The other day I was talking to a good friend who is moving out-of-state in mid-December, and she said that we should get together before she leaves. Then she added an all-too familiar caveat: “But I totally understand if you’re too busy during the holiday season.”
She meant well, of course, and wanted to give me an easy way out. After all, the presumption is that we all pretty much spend most of the months of November and December running around like headless turkeys, preparing for a few high-stakes events collectively known as “The Holidays,” or “The Season.”
Oh yes, holiday stress.
‘Tis the season to bust through the doors of Walmart like a pack of starving coyotes tracking down a wounded rabbit, except in this case the prey is a $149 flat screen TV.
‘Tis the season to attend thirty-eight school, preschool and company holiday parties, decorate the house with pine cones smelling like pumpkin-spiced latte, feed an army of relatives with Instagram-quality holiday meals, then stand in line for half an hour to get the mandatory shots of the kids sitting on Santa’s lap at the mall.
And ’tis the season to bake your way to sugar-induced holiday magic by making seven types of cookies and a custom made gingerbread house, and pray that the kids won’t strangle each other as they fight over the leftover M&Ms. Oh, and don’t forget to order Christmas cards and new outfits for the kids and prepare those 101 creative Elf on the Shelf ideas that you printed off from Pinterest.
Can you feel the holiday joy yet? Me neither. So let’s put that powdered sugar down for a second.
Whenever I feel that familiar holiday frenzy come creeping, I try to remember that there are very few things in life that you HAVE to do. Creating homemade baby hand print ornaments and participating in the white elephant gift exchange at work are not.
If you’re struggling to keep your head above water at this time of the year, maybe these five suggestions will help you take the holidays down a notch:
- Buy less. This is the easiest way to make shopping-related stress go away, and help the environment. My kids get four Christmas gifts each: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read, plus a few little things for the stocking. That’s it. The kids are in turn tasked with making gifts for the grandparents (see #5 for more about delegating). Extended family, you’re out of luck. If you’re over 18, no gifts for you.
- Skip the shopping mall. The crowds, the noise, the visual overload, the trinkets from China that you don’t need and still end up buying. No thanks. Support your local businesses first, then get what you can’t find there online (there are great mom-and-pop stores on the Internet too). That’s high-quality stress relief that anybody with a decent internet connection can attain.
- Delegate. When I was little my mom sent me to the grandparents’ to decorate the Christmas tree, bake ginger snaps and make crafts. That freed up enough time for her to do clean the house AND take a nap. Win-win. And no, I never felt deprived because my mom didn’t make any holiday fudge with me.
- Break with tradition. Don’t be a prisoner of your own expectations of what the holidays should or shouldn’t be. What’s the point of holding on to traditions if they’re causing toxic stress? Try something different. Go ice skating. Have a potluck with friends. Volunteer at a food bank. Try cold-weather camping. Book a last-minute flight to Cancun. Or do what we’ve done for the past three years: Create your own outdoor holiday tradition.
- Hit the trail. Really. Nature is a proven remedy for stress and aside from being highly addictive it has zero side effects. Pack sandwiches, hot chocolate, and some of that fudge that the kids made at the grandparents’ house, and go to a nature area that you’ve never been to before. Bonus: The kids will think that you’re awesome.
By keeping things as simple as possible I can honestly say that I’m not stressed about the holidays. At all. Do I want my kids’ Christmas to be fun and yummy and smell of cinnamon and all that good stuff? Absolutely. But I think I can get that accomplished and still have time to breathe.
So, let’s repeat: ‘Tis NOT the season to go batty. ‘Tis the season to take it down a notch, and remember that there is life before, during and after The Holidays. ‘Tis the season to hit the trail, drink hot drinks, and take the time to see that friend of yours that is moving out-of-state.