In December, every aspect of mainstream culture says that Christmas is important and that it makes people happy and that it is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

And for some people, that’s true.

But this can be a really hard time of year for a lot of people.

For people who are alone, it can be horrible to get messages that this is the time of year you should be with family.

For people who have family they can’t safely be with, this can be especially difficult.

And some people have family they can’t safely be with, and have to spend time with them anyway this time of year. That’s especially hard. Especially when the whole culture sends the message that all good people are close to their families this time of year.

Christmas isn’t magic. It doesn’t make any of that go away. The family you have at Christmastime is the same family you have the rest of the year. Christmas doesn’t solve that, and it’s ok to be aware that the problems are still there.

And in some families, presents are used to hurt and humiliate people. Even when presents aren’t used to hurt people, they can still be a painful reminder that family doesn’t understand you and care about what you want as much as you’d like them to. It’s ok to be sad about this. It’s not the same as being an entitled materialist. Presents can hurt, just like any other form of social interaction. If you’re being hurt, take that seriously.

And for some people, Christmas is triggering because they associate it with abuse.

It’s ok if Christmas is hard for you. It’s not your fault, and it’s not a moral failing.

And if Christmas really is wonderful for you, that’s ok and good too, and you should enjoy it as much as you can.

No matter what today is like for you, try to be good to yourself.

Things to do on Christmas if you don't want to celebrate it

For those who don’t celebrate Christmas, the 25th of December can be a boring, annoying, or lonely day in Christian-dominated cultures. Almost everything shuts down, and the atmosphere is dominated by a holiday almost everyone else is celebrating that you’re not part of.

Here are some things you can do on Christmas other than celebrate it:

Chinese food:

  • Chinese restaurants are often open on Christmas
  • You can go there and eat food

Gatherings unrelated to Christmas:

  • If you have friends who also don’t celebrate, Christmas can be a good time to hang out
  • Gathering on Christmas doesn’t have to be a Christmas party

Going to work:

  • If the place you work is open on Christmas, most people probably want to avoid working
  • Working on Christmas is a nice thing to do if you don’t celebrate
  • In some fields, it’s also a relatively quiet shift

Going to a movie:

  • A lot of movie theaters are open on Christmas
  • Some of the movies are Christmas-themed, but a lot of them are not

Netflix/Hulu marathons:

  • Netflix and Hulu both have lots and lots of things to watch
  • Most of which are not at all Christmas-related
  • Hulu ads might be, though. If you want to completely avoid Christmas stuff, Netflix is a better option
  • This can be a good thing to do in a gathering, if you have friends who also don’t celebrate Christmas

Reading books:

  • Reading a new book is a good way to fill time and be absorbed in something interesting
  • If you don’t have any books you want to read, here are some ways to get eBooks:
  • Project Gutenburg has a huge collection of free eBooks that are out of copyright
  • Oyster Books is an ebook subscription service with a free trial.
  • Amazon also has an ebook subscription service (but it has a lot of junk and is kind of hard to nagivate).


  • If you’re bored and need something to be interested in, Wikipedia can be a good place to go
  • If you click the random button enough times, you will probably eventually find a page that interests you

tl;dr Christmas can be boring for people who don’t celebrate it since most things shut down on Christmas in Christian-dominated cultures. Scroll up for some suggestions about stuff to do other than be bored.

Anyoneelse who doesn’t celebrate Christmas want to weigh in? What do you like to do on Christmas?

deflecting fight-pickers at christmas

Anonymous said to :

My mother sometimes likes to pick fights at family gatherings, especially meals. She brings up controversial political opinions/things she knows many of us are uncomfortable with (she is fairly ableist, homophobic etc). I will be staying with my parents for Christmas. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this? I have tried just saying ‘I don’t want to argue about this now.’ or leaving the table when I got too uncomfortable but was called rude for doing so.

realsocialskills said:

It might be ok if people call you rude. Sometimes there’s no way to effectively assert boundaries without anyone objecting. Sometimes there’s no way to insist that people stop saying mean things without being somewhat rude. Sometimes putting up with being called rude is more tolerable than putting up with obnoxious and offensive conversation. I don’t know if that’s the kind of situation you’re in, but the possibility is worth considering. 

I don’t know who said it first, but I think the most important principle is: You don’t have to attend every argument that you are invited to. The fact that your mother insists on saying offensive things and trying to pick fights doesn’t mean that you have to argue with her about them. You get to decide what you do and don’t want to talk about.

(Especially given that it’s an established rule of polite behavior that at this kind of gathering, one should not talk about controversial topics that are liable to result in unpleasant arguing. But that would be true even if you were not at the kind of gathering where that’s a rule - you don’t have to argue with people who say offensive things unless you want to.)

That said, you might get better results from changing the subject than from leaving or saying that you don’t want to talk about a given topic. (Or you might not. It really depends on your family.)

Changing the subject can be better because:

  • If you just say you don’t want to talk about the controversial thing, it can give a new hook for arguing.
  • Then it can turn into an argument about why you’re too PC to listen to the ~obviously-true~ bigoted opinions 
  • Or how you’re rude, or censoring, or ~causing tension~ (the tension is already there; caused by the people who insist on picking fights about offensive things. It’s not your fault. But it will sometimes be convenient to blame you.)
  • If you introduce a new topic immediately, there’s something to talk about that isn’t a fight
  • That can sometimes make the path of least resistance talking about the new thing rather than fighting about the old thing

Changing the subject to something your mother consistently wants to talk about that isn’t offensive:

  • Your mother: These people I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are terrible! My tax dollars shouldn’t be going for this. Why can’t people be decent like they used to be?
  • You: How are things at work? How are things going with your new client?

Changing the subject to something that other people present want to talk about:

  • Your mother: These people I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are terrible! My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying for this. Why can’t people be decent like they used to be?
  • You: Hey, did anyone see the sportsball game last night? How amazing was the ball thrown by that sportsball player on the team that half of you root for and the rest of you hate?

Changing the subject to something a particular person present is likely to want to talk about:

  • This can work well because it shifts the center of attention to someone else, and most people like attention
  • If you’re aggressively paying attention to someone who is interested in talking about something non-offensive, it’s much harder for someone to interject with something offensive, or to call you rude


  • Mom: People I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are ruining everything. My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying for that! People used to be decent. 
  • You: David, how are you liking the exciting new thing you just purchased? I’m thinking about upgrading mine, do you think now is a good time?

Sometimes it works better if you explicitly say that you don’t want to talk about the thing while you change the subject:

  • Your mother: These people I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are terrible! My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying for this. Why can’t people be decent like they used to be?
  • You: Mom, let’s not talk about politics. It’s Christmas. Your tree is absolutely gorgeous, where did you find those new ornaments?

tl;dr Some people like to pick fights by saying offensive things. You don’t have to argue with them if you don’t want to. One way of deflecting the fight is to change the subject. (That doesn’t always work.) Scroll up for more details and scripts.

Celebrating Christmas alone



If you will be alone on Christmas and want to celebrate, there are several options:


  • A lot of churches and other organizations have musical events around Christmas
  • For instance, in many areas, a group puts on a Handel’s Messiah sing along, where it’s lead by experienced musicians but anyone can participate in the singing
  • (You can find other musical events by googling “Christmas concert <your area>”)
  • You can also listen to recorded Christmas music (in fact, this time of year it would be difficult to avoid doing so. But it might be more enjoyable when you’re doing it on purpose and selecting songs you like).

Getting a Christmas tree:

  • Some people who celebrate Christmas are much happier if they have a Christmas tree than if they don’t
  • This time of year, there are a lot of places that sell both real and fake ones
  • If you aren’t up to or don’t want a full-sized tree, you can get a mini-tree or a potted plant pine tree
  • In some cities, places that sell Christmas trees also sell “Charlie Brown trees” that are a pine branch held up by a small stand. Those have the advantage of smelling the same way that full-sized fresh-cut trees smell (you can also get this effect by using wreathes or garlands)

Putting up decorations:

  • If you have a space you control, you can put up decorations
  • Decorations can be complicated and expensive, but they don’t have to be
  • You can get a string of lights for a few dollars in most retail stores this time of year
  • Places that sell Christmas trees also usually sell wreathes for far less money. If you have a door you control, you can put a wreath on the door. Or you can put it on your table.
  • You can also make paper chains, or other paper decorations

Looking at other people’s decorations

  • A lot of people put up really cool Christmas decorations
  • There are also often cool public light displays put up by cities
  • If you search “Christmas lights <your area>”, you’ll likely find information about where particularly awesome decorations are
  • This is something you can do leading up to Christmas as well as on Christmas itself, and you will not be the only one doing it


  • A lot of people like to make Christmas crafts
  • Craft stores, and even some non-craft stores, have a lot of easy Christmas-themed craft kits (and also supplies and ideas for harder projects if you are so inclined)
  • Some people like to craft ornaments; some people like to craft presents

Watching Christmas specials

  • Most shows have Christmas specials, and there are zillions of Christmas movies
  • You might enjoy watching these, both for their own sake and as a way of connecting with other people who are watching those movies this time of year
  • One pitfall is that a lot of these are about the importance of family
  • If you don’t have family you can be with or want to be with, it might be really unpleasant to watch sweet Christmas specials
  • There are also a lot of snarky parodies of Christmas tropes. If Christmas episodes make you sad, you might prefer to watch the Christmas episodes of shows like Futurama or The Simpsons.
  • Oscar the Grouch sings a song called “I Hate Christmas” that might also be enjoyable. (Video has captions).

Going to a movie:

  • A lot of movie theaters are open on Christmas
  • Some of the movies that play on Christmas are Christmas-themed, but a lot aren’t
  • If you want to get out of the house and do something and be around other people on Christmas, a movie might be a good option.


  • There are a lot of Christmas stories written in almost every fandom
  • You might like to read Christmas stories
  • (Here’s the tag on An Archive of Our Own for Christmas stories. If you go to the sidebar on the right, you can search within results for the fandom you’re interested in)
  • You also might enjoy writing a story
  • Or even just a short piece of headcanon about what you think that characters in a story you like do on Christmas. 
  • (Eg: Posting in the tag for your fandom “Minor Character and Other Minor Character liked to play pranks on Christmas as much as the rest of the year. One year they decided to paint the tree blue. That was the year they discovered that nothing gets blue cat pawprints out of the carpet.” Except better, and actually about the characters you care about.)


  • There is a lot of iconic Christmas food (Wikipedia has a list of traditional Christmas dishes in various countries).
  • If you are in the US, it might feel more like Christmas if you eat something like candy canes or gingerbread men or fruitcakes or Christmas cookies
  • Grocery stores sell Christmas food this time of year, and so do a lot of take-out places.

Traditional drinks:

  • Some people have the tradition of making hot chocolate this time of year
  • There are lots of powder-based mixes at grocery stores
  • You can also make more involved hot chocolate by melting chocolate into milk on the stove. There are various recipes for this. (Here’s one with booze).
  • Some people like to drink hot apple cider. Grocery stores sell mixes for this.
  • Some people like mulled wine
  • Eggnog is another traditional drink. It’s sold in cartons near the milk in the grocery store
  • (All that said: It pays to be careful about how much alcoholic stuff you prepare and err on the side of making small batches. Having a large quantity of something alcoholic and perishable when you’re lonely on a holiday could get really bad really quickly.) 

Making Christmas cookies

  • Making cookies is a tradition that a lot of people enjoy, and it doesn’t require a group
  • This can be complicated and involved if you like complicated baking (there are any number of complex recipes online)
  • It can also be simple. There are simple recipes.
  • Stores also sell pre-made dough that you can cut out and bake
  • If you don’t want to make cookies (or don’t have an oven), you might enjoy decorating Christmas cookies
  • You can get pre-made plain sugar cookies in the grocery store.
  • And there are a variety of kinds of frosting in the baking aisle.
  • There are tubs of frosting, and there are also tubes of frosting you can use to write words/draw things

Sharing baked goods with your neighbors:

  • In some areas, on and around Christmas it’s considered socially acceptable to make baked goods and share them with your neighbors
  • This is generally more acceptable in rural and suburban areas than in cities
  • I’m not sure how to tell whether you’re in an area where that’s acceptable or not
  • But if it is, it can be a good way to connect a little

Gingerbread houses:

  • Most grocery stores and craft stores have gingerbread house kits that are fairly simple.
  • You can also make a gingerbread house out of milk cartons and graham crackers
  • Bakeries sometimes also sell pre-made gingerbread houses (these are usually very expensive)
  • Some cities have gingerbread house competitions or displays. You might like to compete or view the competition

Donating to a food drive:

  • Food pantries always need food
  • If you have the resources to donate food or money to a food bank around this time of year, it’s a good way to celebrate the holidays
  • It’s especially nice if you can donate festive food
  • And that’s especially true if you can donate holiday food that people who have special diets can eat (eg: sugar-free candy; gluten-free pie). Poverty doesn’t cure special dietary needs, and it sucks to miss out on seasonal treats because you can’t eat any of the donated ones and can’t afford to buy your own

Donating to a toy drive:

  • There are a lot of toy drives around this time of year
  • If you have resources to do so, it’s nice to donate toys so that kids can get presents
  • It’s especially nice to donate interesting toys so that kids can get good presents
  • Being poor doesn’t mean that kids only want generic dolls; poor kids are also into fandoms and geeky things and everything that anyone else is interested in
  • (No one wants to be given a boring donated toy and be expected to be grateful for it).
  • If you can, donate interesting stuff that you would have been happy to receive as a kid

Finding a place to start volunteering:

  • A lot of lonely people want to volunteer on Christmas
  • There are generally far more people who want to volunteer than organizations can actually accommodate
  • If Christmas is making you want to volunteer, it might mean that you want to volunteer when it’s not Christmas too
  • It might make sense to spend some time on Christmas researching organizations, figuring out where you might like to volunteer, and sending some preliminary emails

Making cards:

  • You can make Christmas cards around Christmas.
  • You can also make New Year’s cards on Christmas, and send them out the day after, if you are so inclined
  • (You can also buy cards. Some people prefer to buy them; some people prefer to make them.)

Writing a Christmas letter:

  • Some people like to write annual Christmas letters updating people in (or on the periphery of) their life about what they’ve been up to in the past year
  • This can be individual letters, or also one letter sent to a lot of people
  • These days, a lot of people do this by email.
  • If there are people you haven’t heard from in a while but still want to be somewhat in contact with, a Christmas email/letter can be a way to do this.


  • If you’re in an area with snow, you might enjoy making a snowman or sledding
  • Those things are both fun for a lot of people, and traditionally associated with Christmas
  • You can also make a fake snowman indoors with fake snow. There are various ways to do this - one set of instructions here.

Buying presents for yourself:

  • If you will be alone on Christmas and want to get presents, you might be happier if you buy some for yourself
  • It’s too late for shipping most places, but you can order stuff that you know will show up after Christmas
  • Some stores have gift wrapping services, which you might use if you want to open a wrapped gift that was wrapped by someone other than you
  • If you want a surprise, you can buy a grab bag. (You might even be able to do this in a retail store before Christmas).
  • You can also order something that has a somewhat random element. Eg: you can order a Mystery Squishable from and get a random stuffed animal that will probably be awesome. 

Hosting gatherings after Christmas:

  • If you have friends who will be in town for Christmas, they likely won’t be free on Christmas itself
  • But they might be still in town, and without structured obligations, for a few days after Christmas
  • If you know that you are going to get together with friends after Christmas, being alone on Christmas might not suck as much
  • (One way to do this is to plan a New Years’ gathering, but there are also other ways).

Hanging out with people who don’t celebrate Christmas:

  • Christmas in Christian-dominated cultures is a often very boring day for those who don’t celebrate it
  • If you have local friends who don’t celebrate Christmas, it might be worth seeing whether they want to hang out on Christmas

tl;dr If you want to celebrate Christmas, there are options for doing so even if you will be alone on Christmas. Scroll up for more concrete suggestions.

Anyone else want to weigh in? What do you like to do on Christmas? 

juliainfinland said:

I’ve spent nearly every Christmas alone ever since I moved out from my parents’ house. Really, I like it that way. :-)

I usually celebrate by having lots of peace and quiet (ahhhhhh), and by preparing special Christmas food. (This year, I’ll have a more-or-less traditional Finnish Christmas dinner with root vegetable casseroles, herring salad, and ham.) I also tend to do my Christmas baking (lebkuchen and cookies) on Christmas. :-)

If I can stay awake and at least semi-coherent long enough, I’ll attend Midnight Mass at the local church. If not, then I won’t.

Other things I intend to do over Christmas include reading, listening to music, watching some movies that have been piling up, and doing something about those arts and crafts projects that have been piling up even higher than those movies. If the weather is nice, I’ll probably take some walks and possibly even some photographs.

Also, mulled grape juice. <3

It's ok to have mixed feelings about Christmas and other holidays

On television and in books, Christmas is often potrayed as a magical time when everyone is nice and loving to everyone, and everything is amazing. (This is actually true of most holidays.)

Real Christmas is not like that, even for people who absolutely love Christmas. Christmas is a difficult time of year. The time leading up to it is often stressful, overwhelming, and expensive. All of that is mixed in with some things that many people find amazing and wonderful (and that other people don’t so much care for.)

One aspect of Christmas that is often stressful is getting together with family. Even if everyone really wants to get together on Christmas, some aspect of it will suck. Because family is hard, even when everyone loves on another dearly. Holidays don’t heal family dynamics or make everything easy; people are the same people no matter what time of year it is. It’s particularly hard if you have relatives who are mean to you or bigoted towards you, but family gatherings have difficult and stressful aspects no matter how wonderful a family is.

No matter how much you like Christmas (or any other holiday), some aspect of it will probably suck. That’s ok. It’s not your fault. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong. It doesn’t mean you’re the Grinch. It just means that life is complicated and that holidays aren’t always easy.

tl;dr Christmas and other holidays have difficult, unpleasant, and stressful aspects as well as the uplifting and enjoyable parts. It’s normal to have mixed feelings about holidays and to find some aspects unpleasant. (It’s also ok if you dislike holidays altogether.)



Celebrating Christmas alone


If you will be alone on Christmas and want to celebrate, there are several options:


  • A lot of churches and other organizations have musical events around Christmas
  • For instance, in many areas, a group…

monkeyscomewithme said:

If you mean the free trees,I worked at Fred Meyer for 9 years and we did it every year (I left just this summer, so my info is as current as it can be). We closed at 6 on the 24th, and all the greenery would be stacked out the garden entrance with signs indicating it was free towards the afternoon. Definitely check with the local store, but I don’t think my store was the only one doing it.


Celebrating Christmas alone


If you will be alone on Christmas and want to celebrate, there are several options:


  • A lot of churches and other organizations have musical events around Christmas
  • For instance, in many areas, a group puts on a Handel’s Messiah sing along, where it’s lead by experienced musicians…

monkeyscomewithme said:

FYI, if you live near one, Fred Meyer gives away unsold trees and wreaths on Christmas Eve for free. I know it’s a last minute thing, but you can ask a garden or home associate.

realsocialskills said:

I’ve never heard of this and can’t find information online anywhere - have any of y'all done this successfully? (I want to make sure I’m not leading people to count on something that’s actually an urban legend.)

Hanukkah is not Jewish Christmas

One annoyance of being Jewish this time of year: Many Christians and secular people in English-speaking cultures treat Hanukkah as the Jewish way of celebrating Christmas. It’s not. They’re completely different holidays. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. That is not something Jews celebrate, because Jesus is not part of Judaism. Jewish people often come under a lot of pressure to celebrate Christmas, which can be very uncomfortable and invasive.

Christmas is a Christian holiday. Some people celebrate it without any particular religious intentions, but it’s still part of Christian culture. When religious Christians say “remember the reason for the season”, very few people in English-speaking countries are confused about what they mean.

Hanukkah is not Christmas. Hanukkah is Jewish, and it is not part of Christian culture at all. It happens to coincide with Christmas, but it is not actually very similar to Christmas at all. There is some overlap in customs for celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas, especially in English speaking countries. That’s largely because winter lends itself to certain kinds of things, and because cultures influence each other. Despite some external similarities, Hanukkah and Christmas are very different holidays.

Christmas is a major holiday for Christians, with tremendous religious significance for religious Christians. Even for secular/cultural Christians, Christmas has tremendous weight. People from Christian cultures almost all prefer not to work on Christmas, and it is a traditional time for major family gatherings. 

Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday for Jews in religious terms. It’s not mentioned in the Bible, and it doesn’t celebrate something with the kind of weight that Christmas has. Hanukkah is very important to many Jews for cultural reasons, but it’s not like Christmas either culturally or religiously. Almost all Jews who live in outside of Israel work on Hanukkah. Jewish children who attend secular schools have no need to miss school in order to observe Hanukkah. The Jewish holidays with that kind of weight happen at different times of the year.

The Jewish holidays that have the deepest religious weight for most Jews are Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur, (in the fall) and Passover (in the spring). There are several other Jewish holidays, with a full range of meanings and practices. (None of which are at all similar to the meaning of Christmas; none of which have anything at all to do with Jesus or Christianity.)

Hanukkah also isn’t exactly at the same time as Christmas every year. Hanukkah is eight days long. Sometimes Christmas falls on one of those days; sometimes it doesn’t. (More information on how to find out when Jewish holidays are here.)

tl;dr Hanukkah is not Jewish Christmas. It’s a fundamentally different holiday. The most important Jewish holidays happen at different times of year. Jesus is not part of the Jewish religion, and it’s important to respect the boundaries of Jews at Christmastime.

Updated to add: If you want to know more about what Hanukkah *is* about, I wrote a post about that too.