The Day After Christmas: Five Ways to Handle the Biggest Downer of the Year
December 23, 2013
The Day After Christmas: Five Ways to Handle the Biggest Downer of the Year

By Harry H. Harrison Jr.

(originally published December 2012)

The presents are all open. The living room is a wreck. The new trike is on its side in the hall. The tree is dropping pine needles on the wrapping that hasn't been picked up. Two toys are already broken. Dad's sweater is too scratchy. You've come to grips with the fact that your MasterCard bill totals four house payments. Your oldest daughter likes none of her new clothes. The whole family is exhausted and depressed, and seemingly, there's no reason to be happy for another 364 days.

But we can change that. Right now. Here's how you can make December 26 as wonderful a day as December 25.

1. Don't focus on the importance of your kids getting stuff for Christmas. Not that we should kill off Santa Claus, and not that some wonderful presents shouldn't be exchanged. But we now live in a culture where on Black Friday, 247 million of us raced to the stores and malls - sometimes just to stand in line at 2 a.m. or go online at 2 a.m. - to buy stuff. That's more people than actually celebrate Christmas. This emphasis on getting stuff means, in many households, that parents are just order takers presented with a checklist of stuff kids want. There's no room for surprises. The importance of Christmas is measured in the getting, not in the mystery of God coming to Earth as a baby. Rather than a "buy me this" list, we need to focus the family's attention on a "what we can do" list for each other. And not for one day, but for a whole year. Dad could focus on cooking dinner for two days a week, so Mom can take those nights off. A big brother might focus on teaching his little brother how to hit a baseball. A daughter might focus on teaching her dad how to dance. By focusing on what we can "do" for each other as Christmas presents, Christmas can come and go, but we will be as happy in July as we were on Christmas day.

2. Wake up on December 26 owing nothing. Seriously, either pay cash for gifts or buy something cheaper. Even if your kids can't live without a certain toy, even if your spouse has his or her heart set on fancy German speakers - no matter what, if you have to charge it to buy it, leave it on the shelf. We have created an economy that depends on people buying stuff they can't afford, mainly at Christmas, and therefore, most people in the country wake up on December 26 in bad moods knowing how screwed they are. And because they make the minimum monthly payment, they can go on the same ridiculous buying spree the following year, never mind that nobody will remember what they're still paying for.

3. Wake up on December 26 to a day-after-Christmas tradition. I don't mean showing up at 2 a.m. for the half-price sales at the mall with the same crazies that went berserk the day after Thanksgiving. That isn't a tradition - it's a reason to up your medication. I'm talking about fun things that can become traditions, like day-after-Christmas French toast for breakfast when diets are tossed aside, or skiing a particular mountain as a family every year, or a family touch football game. Give the family a reason to look forward to the day after Christmas, and they will.

4. Wake up on December 26 to return unwanted stuff to the shelters, not to the stores.  A sweater that doesn't fit, a coat that's the wrong color, jeans that are the wrong brand - there's a lot more satisfaction putting those things in the hands of people who need them rather than racing to the mall and standing in line to trade stuff for other stuff. If giving to the shelters every December 26 becomes a family tradition, trust me, it will be a more loved tradition than opening presents on Christmas day.

5. Wake up on December 26 to a long family walk, four to six miles long, with the entire family. Getting out of the house, away from the tree that needs packing up, away from the presents piled up in the living room, and away from the food clogging up the fridge is a terrific way to burn off frustration, calories and bad moods all at the same time. The only rule is that the whole family goes. Set a goal of four to six miles so that the walk takes over two hours. Stop along the way and rest. If it's cold, stop at a place for hot tea. Let your kids play in the snow in the park. Let your teenager listen to her iPod for five miles. It doesn't matter: everybody goes, everybody walks, everybody returns home too tired to complain. And happy.

The main thing to remember is this: Christmas is just another 24-hour day that people attach importance to usually for the wrong reasons. But we can love each other, be kind to one another, and laugh together as families the whole year long. And that's just about the greatest Christmas gift you can give.

Harry H. Harrison Jr. is a New York Times best-selling parenting author with over 3.7 million books in print. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs, and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations including NPR. His books are available in over thirty-five countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia and in the Far East. For more information visit Permission granted for use on

Posted by Staff at 12:00 AM