Why Men Don’t Like Decorating for the Holidays

Why_Men_Dont_Like_Decorating_Before_The_Holidays_Photo_By_hermanturnip

In all the ways decorating can feel feminine, men can feel inadequate.

 

Guys, have you ever been invited by your Mom, sister, or wife to help decorate a Christmas tree, or hang lights outside your home, or really to decorate anything at all, and felt a sense of unease or hesitation towards the task?

Did they make fun of your hesitation by saying “I don’t know why guys don’t like it, what’s the big deal?” And if so did you resent it? Maybe you had the same feeling when your sister—in the same way—made fun of you and your Dad for not hugging goodbye whenever you parted for extended periods and instead shook hands. Maybe you were uncertain as to why it was such a big deal, or whether you wanted to decorate or hug—maybe you wondered if you actually did want to—but I bet you were certain of the intensity of your resistance to it regardless: It definitely was a big deal.

Maybe you felt safe in the partial participation of buying and retrieving a tree because you would provide the money and/or the physical strength and skill of knot tying needed to lift and secure the tree onto the car, but once home faced with all those colorful little ornaments—even the word sounds feminine—including maybe some red and purple or the soft shades of pastels—your unease turned to a frozenness and then to a retreat towards something a little more comfortable, like watching football on TV or even the not-so-comfortable but still more comfortable task of shoveling snow.

You think you could still be helpful outside shoveling snow, but for the love of God don’t make me suspend a Virgin Mary or an angel from a tree. Don’t make me hang a purple or gold colored glass ball with a fragile little wire onto the brittle leaves of a dying tree. Don’t make me wrap two, three or four complementary colored streamers or ribbons around a tree in a criss-crossing pattern or two pairs of perfectly parallel lines. For the love of God don’t make me tie a bow.

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You think, “don’t make me do what women do.” You know that’s who will be at the section of the store that carries the extra ornament hooks you need. Before you realized you were five short you thought your discomfort was almost over, but at least your wife is coming, it won’t be that bad. But then as it’s time to leave she realizes she can’t go because, fill-in-the-blank.

You have to go alone and you know all those women will see you and you wonder what they will think about you, but maybe if you get in and out quickly no one will notice, as long as they have enough hooks, or as long as you can find them, but what if they don’t or you can’t and you have to ask for help? What if the closest employee is a man—at least he has to be there for his job—but what will he think about you? Why are you here shopping for decoration supplies? Are you feminine? Are you a man?

You wish you didn’t have to go there. You wish you didn’t have to go to that store or that section but mostly you wish you didn’t have to touch those feelings. They’re the feelings of inadequacy that inevitably come with the belief in the idea that you’re not a man if you exhibit feminine characteristics.

The masculine and feminine divide is at least partially just a reminder of the need for balance between the two categories. The balance shouldn’t necessarily exist between men and women or even within one man or one woman, rather the balance can only exist across the totality of the world. The balance manifests—and can only be maintained, from top to bottom—if we allow ourselves the freedom to be whatever we are. By policing and restricting behaviors we ensure an imbalance as those policed suppress their natural inclinations. As we suppress a true part of ourselves pain is created within and eventually expressed outward against the police and non-police alike, where still more pain is experienced.

♦◊♦

For any women reading this it should be obvious that it doesn’t help to make light of how big of a deal it is for us to decorate, or to hug, or to do anything that is associated with the feminine. Part of the reason it’s a big deal is because we can’t even talk about the problem and if we can’t talk about it we definitely can’t understand it and if we can’t understand it we can’t address it. If you as a woman notice our hesitation to be feminine what we need is not to have our fear of inadequacy dismissed, but to have it acknowledged as real and to be supported as men and as people regardless of whether we display feminine behaviors or not. Besides, if you really want to advocate for the value of something you’re better off being serious about why you value it, rather than making a joke about it.

So men, the next time someone invites you to decorate, and it won’t necessarily be a woman like in the exaggerated example above, but the next time you’re invited to decorate or do anything that is associated with the feminine, be aware and if you notice any resistance remember it’s based in the false belief that the masculine and the feminine are like oil and water: they can’t mix within a person, only between persons. You’re a man and you’re a person no matter what ratio of oil-to-water you contain.

—Photo hermanturnip/Flickr

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About John Brier

Over the past two years John Brier began using spirituality, therapy and feminism to understand himself. Recently he found insight that forced him to quit his job of six years. Now he is experimenting with life. He writes sincerely and honestly with love and empathy about his ever-changing conclusions. You can follow him on Twitter at @johnbrier

Comments

  1. I have no problem decorating. I don’t think it’s something that’s feminine. At least not over here (i.e. not in the US). I enjoy it, normally. But I feel excluded from it these last few years. The Christmas Lights are left to me (because it’s technical and electric and that’s Daddy’s work). My efforts, like putting lights outside or in the living room get little acknowledgement. And if I don’t do it, no-body worries about it.

    My suggestions for the tree are constantly overwritten by my wife who enlists the kids to back her up and it’s gotten to the point, I switch off and let them get on with it, only to be chastised for _not helping_. Bah humbug.

  2. Tom Brechlin says:

    John, I’m not sure where you got the impression that decorating for the holidays was a women’s job, especially tree trimming. In all my years, decorating for the holidays was more of a “family” activity. In fact, when it comes to outdoor lights, it’s usually men who put them up. Although the TV shows and movies like Tool Time and Christmas Vacation make light of men and decorating for Christmas, the ideas came about based on men actually doing the decorating.

    And let’s take a look at the ultimate tree trimmer, Santa. As the youngest of 7 and in my late 50’s, as a small child, I grew up believing that Santa decorated the tree Christmas Eve and that’s when he left the gifts.

    Your article kind of bothers me that you may be perpetrating a myth about decorating for Christmas. A myth that the dad simply wants to sit around with beer in hand while everyone scurry’s around to make the house festive. This is not and was not what I’ve experienced through the years, especially when it comes to decorating the tree.

    Nonetheless, I hope others write in about this. Maybe I’m the minority.

    • I was gonna say – isn’t it usually (stereotypically) men who go all-out with the outdoor decorations and lighting?

      And I’m not just talking the Tool Time parodies of this, but I swear every time a house gets lit up with enough lights to catch the attention of the local news, it’s the Father of the family glowing with pride int he interview (or a very prodigious kid of either gender who meticulously set the lights moving to some dubstep/dance song). And growing up, my dad always lingered nearby when we decorated the tree but it was mostly a mom+kids thing, but he and Mom worked together to hang the outdoor lights. So this notion of the reluctant holiday decorator doesn’t jive for me.

      And even as a woman I am reluctant to decorate indoors for most holidays, because I know that whatever I put up, I’ll just have to take down again in a few weeks, and I don’t spend enough time at home or host enough guests to really get return-on-investment for the time/energy devoted to decorating. My husband and I have skipped xMas trees entirely a few times (but we have no kids, I suspect that makes a difference).

      • Tom Brechlin says:

        KKZ,I understand what you’re saying but when my wife and I were DINK’s (double income no kids) for about 8 years, we still decorated. Do some “winter” decorations? My wife loves candles and for that matter so do I in that a candle lit room is (cough) romantic. Fresh evergreen in a table center piece with candles, it’s warm. Now that the kids are grown, a lot of our energy is spent at my daughters with the grand-kids. Nonetheless, my wife and I still do some decorating. We seldom use the living room and dinning room unless we have company, so I put the tree in the front hallway so we can see it when we come down the stairs and from the kitchen. It’s a nice time of year to just cuddle up in front of the fireplace.

  3. Since I’ve shared this post three men have told me they don’t like decorating because they are lazy. They tell me they decorate for functions but they “just don’t” for the holidays. One man said it was useless. I saw a man this season putting up icicle lights and asked him how he was doing and he said good, but that his wife liked this kind of stuff (so as not to let it be assumed he was doing it for himself). It’s that latter example and all the excuses and illogical reasoning that instills confidence in me that this is caused by fear of the feminine.

    It’s definitely a thing, maybe not in all cultures, and maybe it’s getting worse now than it was. I’m thirty.

    I am not perpetuating a myth by discussing and questioning the validity of the real behavior. I am saying this real thing is based in a false belief: the idea that the feminine is bad and that you’re not a man if you display feminine characteristics.

    • It’s that latter example and all the excuses and illogical reasoning that instills confidence in me that this is caused by fear of the feminine.
      Sure that’s a part of the reason that some guys aren’t into decorating. But at the same time the three guys that say they are too lazy for it, the one that doesn’t do it for chistmas, and the one that said it was useless tell me that there are also a lot of guys out there who are simply not into it because they are not into decorating, not some fear of the feminine (which seems to be becoming a go to answer for damn near anything a guy doesn’t feel like doing these days).

  4. I agree with the poster above. Decorating for Christmas was always a family thing growing up. I think my mom did more because she probably cares more, but the lights and tree were always something we did together. I lived with three other guys during college and we always decorated for Christmas and just this weekend I went to visit some friends, three single guys who rent a house together, and they were all decked out. Maybe it is a regional thing?

    • Resistance is relative. Not all men resist holiday decorating. Some men love decorating as Tom Brechlin explained. But this article isn’t about the places that men are already comfortable decorating. This is about where they aren’t, and in particular it’s about resistance to real or perceived feminine aspects of decorating. Some men perceive the whole thing as feminine, even hanging icicle lights outside, hammer and nail and all. Some men might only see hanging ornamental glass balls from the “brittle leaves of a dying tree” as feminine. If they do then I say, if you think that’s feminine, or if it is feminine, that’s okay. You’re still a man in my book, a big man actually because it takes a big man to do what he feels is right.

  5. Tom Brechlin says:

    I hate putting up lights because it’s cold and there is snow. Just as I hate prepping a canvas for a painting, it’s something that has to be done so as to get a pleasing result.

    The man that complained about his wife could very well be playing a role of the disgruntled husband where as in his head, he is doing it because he wants to. Men tend to do that with other men because it’s perhaps an expected response?

    Last evening after church, I drove the neighborhood and was amazed at the number of homes that lit up the streets. In the southern end of our town, there is a group of 6 homes on the same street that have a virtual Christmas Wonderland that draw crowds every year. I’ve met the builders of these displays and all of them are men.

    I would have rather read something that said “guys, it’s okay to like decorating for the holidays.” But instead it was why men don’t like it.

    I remember growing up, the house we lived in had an old wooden storm door. My dad built a shadow box kind of insert that was back lit, of three choir boys holding candles. This was also the man that would pull out tree lights weeks before Christmas and make sure they all worked, replaced any broken bulbs and I can tell you, the strands of lights never had two colors next to each other, red, blue, green and yellow repeated in that order on every strand.

    The residential unit that I used to work on had 38 adolescent boys. Come Christmas time, maintenance would bring the unit tree and I would pull out the rest of the decorations from storage. Every single year, guys would ask if they could help. In fact most of the kids on the unit put in a request. And it’s not that they wanted to avoid groups or treatment work, the decorating was done at a time where they had free time in the gym, play video games or watch a movie. Watching these guys was heartwarming. I’d also like to add that they were very determined in how they did the decorating, often times changing things around until they were happy with the result. It not only taught them team building, working well together, they also learned to take direction …. Things like small ornaments toward the top of the tree to larger toward the bottom. I think if I took a vote as to their liking to decorate, I’m comfortable in saying that most of the 38 would say yeah, they do.

    Perhaps you spoke to three guys who stated they were lazy but I can counter that with countless men I’ve known who would say the reverse.

  6. I LOVE decorating. WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!

  7. Theorema Egregium says:

    The only reason I might be sceptical about Christmas decorations is because it is an inherently collective imperative, and I am a passionate nonconformist. In other words, once everybody does the same thing, I don’t want to join them.

    But despite that, while I was still living with my parents the person who decorated the tree was always me, and I never felt unmanly for it. After all, what’s unmanly about a creative, aesthetic act? Would anybody call painting or playing music unmanly?

    I guess maybe some men are scared that if they decorate the tree, their female partner will look at it, scream “you did it all wrong, you knucklehead!”, tear it down and redo from start.

    • Tom Brechlin says:

      Hey Theorema, truth is I set the standard and others follow and conformed to my standard ;) In so far as my wife commenting, she knows better. I’m a freak when it comes to the tree, I learned from the best, my dad. I remember the year he broke down and bought miniature lights. Good gosh, I thought he was going to pass out. Only happened that year, went back to the old lights. I’m passing down my tree trimming skills to my son-in-law, the fireman.

  8. It’s not a thing. Maybe to you. Just because people are lazy does no mean its a feminin thing that makes men uncomfortable. And stating his wife likes the lights is in no way him saying he doesn’t. Maybe the entire inside is decorated to his taste?

    Those who have read this have almost entirely come out saying it is not a thing. Don’t be defensive about it. Just maybe address it in your personal life?

    Hope you are having a great festive season.

  9. I have to say that as a photographer and party planner it has never occurred to me that there could be this situation going on inside of my husband. But it does help shine a light on it. I can only imagine it’s worse for him in our home since I decorate for a living and am an artist. Thank you for this article…it will make me feel less resentful about his reluctant help this holiday season! I’ve always thought it was about laziness, even tho’ he’s not a lazy person and had a small amount of resentment about having to do 90% of the decorating myself. Thanks for helping this make more sense to me!

    • You’re welcome cat. And thank you for the positive feedback. It helps when it feels like most of the feedback is negative (not that negative feedback is inherently bad, because it is a part of the dialog which is important).

      To anyone else who agrees, or even if you don’t completely, but if this is helpful at all I want you to know your encouragement really helps.

  10. wellokaythen says:

    Just consider for a moment this possibility:

    Men don’t have unusual resistance to holiday decorating, but rather women are unusually obsessed with it. Maybe men’s view of decoration is realistic and women’s view is extreme. Perhaps many men recognize that a lot of holiday decorations are unnecessary, meaningless, tacky, and more trouble than they are worth.

    This sounds an awful lot like another article that presents women’s way of doing something as natural, and if a man doesn’t like it then there’s something wrong with him. Perhaps BOTH sides have a valid point of view? Maybe, just maybe.

    • It’s one think to not care about putting decorations up or just to be too lazy to do it. It’s another thing say it’s just unnecessary, meaningless or tacky. Football can be unnecessary, meaningless and tacky too. But if it’s something my boyfriend enjoys, why would I put something he enjoys down like that? I might not like it as much as him but I can appreciate what it means to him. And I can enjoy it with him and show excitement for football even if it’s not my most favorite thing. That excitement and enjoyment can build our relationship if I choose to approach something from a more positive position and embrace it instead of just thinking it’s “extreme” to sit around for four hours watching a sport that’s actual play time is a fraction of that.

      It was largely my mom who decorated for Christmas. She did the outside lights and she did the inside decorating. The only think that my Dad really participated in was at least going to get the tree and helping her put it up. As I got older, and my brother wasn’t around as much, it was her and I did it. We got the tree, we put it up, we bonded over it. My Dad missed out on a lot and that was too bad. My mom made the holidays warm and special. She put magic into the holiday. The deocorating was a way to celebrate a wonderful time of year, baby Jesus’ birth. To celebrate family and to be grateful for all we had. As an adult, I look back on all the effort she put into it and I’m so grateful for it. She made the holidays not just another day, but something special. And I hope that if I ever have kids, I can give them the same. If I happen to adopt kids, I hope I can give them something wonderful, warm and bright like my Mom did for all her effort in decorating, cooking and spending late nights putting toys and dollhouses together.

    • By the way, my older brother feels the same exact way as I do, about the effort my Mom put in, how special she made Christmas with her big and small touches, wishing our father had been more of a part of that and appreciated what she created through the holidays.

  11. In my experience guys aren’t into decorating not because “that’s woman stuff” but because they just aren’t interested in it. I personally havent cared for it since I was a kid (which was a long time ago).

  12. Man… talk about “when all you have is a hammer…”

    Has it occurred to well, anybody on this site that men might not like doing something for reasons other than “not wanting to appear feminine”? Like maybe they don’t like climbing up on a roof in -15 degree weather to hang lights that serve no practical purpose and will have to be taken down in roughly a month or so?

    That we get sick of lugging dozens of boxes up from the basement/down from the attic/in from the garage just to carefully unpack the roughly eight-hundred kitschy knicknacks the wife has accumulated over the years… only to have to repeat the process in reverse in a few days?

    Like maybe there’s some aspect of our lives that *gasp* has nothing to do with women whatsoever?

    • No one said that had anything to do with women anyway.
      But the article is talking, exclusively, about the act of decorating. The act itself. Like the act of decorating trees and actually enjoying it.
      But that’s a good approach… men get sick often than women of “sick of lugging dozens of boxes up from the basement/down from the attic/in from the garage just to carefully unpack the roughly eight-hundred kitschy knickknacks”? If so, why at least in the scenario the male isn’t the only one or not the one at all having to get the boxes and so on)?

    • I don’t think you should be decorating anything if all you have is a hammer 

      I understand your frustration – another anti-feminine trope that attempts to paint some irrelevant idiosyncrasy as yet another male deficiency. If only men could just man up and be more like women (play with dolls, decorate trees, like wearing pink, watch the show Girls etc), the world would be a more wonderful place.

    • Tom Brechlin says:

      Ahhhh, the reverse! Yup, that part sucks BIG time. Last year I thought I would play it smart and leave the lights in some of the trees and evergreens. BIG mistake. I forgot about them and had everything in my yard pruned and cleaned. They ripped the heck out of about 15 strands of lights.

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