Why some Canadians go family-free over the holidays

Lori Harito felt refreshed after last year’s holiday season — largely because she got out of town.

Harito, a Toronto-based PR professional, and her partner decided to head to London, England, for 12 days and forego rushing between her family’s Christmas celebrations and his.

“We pre-planned that we would cook Christmas dinner and stay in all day watching Netflix. And that’s exactly what we did,” she said.

“I will always remember the tranquility because it was in direct contrast to the chaos of family get-togethers. That’s not to say I don’t love being with my family, but I spend so much time with them outside of the holidays… that missing a few weeks won’t affect our relationship.”

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Like Harito, some Canadians opt to spend the holidays away from family and prefer a more peaceful, quiet pace. For those who have strained familial relationships or no close family, getting out of town may be the best option for their well-being.

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“If you have an experience or you feel a certain way that isn’t… the societal expectation, then you begin to think that something must be wrong [with you],” said Rana Khan, a Toronto-based psychotherapist.

“It is at those times that I like to remind people to not get caught in thinking what’s ‘right’ and what’s ‘wrong,’ [but] turn their thinking towards what’s helpful and what’s unhelpful.”

Why the holidays can be emotional

The holidays can be a joyous time for many, but they also come with a lot of expectations, said Khan. These can include how you think you should act and feel, as well as how others should behave.

Between giving the “perfect” gifts, making good impressions on in-laws and hosting, the pressure can be a lot.

Overcoming holiday depression

Overcoming holiday depression

What’s more, if you head home for the holidays and you have a strained relationship with family, unresolved feelings can surface. Khan says people can find themselves frustrated with relatives if there’s a past history of conflict.

Death, divorce, and changes in family dynamics can also be hard to deal with during the holidays.

“Things that happen annually generally make people feel nostalgic and reflective as they begin to think about how things used to be,” explains Khan.

“If there is a difference between how things used to be and how things are now, it is common for people to feel lonely or sad as a result.”

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The decision to stay or go

When you are making plans for the holidays, Khan says you need to be honest about what you want to do and why.

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He suggests asking yourself things like: Who are you doing this for? Who benefits from your actions? What would others want you to do? Could others be harmed by your decision? Could you be harmed by your decision?

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If going home for the holidays will put you in a bad place — whether mentally, physically or emotionally — you may be better off elsewhere. Of course, not everyone can afford to leave town, but you can choose where to spend your time.

Spending the holidays with friends or chosen families can be very comforting.

“Making conscious, well-thought out decisions is often the most helpful thing you can do during the holidays,” added Khan.

Even though Harito has a great relationship with her family, getting out of town is a tradition she plans to continue. She says her family is supportive of her decision — even though they miss her on Christmas.

Holiday hangover hacks

Holiday hangover hacks

This year, Harito and her partner are going to Italy, before heading back to the U.K.

She can’t wait.

“On New Year’s Eve we will be in London with some of our friends who have already started planning things,” she said.

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“All we have to do is show up with champagne.”

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca

Follow @lolahensley

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