Black Friday sales and holiday decorations started in October, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. HERE. WE. GO!
The holiday season is beautiful and magical, but it can also be stressful and exhausting. There’s pressure to create a Norman Rockwell holiday with all the trimmings. All the shopping, cooking, decorating, and merriment can take their toll physically, mentally, and financially.
I’m going to let you in on a secret: I used to dread the holidays. Yup, it’s true, but I know I’m not alone. The holidays can be a tough time for people who are alone, far away from family and friends, have to work, deal with illness, struggle financially, or have lost a family member.
I love hosting parties and cooking for my family and friends, but at some point, the Christmas holidays started making me feel less than jolly. Family dynamics and the pressure to be everywhere and do all the things were exhausting. I could never seem to get anywhere early enough or stay long enough. It felt like I was constantly disappointing someone. Add to that some strained relationships, too little sleep, and too much alcohol, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I couldn’t wait for New Year’s Day, so it would all be over.
I longed for a quieter, slower holiday where we could focus on relaxing and sharing a meal together rather than shopping for the elusive “perfect gift” and dashing from door to door. It turns out some other family members wanted the same thing.
About ten years ago, we changed some of our holiday traditions to make things more relaxed, casual, and enjoyable. It’s been a game-changer.
Is it possible to make it through the holidays without feeling exhausted or going broke? I’m here to tell you it is! If you’re ready to try something different this year, it’s time to start the conversation with your family and friends now.
Here are a few things to consider as you begin to reinvent the holidays.
Accept that you will disappoint people
First, we’re going to address the elephant in the room—Change is hard. Period. Some people will love your suggestions and be relieved you made them, others, not so much. Not everyone will be up for change and will let you know it by calling you selfish, cheap, or unsociable. Others might be passive-aggressive and drop not-so-subtle hints about their displeasure with how you’re ruining everything. Or it might be somewhere in between, like, “Oh, come on, we’ve always done this!” or “Don’t be such a party pooper!”
Accept that you’re going to disappoint some people. They’ll get over it . . . or they won’t. Being a born people pleaser, this was the hardest thing for me to accept. In some ways, it still is. I sometimes feel guilty, but it’s getting easier, and I’m much happier.
Reassess your traditions
The December holidays are steeped in family traditions: baking cookies, preparing special holiday dishes, trimming the tree, taking family photos, sending Christmas cards, decorating the house, hosting parties, binge-watching holiday movies, and shopping or making gifts.
Some traditions are a way of honoring our culture and heritage, others create bonds between family and friends. Traditions are grounding and make us feel like part of something larger than ourselves. They can also be a total drain if you let them.
It's time to examine your holiday traditions to see what still resonates with you.
Do you look forward to baking 12 dozen cookies for the annual cookie swap, or do you dread it?
Does the thought of stringing lights on the house bring a twinkle to your eyes or make you want to cry?
Are you psyched for the Black Friday sales, or does the thought leave you feeling anxious and exhausted?
Are you looking forward to sending out holiday cards, or does the thought make you want to scream?
Just because you’ve always done something doesn’t mean you have to continue doing it. If it makes you miserable, STOP. Scrap the Christmas cards or bow out of the cookie swap if you want to. You can always change your mind next year.
With the newly found free time, you can attend that town tree-lighting you’ve always wanted to go to. Or you can stay home and relax.
Me, I love cooking and hosting parties but dread decorating. Lugging all the decorations out, moving furniture to make room for the Christmas tree, and hanging all the decorations made the house feel cluttered and claustrophobic to me. I’d always wait until the last minute to decorate and then take the decorations down before New Year’s Eve—I know, bah humbug! LOL
Now I keep the decorating to a minimum. My hubby likes to string colored lights on the front porch and the tree outside. I like putting fairy lights around the inside windows and hanging paper snowflakes and stars. That’s it. It’s simple, but I love it.
Let’s talk about holiday gift-giving
Can we be honest here? Holiday shopping sucks. Crowded stores, long lines, everything in disarray. Online shopping can be just as harrowing – online scams, back-ordered items, shipping delays, and fending off porch pirates. Even if you love bargain hunting, you still end up spending too much because you can’t resist all the “good deals.” And who wants to deal with returns and exchanges?
I know—It’s nice to give and receive gifts, but do you really need another sweater, calendar, or scented candle? A few years ago, a family member suggested that the adults do a Secret Santa with a $30 - $40 limit instead of exchanging gifts. At Thanksgiving, we picked names out of a hat. The next year we made it even simpler by doing a grab bag. If you want to participate, bring a gift.
Best. Decision. Ever. What a time and money saver!
If you decide to exchange gifts, set a budget, and stick to it. We’ve heard this advice a hundred times, but how often have we heeded it? You don’t have to go dollar for dollar with everyone on your list. Some people like spending a lot of money on gifts, so let them, but you don’t have to. You don’t want to look at your January credit card statement with resentment and regret.
The amount of money you spend on a gift isn’t a sign of how much you love or care for that person. Some of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received (a pretty journal notebook, a log cabin Christmas ornament) probably didn’t cost much but held special meaning.
If you’re known for your culinary chops, gift your famous chocolate chip cookies, strawberry jam, pickles, or homemade limoncello.
If you're crafty, crochet or knit an infinity scarf or cozy cap. Go through your photos and create a memory book.
Instead of things, how about gifting an experience? It’s a chance to create memories and enjoy time together.
Give a gift certificate to the local movie theater or a new restaurant.
Plan an outing together, like going to a concert, play, or dance performance.
Go bowling, sled riding, or ice skating.
Take a yoga, dance, cooking, or art class together.
Visit a local brewery or winery.
Adopt a senior or family in need. You can find a list of anonymous families through your place of worship or local charity. They’ll provide you with basic information on the family members, like gender, age, and clothing sizes. The requests typically include the basics like hats, scarves, gloves, and a small gift or gift card for each person. Sometimes they’ll request non-perishable food items for a food basket or a gift card from a local grocery store.
You don’t have to make everything or make everything from scratch—unless you want to
Hosting a holiday meal can be a lot to handle if you're not used to it. Even if you prepare in advance, you still need space to store it.
Here’s the thing, you don’t have to make everything or make everything from scratch—unless you want to. Using pre-made pie crusts for your apple pie or buying a cake from the bakery is fine! Using partially prepped food like cleaned and chopped vegetables or pre-cooked spiral-cut ham can make preparing your holiday feast easier and simpler. My sister-in-law and I like to say, “I didn’t make it, but I made it happen.”
It’s ok to let people pitch in. This was a tough one for me. I grew up in a house where my mother did EVERYTHING for the holiday meals—appetizers to dessert, she did it all. She never asked anyone to bring anything.
As I’ve gotten older, I realized that when people ask if they can bring something, they really want to. I know I do. It makes the meal that much more special when we share our favorite dishes. It might take a little coordination, but well worth the effort.
If you’re hosting, you can make the main course and whatever else you like/want to make. Then put together a list of everything else needed to complete the meal—appetizers, side dishes, bread, salad, desserts, wine, etc. Get specific if you know people have a “specialty” they like to make and share—Your brother-in-law’s amazing charcuterie board for an appetizer, your aunt’s broccoli cheese casserole for a side dish, and your sister’s decadent triple chocolate brownies for dessert.
It’s a win-win for everyone. When my sister-in-law hosts Christmas Eve dinner, I bring my cheesy bacon potato casserole. I enjoy making it, and everyone enjoys eating it!
You are allowed to say “No.”
There are so many family gatherings, work parties, and get-togethers with friends. We spend more time with people than usual, which can get overwhelming, especially if you’re an introvert.
Remember: You don’t have to say yes to every invitation. Decide if it’s something you’d really want to do, then look at your calendar to determine if you can reasonably fit it into your schedule. Being at three different places in one day may be too much. Wouldn’t you rather go to fewer events and really enjoy yourself than run ragged trying to do it all?
You can decline an invitation and still be kind, gracious, and graceful about it. No need to answer on the spot, but do respond as soon as possible and definitely before the RSVP date if there is one.
Take care of yourself
With everything going on, it’s easy to let healthy habits fall by the wayside. Eating rich foods, drinking festive cocktails, missing workouts, and staying up late can lead to exhaustion, a weakened immune system, and you flat on your back with a cold or the flu. Not fun.
If you can’t make it to the gym or yoga studio, do a few minutes of stretching at home or take a quick walk around the block. It’s better to do a little bit every day than skip it entirely because you don't have an hour to work out.
Take a few minutes to meditate in the morning and the middle of the day. Find a place to sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe. Spending as little as three minutes meditating can help calm your mind, reduce stress and anxiety, and lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
You have a say in how you spend the holidays
The holidays belong to you, too. You have a say in how you spend your time and resources. No need to change things all at once. Pick one thing you’d like to change and start from there. By cutting out the things that no longer resonate, you’re able to make room for new, more meaningful traditions. It might take a while, but eventually, it will become the new normal.
There may be people in your life who want to make some changes, too. Remember to show them the same grace, compassion, and understanding you hope to receive.
Happy Holidays, my friend 😊
What would you like to change about the holidays? Leave a comment below.