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What traditions would you ditch?

Mishal Community member Posts: 1 Listener

Mother-of-two Mishal found that letting go of her the picture-perfect Christmas meant it could be one that her whole family could enjoy.

“‘Twas the night before Christmas,

And all through the house,

Every creature was stirring,

Yes even the mouse!”

I saw this adaptation of the famous “A visit from St Nicolas” poem a few years back and it’s stuck with me since.

Both of my children (Beth, 15 and Nathan, 7) are autistic which means our nights are never restful and Christmas certainly isn’t any different. In fact, Christmas, with its different lights, sounds, smells and routine can bring about a whole host of other stresses that lead to a less than Silent Night.

Despite its stresses, I love Christmas and look forward to it every year. My kids don’t feel quite the same way. My daughter is 15 now and as soon as the first Christmas adverts find their way to our screen, Beth’s whole demeanour changes and the atmosphere in our house follows. When I told her I’d been asked to write this blog post, we got into a conversation about all the things she doesn’t like about Christmas and here are two of the main things she mentioned:

“There’s too many rules. I don’t understand presents,” and “It looks different and everything is different.”

They really struck a chord with me and I wonder how many of us can relate? Who hasn’t felt the pressure of the unwritten rules around gift-giving and present etiquette? And how would you feel if you walked into your living room and someone had redecorated, changed all the lights and furnishings and filled it with things that smell different? But for someone with autism, these things are more than just an annoyance.

When Beth was little, before her diagnosis and before I’d realised she was ‘different’, Christmas was a nightmare. It was as if the decorations went up and she’d start acting out and refuse to engage. In turn, I’d try and make Christmas more special and more magical. I’d throw up more lights and bring home more decorations and it became a constant battle. I’d been inundated with visions of how Christmas is supposed to be and grow frustrated that mine wasn’t. Children were supposed to love Christmas and we were supposed to develop traditions and make memories, but it never seemed to work out.

When she was old enough to ask for what she wanted, the problems got worse. Even if she would have loved it, if it wasn’t on her list, she’d have a meltdown. Relatives thought she was rude and ungrateful, but she genuinely couldn’t understand why someone would buy something she hadn’t requested and it would send her anxiety into overdrive.

A photo of blurred Christmas lights

Over the years we adapted and I let go of the Christmas I’d pictured, and it was the best thing I could have done. We found a new way to celebrate and found some things that helped us along the way.

Keep a Christmas-free zone

For us this is our kids’ bedrooms, but anywhere can work equally well. We found it important to give them a space that was ‘normal’ that they could retire to when things get too much and they need a break from the sensory overload that is Christmas!

Plan, plan, plan!

My children like schedules and to know what’s happening and what to expect. With planning I can pre-warn them of upcoming changes and make the transition easier.

Try and see it from their point of view

The change from the humdrum of regular life may be a welcome break for most of us, but to my children (and many children with autism) the change of routine is a huge problem. Nathan is really struggling at the moment as lessons with maths (his favourite) have been replaced with card-making. Then there’s Christmas Jumper days, Christmas parties and practising for the class assembly. Christmas doesn’t just affect our routine at home but infiltrates every aspect of his life and the usual rules and schedules he normally relies upon are suddenly buried under a mountain of tinsel.

Ignore the criticism!

This was a big one for us. Over the years we’ve had well-meaning family and friends point out that we shouldn’t ‘pander’ (and they were the kinder comments!) The best thing we ever did was learn to let it wash over us and stay focused on our children’s wellbeing.

Let go of your picture of an ‘ideal’ Christmas

Traditions are great but make them reflect your family and their interests. It doesn’t matter if that’s beans on toast instead of a turkey roast. What’s most important is that you’re happy as a family, otherwise what’s the point?

Now, we limit family visits to just one day and don’t run over our agreed time limit. We decorate gradually and with the kids involved and don’t do it overnight as a surprise, or go overboard and our Christmas elf remains firmly on the shelf.

Our Christmases are never going to be ‘typical’, but by making a few small tweaks, they’ve become events that my children don’t have to endure, but can enjoy.

What have you done to make Christmas more inclusive for your autistic child? What traditions do you have? And what traditions would you ditch if you could!?


  • April2018mom
    April2018mom Posts: 2,882 Disability Gamechanger

    I always hang stockings up on the first day of December. I have decided to make a fruitcake and mince pies as well as a turkey. One more Christmas tradition I started last year is to read a story from a Bible specifically for children. Before Christmas we will have a quiz night at home. 

    Another beloved longstanding family Christmas tradition involves me singing to my children. On Christmas Eve morning, we open a few of the presents then take a walk for fresh air in a local park and then have a simple lunch at home. After a quick nap we open more gifts.

    Then we head to church at some point in the afternoon or evening. To promote the festive spirit at night, we start off telling Christmas stories then play a card game as a family. This year we will also celebrate with a suitable Christmas movie. 

    On Christmas Day, we have turkey in the morning. By lunch time we usually will have had slices of cake and sipped some mulled wine. Before tea time we pose for a bunch of family photos and then during tea time we make small talk. Afterwards, we dance to music. As the sky turns dark, we sing carols and perform a short Christmas play.

    What are your Christmas traditions? Which ones particularly mean the most to you? Which ones are less than appealing? I’m curious. The key is simplicity for my family as much as possible. Rather than a full Christmas lunch, we serve turkey sandwiches and fruitcake. Any leftovers are for my cat. I usually invite a couple of friends over too. 

    It is all about the memories. With that in mind, we go easy on the food to reduce waste. I keep wine and other alcoholic drinks in the kitchen on purpose. Christmas is not all about drinking.  

  • Cazyshell
    Cazyshell Community member Posts: 3 Connected
    Mine and my partner Matt Christmas is a little unusual. 
    Matt himself is autistic and has grown up with Christmas but added bits himself to cope. So when we did our first Christmas we had negotiations.

    The tree
    We have no room for a big tree. So we brought a four foot one and it sits on the cat scratch post. Too many lights especially the really colourful ones hurt Matts eyes. So we  have plain white one that stay on and don't put them on any other settings. Now the tree has no tinsel on mainly due to cats. However it's called the random tree as I doubt there is another one like it. We decorated it our way, so odd baubles, toys and a fredo frog with a Christmas hat sits on top of it. 

    We have a few garlands and other bits that Matt and me have decided on together.

    Music / films 

    No christmas music is allowed we both have enough of that at our jobs. Though we do have a CD of our favourite songs that may get played quietly. If I want to watch a Christmas movie I do so upstairs unless Matt wants company. Surprisingly I put this rule in as Matt should have a zone where he can chill without being forced to endure more Holiday sprite.

    The day

    Now Christmas day it self we sleep in. Maybe at 9 or 10 we will get up. Why force ourselves up as it's just us. Bacon rolls starts the day then we unwrapped presents. Now dinner is not turkey as Matt hates it, but instead it's chicken, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, pigs in blanket, stuffing, gravy and veg for me. Again Matt is hypo sensitive to taste so no veggy for him. The cats get their treat wet food, and the reptiles and amphibians get a treat food as well. 

    Then Matt potters again finding space for his new things while I chill. He refused help as states I cooked so he will sort.


    We don't see family on Christmas. We planned with them when to visit. My mum is easier as she is normally off for Christmas but Matts parents are hard with his mum working as a nurse it has to fit in.

    Before January the decks all come down as Christmas is on forever and a bit of normality is greatly appreciated.


    People hate my tree, think I should force up more decorations and dinner but I am truly happy with my odd Christmas time as its perfect for both of us. 
  • pollyanna1052
    pollyanna1052 Community member Posts: 2,032 Disability Gamechanger
    traditions/ not just Christmas ones eh?

    bonfire night and ALL fireworks...ever!
  • Geoark
    Geoark Community member Posts: 1,472 Disability Gamechanger
    We figured out early on, and long before her diagnosis that Christmas would be different for us. Dumping the family visits or having them visit us happened before she was five. Laying out an extra plate with food on it 'in case Jesus wanted to share in his birthday party' lasted until she was about ten.

    With her birthday on Christmas Eve we got used to the idea that wrapping was what she considered her main presents. The last one being unwrapped mid January and her discovering lots of new things around February were hers. We have always included her in the decorations and especially what went on top of the tree, including pink power ranger, dinosaurs and a telly tubby one year. This year we have a two foot rainbow tree.

    As she got older rather than concentrating presents on two days a year we would buy her things she wanted  as we went along with a few cheap presents for her birthday and Christmas.

    We take our cues from her as to what she wants to happen for Christmas and she loves it. There are things she wants us to do together on the day, and she knows that she can go to the sanctuary of her room whenever she needs to.

    I loved the comments about 'pandering' and 'spoiling' her as a child. We have stress free birthdays and Christmas and enjoy them as a family.

    As an individual I stood alone.
    As a member of a group I did things.
    As part of a community I helped to create change!

  • newborn
    newborn Community member Posts: 832 Pioneering
    Any tradition needs frequent examination . (Witch burning was never a good idea in the first place!)  Being expected or forced to do what you wouldn't chose can't  be right. 

    Fireworks? Why?  Turkey? Why? Tree indoors? Why? Eating extra sugar, drinking  extra alcohol? Why?  Buying extra food?Why?

    Shutting the country down in many  respects, from early December to early January? Why?

    The planet can't  take pointless  consumerism, so the sooner the  better for everyone to ask "Gifts? Why?"
  • KnobblyKnees
    KnobblyKnees Community member Posts: 42 Courageous
    I think the DWP should ditch their tradition of cutting people's benefits just before Christmas. I reckon they must be largely responsible for the spike in suicides around this time each year.
  • thespiceman
    thespiceman Community member Posts: 6,379 Disability Gamechanger
    Hello @Mishal   Thank you for your post, sorry to discuss this the traditional Christian values have all disappeared.

    Too much commercialism too much point scoring those who insist they having a wonderful time.

    In reality using Christmas and the holiday to get ahead, impress those who have in their eyes need to score points .

    Point scoring never a good idea. Why exaggerate the truth the ideal Christmas in reality a lot lonely people who feel the need to make friends and the sudden need or urge to tell every one as they do.

    All about in vivid detail.

    Had this former friend who used a  Christmas to spend his time inviting those he had met in friendship to his home.

    I had met him and several of us had been listening to his life story and all his experiences nearly every time. I used to start to think is this for real and could not understand why he kept telling these stories.

    Unfortunately as I found out mentioned everything he was doing, all the wonderful impressionable and exciting things he was promising,

    I had to get there by lunch time enticing.

    When I got there, he was in bed and I expected a Christmas lunch he was telling every one cooking.

    Two ladies appeared next thing we all queuing outside to get in he still in night attire .

    Are you ill, or you sick no I forgot you were coming he uttered.

    Need I say more.  A ruined Christmas .  Back home and having something to eat, took me hours to get there.

    Still a memory I recall and think if he is definitely not going to heaven. Sorry to tell that, deception and misinterpret the truth.

    Simply not good to do is it not.

    Why say all that what is it exactly doing for him.

    I am as added have a faith why mislead people who are friends and work colleagues.


    Lesson there .

    All I know the song by Bobby Vee always springs to mind.

    Nights has a Thousand Eyes.


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  • Seanchai
    Seanchai Community member Posts: 411 Pioneering
    Lots of Christmas stories must be grand that big families can make snacks on Christmas day , play games them make the dinner after 3 PM and sit until 5pm stuffing themselves with all sorts of 'stuffing' ? it hard when some of the family are not to keen on Christmas....simply because it not the normal day severely autistic ( non speaking ,) grandson has a hard time trying to follow everything that's going on ....just like others he has a room where he can cut off from all that's going on, he might return in half an hour or two hours ...that's up to him , we try to encourage him to take part but sometimes it's a waste of time ..we give him a bag with his presents in it...( we always put his beloved dvd's at the bottom of the bag ) everything gets tossed out over his head until he finds his DVD's at the bottom ...He likes telling me what he would like for Christmas dinner ...he is a big 15 year old and awaits his appointment to go to hospital to see what they are going to do about his weight . I,m not a christmassy person but I have always made an effort for the kids ...and now grandkids . But this year we are planning on cutting down a bit on decorations  ( our livingroom is usually a Santa's grotto . Life size singing dancing Santa....singing tree ect. You would never guess I was a capitalist Christmas hater ....I said to my family not to get anything for my Christmas this year.....but to give the money they would spend  on me to the homeless or poor . My wife informed me the other day that the family had indeed got me presents ....maybe I should have been more forcefull on telling them not to get me presents...I,m a bit of a joker and maybe they thought I was winding them up .,...this year I will tell them face to face I do not want christmas presents next year and to give the money to charity. I,m fed up what people are buying for their kids ...presents worth hundreds and thousands even ....then how do they surpass the present giving next year.
    I hope you all have a nice Christmas....and maybe think about cutting down next year and sending the rest to the homeless or foodbanks ect. usual Christmas is " Bah ...Humbug " ??? 
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