On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave me a to-do list. The Christmas season does not only mean cosy nights on the couch with hot cocoa, going ice skating, or sleighing down the hills. No, it also means a lot of stress, especially for women celebrating this tradition who are in heteronormative relationships. Indeed, during this time of the year, traditional gender roles as well as gender stereotypes become much more apparent, primarily in terms of the division of labour. For instance, scrolling in our encyclopaedia will tell you that it is not Santa Claus who gets the gifts, but rather Mrs. Claus. Women will often bear the brunt during the Christmas season and be the ones who cook, clean, organise, and often plan the party. To put this into perspective, just three out of ten opposite-sex couples divide the workload of the holiday equally among them. Whereas, same-sex relationships tend to distribute the heaviness of housework more evenly.

Before delving into the intricacies of a gendered Christmas, it is important to note that not everyone has the same experiences regarding Christmas. First of all, because not everyone celebrates this occasion. Second, factors such as race and socioeconomic background play a big role in the grand schemes of Christmas.

Nowadays, one occupation that is primarily dominated by women in this period revolves around cooking and cleaning. I think the majority of us know how parents behave when people come over; they want the house to look like no one has ever lived in it. Every room needs to look pristine, even those in which guests would rarely end up, such as the kids’ bedroom(s). While there are no gender differences when it comes to the perception of cleanliness, research has shown that women have much higher levels of anxiety regarding an unclean house. Specifically in the era of social media, when pictures are shared and reveal so much about one’s home and family, the pressure increases to represent an image that lives up to society’s expectations and norms. Also, producing the perfect Christmas photo or card is usually a woman’s worry. When it comes to sending it out to folks beyond the family, yep, that task typically lands on women too. In all, women end up shouldering most of the household chores, leading to an uneven split of holiday prep time that highlights gender imbalances.

Another thing is Christmas movies. Let’s be honest, it somehow tickles our pickles to watch the very cliché (and heteronormative) holiday movies. But did you know that the majority of these movies would not pass the Bechdel Test––which examines whether the movie includes a scene with at least two women who talk to each other about subjects other than men? For instance, Elf would not pass the test, while Love Actually barely passed it. There is one interaction between two women characters, specifically when Karen (Emma Thompson) asks her daughter what part she is playing in the nativity play, and her daughter answers the lobster.

Also, Christmas songs may at times appear to be slightly creepy and sexist. In Baby It’s Cold Outside, the song talks about a situation where the woman is being pressured by the man to stay with him. While some thought that this narrative might be a bit problematic, especially in the context of consent, others downplayed the song as a product of its time. I, on the other hand, think that it joins the other non-Christmas songs that are sexist, which are yet still widely celebrated. Talking about popular songs, Santa Baby may be said to be touched by a dash of sexism since the whole premise of this song revolves around the (typically) woman singer who wants to seduce Santa Claus for some gifts. For example, she has been a “good girl” because of all the “fellas she hasn’t kissed”––implying some kind of righteousness when women abstain from sexual activities. Therefore, she only deserves a gift when she has not lived out her sexual freedom.  

For most religious Christians and other people celebrating this holiday, Christmas is about giving, receiving, sharing, and love. However, as it appears women might give more than they receive during this season. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas needs to break free from certain gender biases.