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Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2003, 15:50 GMT
How to avoid Christmas (without being Scrooge)
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online Magazine

Tony Hancock
Hancock wanted Christmas to be special this year
Love it or hate it, one thing is certain: you can't avoid Christmas. Or can you? Let The Magazine be your guide.

For many people Christmas is a magical time of year. A time for family, feasting and merriment (and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ).

For others, it is a living hell. A grim farrago of fake bonhomie, mindless consumerism and gluttony.

But - love it or hate it - one thing is certain. You can't avoid it. Christmas screams from every shop window. Turn on the TV and you are assaulted by Christmas specials. Step outside and your neighbours have turned the street into a Christmas wonderland of fairy lights and tinsel.

Well, maybe you're just not trying hard enough.

Here, with apologies to those already high on festive spirit, is The Magazine's guide to avoiding Yuletide.

Bah, and furthermore, humbug.

PRETEND IT ISN'T HAPPENING

Obvious but difficult to pull off. Start early by volunteering to come into work on the big day. Then make it clear to everyone you know that they will not be receiving a gift this year. Or a card.

Celebrity chefs
Please make it stop
And you, you moral giant, will not be expecting anything in return. Oh no.

Stock up on non-festive fare. Salads and soft drinks should do it.

Trouble is, there is bound to be at least one elderly relative who fails to understand the beauty - or indeed the point - of your scheme, leading to hurt feelings and unwanted knitwear.

It might also be a difficult one to get away with if you have children. It will be hard to avoid the suggestion that you are just being tight. Or miserable. Or both.

GET THROWN IN JAIL

A drastic solution perhaps, but a sure-fire way to avoid carol singers, mulled wine and most other Yuletide trappings. Unless you are in Northern Ireland, where most prisoners are sent home for the festive season.

Prisons routinely ban inmates from exchanging gifts or trading possessions, to cut down on bullying and extortion, although the rule is often relaxed a little at Christmas.

Good for avoiding the run up to the big day. But, as any old lag will tell you, Christmas Day inside can be very grim experience indeed.

DO SOMETHING WORTHY INSTEAD

It's all very well moaning about Christmas - and the internet is awash with anti-Yule sites - but what about doing something a bit more worthwhile with your time?

There is always plenty of scope for good works at this time of year.

You don't even have to leave your house. The Methodist Relief Development Fund is encouraging people to donate the money you would spend on a Christmas tree to a tree-planting scheme in Africa and Asia. This will, the charity says, help small scale farmers produce the affordable food they need.

CELEBRATE SOMETHING ELSE (PART 1)

Not every branch of the Christian faith celebrates Christmas which was, after all, originally a pagan festival.

Sri Lankan beach
Sri Lanka could be the answer
Digby Anderson, director of conservative think tank the Social Affairs Unit, makes a strong case for celebrating Epiphany, on 6 January, instead.

"It is time to give up Christmas. It is now utterly over-run by the combined forces of sentimentality, irreligion, bad manners and worse taste," Mr Anderson writes in this week's Spectator magazine.

"We need a day or two to have a proper blowout with like-minded chums," he argues.

And Epiphany, which marks Jesus' manifestation to the gentiles, fits the bill perfectly. It is an older festival than the Nativity "and arguably of more theological importance," Mr Anderson argues.

CELEBRATE SOMETHING ELSE (PART 2)

For Hindus, the big one is Diwali, which is celebrated every year on the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Ashwin (October and November).

Christmas lights
"I didn't think we'd bother this year..."
Jews celebrate Hanukkah. One of the biggest feasts in the Muslim calendar is Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

Then there is Kwanza, the African American Christmas. Invented in 1966, it means "first fruits of the harvest" in the ancient African language of Kiswahili, and is celebrated from 16 December to 1 January.

Its devotees claim it is celebrated by 18 million people worldwide.

But not observing Christmas as a religious festival is only half the battle.

For really hardcore Christmas avoidance there is really only one answer.

LEAVE THE COUNTRY

Few corners of the world remain untouched by Christmas.

Even Communist Cuba, where Christmas was banned until four years ago, has fallen in love with the festival.

"In Havana they just go totally mad now. As does most of the rest of the world," says Simon Calder, travel editor of The Independent.

"I have just been in Vietnam, a largely Buddhist country and they love it, similarly in Thailand."

It's got nothing to do with religion, argues Mr Calder, "it is more of a return to the heathen idea. You like to have a jolly good party in the middle of winter."

To avoid Christmas altogether you would have travel to strict Muslim countries, such as Libya or Iran, he says.

But his recommendation for a relatively Yuletide-free, easily accessible destination is Sri Lanka.

"You can get out in the sun, on the beach, in the rain forests. You can even watch some cricket."

GIVE IN

After all, it's only once a year....


Your comments:

To avoid Christmas just tell everybody that you are going to somebody else's party and then stock up on your favourite meals and videos and DON'T answer the phone. You can get away with this for up to a week, then people start worrying.
Pauline, UK

Two years ago, some friends and I ended up in Las Vegas for Christmas expecting Santa Elvises and total Christmas overload. In fact, we were hard pushed to spot a Christmas tree in most of the big hotels!
Dom M, UK

In 1975, when I was 9 years old we spent a year living in Thailand. Many of the major hotel chains and most of the expat clubs offered traditional Christmas dinners with all the trimmings, however my parents decided instead to go on holiday to Phuket. Christmas for me and my sister was grilled lobster sitting by the beach. Nothing else, no decorations or trimmings etc. I hated it at the time but I am now very tempted to go back
Malcolm, Poland

I hate Christmas as it makes me feel claustrophobic.
Rach, UK

I avoid having to give (or even receive in some cases) presents by telling everyone who asks that I only want socks. My daughter has sent me a card this year which reads "Bah Humbug" and inside encourages me to cheer up but inside I'm still screaming. This year I even told someone I was Jewish (I'm actually a lapsed Christian) just to get rid of them.
Andrew, UK

Finally some media acknowledgement that some of us simply despise Commercemas. I refuse to be coerced into spending money to maintain the social status quo.
Fitz, UK

You don't need to visit a country where Christmas is banned or ignored, just visit one that celebrates Christmas on a different date to us, such as Russia where the Orthodox Christmas is on 7th January. That way you can insure that you're 'there' during 'ours', and 'here' during 'theirs'.
Iain, UK

There is another way to avoid Xmas, work shifts abroad. Then, like me you can spend December and the early part of January on an oilfield in some remote part of the world. Former Soviet countries are best as their Xmas is the 7th January Merry Xmas, Andy
Andy Atkinson, Kazakhstan (for now)

It is most hell for those who are single and/or alone. Organisations like the Samaritans are normally on Red Alert Dec 25 and 31. The only part of Christmas I cannot stand are the cheesy Christmas Pop songs that come out of the woodwork.
Philip Le Roux, Hampshire England

Why would anyone want to avoid it? Time off work, a good party, relaxation with friends and family. I couldn't ask for more at this time of year!
Tom, UK

The worst bit is that I can't even go to work to escape the in-laws, because my office is closed!
Jacob Winterton-Dudley, UK

I don't understand why people are so eager to get away from it all. I am not a particularly religious person, but I still sit round the tree with my kids. It's a great time to spend with your family. If your not into all the greed, then don't get presents, don't have a big Christmas lunch, and spend the day with your loved ones.
Georgina, UK

This year I will be avoiding Christmas by sitting on a boat in the middle of a river, watching DVDs and drinking hard liqueur.
Jenni Doggett, UK

Avoid Christmas???? Has everyone gone mad. We'd all be suicidal if in the cold dark winter we didn't suddenly shower everything in light, dish out & receive loads of pressies & generally go out and have a jolly good time! Bring on the mince pies and as much turkey as you can eat. I love it! Ho ho ho
Stuart, UK

I do everything listed in the "pretend it isn't happening" category, and have done for a couple of years now. I buy New Year cards for a couple of people I don't normally see during the year (there are some good ones around), but I feel so much better about for not doing the Xmas thing! Another suggestion for the "celebrate something else" category: the Winter Solstice. This year it's on the 22nd Dec. Never mind the pagan stuff - it's a real, scientifically determined, event, marking the beginning of a new, natural, year. But don't turn it into a pseudo-Xmas!
Paul Deacon, UK

Some companies all but ban the mention of Christmas, so all you need to do is work for one of those!
Gareth, UK

Any time I am forced to visit the mother-in-law is a fate worse than death. I have managed to get it cut down to once a year. Alas, that day is the Christmas period. And I hate every living minute of it. Bah humbug indeed.
James Collins, Lincoln UK

Come to Russia - we celebrate Christmas on Jan 7th, along with the rest of the Orthodox Church world (Greece, Syria, Ethiopia, Georgia, Armenia...). So Dec 25th is a normal working day here. "Do they know it's Xmas...?". No, they don't! They know it's Christmas on Jan 7th :-)) And it's a small-scale feast by comparison with the 3-month ghastly marathon you lot have to stomach in UK.
Neil McGowan, Brit living in Moscow, Russia

For two years running I left the country for India. They still celebrate Xmas there, but in a far simpler and honest way. Xmas here seems forced and is an enormous anti-climax after the ridiculous amount of hype. This year I intend on helping the homeless in volunteer kitchens. At least then the spirit of giving isn't tainted by buying the latest fad.
Paul Edmonds, UK

The worst thing you can do is let anyone know that you dislike Christmas. If you do this you will be ostracised and treated like a freak. People will also assume that you are tight-fisted and miserable and anti-fun. As a result of all these entirely unfounded assumptions you will make it even harder for yourself to escape Christmas and learn to hate it even more.
Gavin, UK

Why not celebrate the winter solstice instead? The winter solstice is (technically) the depths of the winter, and what better time to have a party and crack open a bottle or two of Champagne - after all, if you've made it through the shortest day, every day afterwards is a little longer and brighter, and a day closer to those long, warm summer evenings that we miss so much at this time of year.
Jason Cole, UK

Most people's objection seems to be that they will have to put others before themselves at Christmas. Come on, don't be a misery guts! There is no need for false bonhomie, overeating, spending too much on gifts or getting plastered and spending all day watching TV or with people you don't like - why ask them round anyway? Make some time for relatives and friends, spend a little planned time alone in the morning or evening, eat the food you usually like if you don't fancy Christmas fare - we had a curry last year and it was great; the full turkey experience is now something to look forward to this year because of the change. Buy some inexpensive but thoughtful gifts and try not to be so self centred. It won't kill you for one day in the year.
Andrew, Scotland

Try working as a manager of an Off Licence or similar gluttony driven business. You won't avoid the crass commercialism of the season, but you'll be so knackered by closing time on Christmas Eve that you can avoid Christmas Day itself by sleeping through it.
Chris Lowdon, England

As a Catholic, i understand how commercialised Christmas has become. It is plain to see that the true meaning has been lost for many people, but that doesn't prevent Christmas from being a lovely time of year which gives us the opportunity to show our loved one's how much we care, it is so easy to forget. Christmas is wonderful.
Jeanette-Marie Small, UK

My family are atheists and agnostics and keep Christmas purely as a pagan celebration. An opportunity to feast and exchange gifts yes, but mainly just the sort of gathering we don't typically manage much of the rest of the year. However, many of my single friends are reaching the avoidance stage because as we progress through our 30s it's becoming undignified to go to mummy and daddy for christmas. Can we not start promoting a peer-group celebration instead, which takes away from the family focus - and pressure - but still takes advantage of the public holiday? It would be great to see promoters encouraging this idea more; then Christmas would be something many more people would look forward to.
Susan Cunningham, UK

I hate the christmas period in pubs as it takes a ridiculous amount of time to get the beers in. I also look like Homer Simpson so everyone buys me stupid things to do with Homer and think it's really funny when it's all been done before. My other time of year I hate is Easter as I am also known as Egg-head and surprise surprise everyone buys me Egg-like things. Can someone invent a festive period where I won't be ridiculed. Yours hopefully.
Egg, England

I can understand all the anti-commercialist sentiments but for me Christmas is the best time of year. It's the one time you can be truly immature!
Emma Briant, UK

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