Over the holidays, you are not required to do anything.

You are not required to spend time with people who are unkind to you, even if you’re related to them. You’re not required to spend more money than you have on gifts, decorations, travel, or anything else.

You don’t have to do things just because you did them in the past and they are traditions. If traditions stress you out or cause you pain, don’t do them.

Some people love the holiday season. They can’t wait to get their decorations up as soon as Thanksgiving is over. They savor the Christmas music spewing out of speakers in every single restaurant and store, and then they play even more of it at home. Or they bake batch after batch of cookies.

If that’s you, more power to you. Enjoy.

Then there’s the rest of us who approach this season with some degree of dread. If you aren’t in love with all of the trappings of the holiday season, it can feel oppressive. If you find this season painful, you can’t get away from it.

My point is not to project my Grinchiness on everyone else or ruin the joy of those who are having a good time. It’s to say that if you aren’t having a good time, that’s OK too.

If you have a toxic family who hurts you when you’re together, there’s no rule that says you have to spend time with them. The best advice I got for handling abusive family members was to treat them like I would treat someone who isn’t very nice to me. I don’t spend holidays with people who aren’t very nice to me.

The second best advice I got is that you don’t need your abusive family members to buy into your decision to reduce or minimize your contact with them. You’ll never hear, “Yes, I’m abusive, and I fully support your decision to avoid me so that I can’t treat you that way,” so don’t wait for it. Just do whatever you need to do to keep yourself safe, healthy, and happy.

If you feel frazzled because you must do a long list of things — decorate the house, buy and wrap the gifts, get the family photo taken, send out the cards, bake all the cookies, make the gingerbread house, clean your home, host one party, attend other parties, take the kids to see Santa, and on and on — it’s OK to start pruning down that list.

If cutting back in some areas can help you be more present and less stressed this time of year, it’s worth it. The world won’t end if you decide this is the year to stop sending Christmas cards, or you refuse to participate in the office gift exchange, or you decline to host a party at your home.

The theme of pretty much every Christmas movie out there is that when loving families are together, that is the magic of Christmas. Even though the Griswold and McCallister families were dysfunctional, on Christmas they found their love for one another despite everything else.

Real world dysfunctional families tend to remain so even on Christmas (trust me, I have experience here). But if you come from a loving family that enjoys being together, that’s the most crucial ingredient to the holiday season. Everything else is optional.

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Jill RichardsonBy

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She now lives in San Diego. Distributed by OtherWords.org.