It’s The Most De-mand-ing Time Of The Year: Destress Your Holidays, Today

As light as we like to imagine the holidays, filled with laughter, incessant chatter and family bonding, the aroma of delectable morsels filling the air as loved ones pour in bearing their signature dishes, this Norman Rockwell/Brady Bunch ideology is just that.  The more realistic scenario is one we don’t like to conjure, but is more commonplace than the postcard-worthy gatherings of yesteryear. One of the most dreaded times, for millions, is precisely this time of year. The family is estranged, if alive. The house isn’t packed with company, decorations, gifts or an abundance of food to feed an army. The shades are closed. The mood is heavy. And, hearts are broken, for the dozenth time and more, as grudges stand like aging guards between siblings, parents or any combination of family members. The doorbell won’t be ringing. Perhaps the phone will, for a few moments, as someone dutifully checks on those whose holidays are anything but merry and bright. No. It is NOT the most wonderful time of the year. They lied. The sociologist in me  would love a poll denoting just how many of us are relieved to see January 2nd roll around every year. We survived what should have been another few days of “celebrating” that retailers manage to drag out over three full MONTHS. We’re ok with it though, because we’re so programmed to overspend and stress as we strive for perfection and the pockets of retailer CEOs are nicely lined, even if all that unnecessary junk we buy is put on a credit card. We must LOOK the part. We must PLAY the part. The pumpkins and dead leaves, the cinnamon spiced everything, the hay bales and the word “crisp” as hashtags clutter our feed with pics of the first day of  sweater and Uggs season! (#blessed, #IloveFall, #NoFilter #AppleFarmDayYay) And, after we survive the hideous burnt-orange and squash yellow color scheme, more shit hits the shelves, double-time, for Thanksgiving AND Christmas. Wait. What? Why? Who is this FOR, anyway? The kids, right? Then, why are adults stressing themselves to the edge of sanity, racing around looking for obscure ingredients, weird crafty pine cones and 3 miles of ribbon? I can get behind the enjoyment of the season, if you genuinely enjoy some decorating, cooking and company. I’ve experienced it. I’ve also OVER-experienced it. I’ve stayed up too late, gotten up too early, said yes to too many invitations from people who weren’t even on my “A” list. I’ve cleaned every imaginable surface and tried to make the fully decorated spaces throughout my house seem homey and effortless. It was anything but. I’ve battled the crowds, having remembered the one thing for the one dish. I’ve been in traffic jams with everyone else ALSO remembering the one thing for that one dish. I’ve wondered what to wear. I’ve dressed my kids up in outfits they wouldn’t have chosen. I’ve meticulously timed when each dish needed to go in the oven and at what temp, cleaning the kitchen furiously in between, prepared to prepare ANOTHER dish. I thought I was supposed to do all of the things. And, I thought I was supposed to enjoy it; that’s what good girls do, right?…and a few times out of the year, dammit, I could be a good girl. I don’t know what happened, but somewhere in the quest for authenticity and discovering just who I am, I realized it wasn’t THAT. I didn’t LIKE the obligation of it all…the shopping, the decorating, the traffic jams, the pushing and shoving, the fight for parking spaces, the piles of presents that would be forgotten by January…I didn’t like cooking and baking for two days for it to be devoured in less than an hour. And, I especially didn’t like the UNdoing of it all…THAT, I honestly hated. There was so much anticipation, so much build up…that anything less than everyone being perfectly satisfied with everything wasn’t good enough. And, even if they were? What an anticlimax. It became like a bad ending to the same movie, every year. I’m sometimes a slow learner, so lots of you have already figured out what took me years to understand. Today, my holidays do not even resemble those of 10 years ago. I cooked a nice meal for Thanksgiving. It took about two hours to prepare. No baking or cooking the day before. There were five people around the table…me, Jason, his daughter, my daughter and her boyfriend. That’s it. Not thirty people. And, we are all piled up on the couches with our Bo, (my sweet dog) we half-watched some lame movie, just happy to be together, relaxed. RELAXED. How refreshing to kick back and take in the laughs, the side conversations, the happy, sleeping dog in the middle of it all…just to be present. I wasn’t putting my family on edge by trying to do too much. I was operating on plenty of sleep. I enjoyed my coffee before launching into our (sensibly sized) meal. And, the last place you’ll find me tomorrow is anywhere near a retailer. I’ll be jumping from a plane, getting OTHERS ready to jump for the first time…I’ll walk on the beach, nosh on leftovers and agree with nature as she has her way, with the sun setting so early in the evening. And, I won’t complain that there’s less and less daylight for another month. I hope if any of this strikes a nerve, raises an eyebrow or stirs up some sense of rebellion, that you will give yourself a break. I hope you’ll do less. I hope you’ll spend less, decorate less, cook less, and enjoy MORE. However that looks for you. We have fallen under such crazy constraints of how it’s “supposed” to appear that most of us feel utterly inadequate, especially the last three months of the calendar. Even the most domestic goddesses have their limits. They fall into bed at night, mascara half on, hair frazzled, gravy on the elbow of their flannel pj’s, and exhale that they pulled off ANOTHER day of grand appearances. How do I know, you ask? I was a faux domestic goddess, in another life. I fell into bed, exhausted, mascara half on, hair frazzled, gravy stains and all… and proud of myself for surviving another day of domesticity, when, really, it should be classified as savagery. If you can relate, know that you can take back those pieces of yourself before December even rolls around. You can shorten the shopping list…decline some invitations…cancel the cookie exchange…dress in comfortable clothing…skip the third Christmas Tree…hell, skip the first one, if you want…create YOUR space for YOUR enjoyment. And, do it in a way that you enjoy the process as much as the outcome. So much of what we do is for others, and not in the philanthropic way…in the “look at us, aren’t we dreamy,” way…it’s not malicious. It’s just  habitual, it feels natural. What isn’t natural is pausing, stepping back to take a moment and ask yourself what you WANT to do, and how. Most of us sincerely want to acknowledge our loved ones, especially during the holidays. By all means, do so. The key word is to do it “sincerely.” How much more would your family appreciate an experience over another sweater? What if, under the tree is one box for the family with a reservation for a hot air balloon ride in May? Or, the gift of your time by establishing a new tradition…one that everyone adds a single detail to the event? Every Thurdsay night, we turn off our phones, take a walk in a different direction from the front door, and everyone has to bring back one small memento of the walk. Place all of these eclectic items in a large glass container, and you have a centerpiece that Neiman Marcus can’t get their hands on. Have more. Do less. Time is a currency and we often spend it foolishly. And, should you decide this is the first year you refuse to participate in Black Friday? Then, here’s to some white space on your calendar this holiday season. And, that is Genuine Peace, Warriors.

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