December 19, 2020

I remember the moment when I stopped liking Christmas.

I was a teenager, passing out gifts to my family from under the tree. I had embraced this role my whole life, as the youngest and most nimble one there – the most capable of crouching, reaching, and scampering from one recipient to the next.

This time, though, someone – I don’t remember who – made a comment that changed how I felt. They objected to my method of reaching for a gift and handing it to whoever was on the tag, because it caused some to end up with several gifts in a row while others sat and waited. They wanted me to distribute the gifts more evenly.

To be fair, that was a perfectly reasonable request. It was worth a little analysis and planning to create a better experience for everyone.

But it was the first time I realized it was possible, on Christmas, to do things wrong. To not meet expectations. To make people feel bad.

I’d probably done all those things before, but now I was consciously aware of it – and began to notice all the other expectations around the holidays, especially in the giving and receiving of gifts.

A few years ago, my mom found out that I find the holiday season stressful, and ever since, she’s looked for ways to make it easier for me. I really appreciate that, and it has helped.

But there are still internal stressors that no one else can fix, like my hypervigilant awareness of things I might do wrong. Making peace with that risk is my own candle to light.

Many have written about this season’s disruption to routine, sensory overload, and unfamiliar foods and faces. Those all affect me too, but not as much as the weight of known and unknown expectations.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.