‘I just don’t feel like it’: The Victorians opting out of Christmas stress

On Christmas Day, Marcella Brassett will likely be under a tree by the Yarra River reading a book and soaking in the serenity.

Traditionally, Christmas for Brassett is an all-in, huge family affair.

Marcella Brassett relaxing at Hall Reserve in Fairfield, just as she plans to do on Christmas Day.Credit:Joe Armao

“We used to have a big Christmas day,” the 44-year-old from Fairfield said. “My mum, who is Christian and from India, would always make a tandoori turkey. We would ‘Indian-ify’ it.”

But this year, Brassett and many others like her, have opted out of the hustle and stress of Christmas.

After a difficult year of work in social justice advocacy, an IVF pregnancy loss and a recent back injury, Brassett feels “just exhausted” and made the call to stay home in Melbourne.

“It’s all kind of just compounded the need for a rest, and quiet and escape,” she said.

The cost of airfares was also a factor. Most of her family now live in Cairns and a return flight was going to cost between $900 and $1000 – more than double what she would usually spend to travel north.

“People have even invited me to their family things … and I’ve said no,” she said.

“It’s lovely to be with family and eat nice food and see the kids in your life, but it all just takes a lot of energy.

“There’s a lot of ‘social face’ and imposed joy you have to put on at Christmas, and I just don’t feel like it, I don’t have the energy to project that.”

Shoppers at a busy Queen Victoria Market on Friday.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Many people will intentionally opt out of Christmas this year for different reasons, said clinical psychologist Tamara Cavenett, a former president of the Australian Psychological Society.

“It’s not that unusual for people to do Christmas in a different way than what we think is traditional,” she said.

“We assume that Christmas is a happy time for everyone … [but] a lot of people have conflict with family, or are going through a difficult time themselves, or grieving loss, and this time of year is very hard.

“Often in the lead-up to Christmas there’s been a lot of events, and work is usually very busy as people tie things up, so many people enter this time of year exhausted.”

Cavenett said the cost of living was also playing on people this year, as well as the ongoing impact of COVID.

“It’s the tail end of that crisis period and that’s when you tend to start feeling the effects of the longevity of it all,” she said.

St Kilda East woman Stella Glorie, 57, said she and friend Lyn were “bailing” on Christmas this year.

“I’m leaving my fella to celebrate with his family to spend the day in Lyn’s swimming pool out in the ’burbs eating seafood and drinking champagne – just the two of us,” she said.

Last-minute shoppers at Chadstone Shopping Centre on Christmas Eve.Credit:Joe Armao

“The people we’ve told all express the same level of envy. I’m so looking forward to it.”

Seaford woman Jennifer, originally from the UK, said Christmas in her homeland was “always a stressful, traditional, commercialisation overload” and she had intentionally made Christmas Day quiet since moving to Australia.

“My daughter will open her presents, we may walk down to the beach depending on the weather and Christmas dinner will be Uber Eats of what everyone wants to order at the time,” she said.

A man from regional Victoria has gone to somewhat extreme lengths to avoid his family’s Christmas, as he purposely scheduled a week in hospital.

Speaking to The Age from his hospital bed, David (who requested his real name not be published so not to offend his relatives) said he found his family gatherings “very stressful”.

“Every second year we have a big family get-together which goes all day and always ends up with everyone watching Christmas movies, which I would rather put pins in my eyes than do,” he laughed.

When asked by his specialist recently when he would like to schedule a procedure requiring a week in hospital, he came up with a “genius idea”.

“I said, ‘How about we look at the 19th of December?’ The specialist said, ‘Well that would take in Christmas’, and I said, ‘That would be perfect’,” he said.

“Of course, I made sure my checkout was the following morning, so I could catch the start of the Boxing Day Test.”

We asked Melburnians how they are keeping Christmas low-key. Here’s what they told us (edited for length and clarity):

“We opt out of Christmas most years now as it’s such a terrible time to try and shop for food and get around. My husband now works Christmas Day and I relax by myself while everyone is doing their thing. We have family Christmas early, and we don’t even bother putting up a tree cause who can be bothered cleaning up after the fun is all over?” Sooz Cheong

“Every year is about chilling with friends – the best way to be.” Sarah

“Super low-key for us. Just actually back from a week’s holiday interstate. No decorations or tree up. Only getting gifts for direct family and those gifts are donations on their behalf to charities like Father Bob, [Lort Smith Animal Shelter] and Good Shepherd. We don’t really need anything so will try to help others.” Louis

“Low-key day with my niece, who lives with me, and a few friends coming around. The cooking is being done [Christmas Eve] so we can just chill out tomorrow with a cold buffet. Also, my pugs, they’re a super important part of Christmas. They get Christmas bones.” Rebekka

“We are from Ireland and have our parents visiting. We are going for the full Australian relaxed barbecue. We love the relaxed nature here compared to home.” Sar

“Myself and my daughter have just moved into a transitional house and basically can’t afford Christmas, so we are just having lunch at home and listening to music and watching movies. We don’t even own a TV, so we are living as basic as it gets.” Cherie

“Not the same since my children have grown up and have their own partners and children. Many children have extended family and try to share themselves. COVID showed we can tame it all down and do it small. I think Christmas has lost its glow, it’s for the children really.” Carroll

“We celebrated a few weeks ago with family. So Christmas Day will be a relaxing day by choice. Parkrun in the morning with friends, then the beach for a swim. Stress-free. We spent many years doing the big, expensive, stressful Christmas Day. Now really enjoy the low-key Christmas Day.” Michelle

“We’ve decided sausages in bread for lunch. We don’t need all the crazy food prep and chaos – keeping it super simple and super Aussie!” – Amy

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