Christmas doesn't have to suck.
1) Do not work in retail. Jobs in retail are no fun at Christmas. If you cannot help working retail, then FORCE yourself to maintain a well-run and organized home life. Do the dishes. Wash your clothes. Put clean sheets on your bed. Do not stress out if you run out of time to buy gifts for people. Simply tell them the truth - your job makes christmas hellish.
2) Avoid malls. Example of an ad in the subway for one of the local malls: "Discover the real magic of Christmas." Made me immediately want to run home and hide under a copy of Baudrillard.
3) Avoid spending money you don't have. Just don't do it. Get creative anyway you can, but do not go into debt. Throw a party for your friends and make them all dinner. Bake stuff and package it creatively. Make mixed cds for your parents to play in their cars on the way to work. Write someone a letter and tell them how you love them. Whatever. Just DO NOT GO INTO DEBT. Jesus wouldn't like it.
4) Don't put up with too much shit from your family. I learned this lesson from my schizophrenic step-sister, who is really good at announcing when she has reached her limit: "OK, you guys are starting to make me crazy, so I think I'm going to go home now." She usually lasts about half an hour. I reach my threshhold later, anywhere from three to five hours after arriving at my mother's. Maybe yours is five minutes, or three days. Figure it out, by thinking back on previous holidays. Then plan accordingly.
5) Look for the good stuff. In amongst all the crassness and hyperbole, there are a lot of things to appreciate this time of year. There are usually some very cool concerts or other cultural events taking place. Old friends come into town. People throw parties. In some places, there is snowfall, and it is beautiful and new and fresh, and you are not sick of it yet. Eccentric family traditions come out into the light. There are independent craft shows. There is a lot of booze flowing. Christmas lights, at least the amateurish, goofy kind, are sweet and pretty. The Grinch is on tv. Things could definitely be worse.
6) If all else fails, boycott. Two years ago, M- and I boycotted Christmas, and it was the best. We told friends and family we were taking Christmas off - no presents, no family events. On the day of, we went to see "Manufactured Landscapes" at a French repertory cinema, and then went for Buddha chow mein and ginger crab at our favourite Chinatown diner. Then we went home to our quiet apartment and read to each other and watched snow fall on the city. Perfect.
Here are some tunes to get you in the mood:
Thurl Ravenscroft - You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch
Sufjan Stevens - That Was The Worst Christmas Ever
Louden Wainwright III - Suddenly It's Christmas