How to survive the holiday season (without losing your sh*t)
A few days ago we were standing in line at the supermarket when I quickly scanned everyone else’s carts (I can get nosy like that) and whispered to Mark: “Why is every other person buying a Turkey already?”
“What do you mean, it’s Thanksgiving.”
“Well yes, but not for another couple of… oh…” I looked at my phone calendar with slight disbelief.
“Yeah, it’s next week.”
Well, whaddaya know. This year, it just kind of snuck up on me- a fact especially surprising since we’ve been hosting Thanksgiving at our house for a couple of years now and we usually really look forward to it. To my defense, I’ve had a bit of a crazy year, but not crazy enough to forgo some of our favorite little traditions.
As a young immigrant, it took me years to get used to the idea of celebrating Thanksgiving. I was around 15 when I experienced my first Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt’s house and the only thing I remember very vividly was eating sweet potatoes for the very first time.
What exactly is that orange-looking mush and why do they refer to it as a “potato” when it’s clearly mashed carrots?
It’s safe to say it was love at first bite and sweet potatoes now have a permanent place in my heart (and diet menu). And please… don’t judge. The most “exotic” food I’ve eaten as a youngin prior to that was probably shrimp… on a pizza. Not that I found a sweet potato to be particularly “exotic”- it was just everywhere around Thanksgiving, and I didn’t understand why.
It wasn’t until Mark and I moved in together that I started celebrating Thanksgiving every year. It is, after all, his favorite holiday (for these reasons: good food, family, friends, and football) and yes, sometimes the holiday season does seem to get here much quicker than expected. Thankfully, years of experience have taught me that the best way to handle a slight and sudden panic or stress, is by remaining calm and following a plan.
You know, it’s funny how often we refer to the holiday season as something that requires us having a set of skills that will somehow help us to come out of it all alive. Yes, celebrating and getting together with the people you love, making new memories is fun and exciting. Things also tend to get crazy, busy, hectic, messy, and sometimes even sad. Occasionally, in order to survive the holiday season, you need to let go of some of your expectations too because, sadly, not everything will end up being magical. So, how can you survive the holiday season and WITHOUT going crazy?
HOW TO SURVIVE THE HOLIDAY SEASON (WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SH*T)
This is probably both the most basic and helpful tip for not losing your shit during the whole holiday craze. It’s the #1 thing that will help you survive the holiday season. When it comes to things like gifts and cards for your family, friends or neighbors- it’s always best to get that out of the way. For the most part of my “grown-up” life, it was something that I would always put off until the very last minute. Christmas Eve is huge in my family/culture, and one year I was actually buying and emailing e-gift cards to my family, while we were on our way to the Christmas Eve dinner.
Not very thoughtful, is it?
The mere thought of even driving past a shopping mall in the weeks leading to the holidays gives me anxiety. For the last couple of years, I’ve been doing all my gift and card shopping months ahead. The same thing goes for wrapping your gifts, sending your cards. Not only does it take a lot of the stress out of the equation, but it also makes sense financially. You don’t end up spending a lot of money all at once, the week before the holidays, and it just easier to spread it out. I also like to stock up on a bunch of nice chocolates, cards and/or candles, just in case I receive an unexpected gift from a new friend, co-worker or neighbor.
…and plan ahead some more
Gift shopping isn’t the only thing that I plan and take care of ahead of time. I do the same with planning outfits, cleaning + prepping the house for hosting guests, etc. We do a lot of hosting over the holidays, and there’s so much cooking and prepping involved, it can get a little (or very…) crazy. Going through recipes, food shopping lists, and, of course, making sure there’s enough Tupperware around because… um, hello?! Thanksgiving leftovers! I think we can all agree that it’s something that everyone always looks forward to. All of that combined will help to eliminate any delays and last-minute grocery store runs as well as occasional outbursts of anger.
We just talked about ways to look after yourself during this Fall in this post, and, as you can probably tell from the many Self-Care posts that I publish, I truly believe that it’s an important thing to focus on. This is especially essential for people who tend to always put themselves last and spend most of their time caring for others. Some people feel guilty about taking a time-out, some just don’t know how to sit still. In the long run, though, knowing how to take care of yourself is important for staying grounded and healthy. This is something you need to do for yourself- no one else can do it for you. Before things get really busy and crazy, give yourself some time to unwind and ease up.
DON’T OVERCOMPLICATE THINGS
If you try to do everything by yourself, you’ll end up spreading yourself thin and will be more likely to experience a burnout. There might be a lot of “work” involved in the preparation for the holidays, and while some of it can be fun, it can also end up being exhausting. I’ve had years where I’d think to myself “I seriously just want this to be over with so that I can finally sit down and relax.” Being a bit of control-freak means that most of the time I insist on doing everything by myself because I want it done a certain way. Well, guess what? I’ve had my brother, sister, and husband help me out in the kitchen over the last couple of years, and the holidays weren’t ruined because the Brussels sprouts weren’t sliced as thinly as I like them.
Don’t overcomplicate things for yourself. If you can, ask for help. The errands, the cooking, the shopping, the planning, the cleaning- those are all things that I love doing on my own. Anyone with perfectionistic tendencies will insist on doing everything alone while being in control 100% of the time. Well, that’s overcomplicating things and sometimes, I’m an expert at this. It gets kind of draining. And exhausting. At the end of the day, you’re running on fumes, and can’t really enjoy yourself because you’re either too tired, or you’re thinking about the next thing you’ll have to do. Don’t be afraid of simplifying things- simple is good.
REMEMBER WHAT MATTERS MOST
Even in the closest of families things can get a little stressful and crazy when everyone gets together. A few years back someone from my family lost their mind when they realized I didn’t make any baked potatoes for our Christmas Eve dinner. I was confused.
“Baked potatoes? What are you talking about, since when do we eat baked potatoes on Christmas Eve in this family? I don’t ever remember anyone baking potatoes.”
“Umm.. only since ALWAYS! That’s pretty much the only thing I was planning on eating! Now there’s nothing for me to eat!” *screams while looking at a table stuffed with 12 different dishes*
I mean, it’s such a stupid little thing, but it was upsetting. There I was, up all night cooking, but my failure to bake potatoes nearly ruined Christmas, it seemed. People took sides, everyone started arguing about fucking potatoes and whether or not we usually have them, while I went outside and sat in my car thinking “Is this really happening? Are we really arguing about baked potatoes right now? They can’t be serious, this is NOT happening.” I love my family to death, but we can sometimes turn into a crazy bunch. Of course, now, years later, we all laugh about the whole “potato incident” but at that very moment, the last thing I wanted to do was get out of that car, go back inside the house and sit at that table.
Truth is, at times, this is the reality. Sometimes someone just makes a dumb comment without thinking (like bringing up personal things like having children -right there at the dinner table- yup, can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that one!) and you have to work hard on keeping it together. Other times you say something stupid, and have to suffer in awkward silence, thinking to yourself “why did I just say that?”
Things that matter most…
It’s so important to not lose focus of the things that matter most. Holidays shouldn’t be about stress, about getting upset when things turn out less than perfect, when you burn the chicken, forget to make potatoes or when your elderly aunt with some outdated and intolerant views tries to stir up some drama.
Most people say that the holidays are all about being with family, but the truth is that the definition of “family” isn’t the same for all of us. Some of us come from toxic families and going home for the holidays is not something we look forward to. Sometimes “family” is just you and your partner. I have a bunch of friends who always spend this time of year with a small group of close friends, simply because it’s less stressful and healthier. They just refuse to “go back home” for the holidays. The truth is that not everyone can depend on that “traditional” family structure and the risk of emotional harm or painful interactions aren’t always worth the effort. There is no need to feel guilty over choosing yourself and your own happiness and wellbeing.
Okay. Here it is. This time of year is often over-hyped. We have all these expectations of it being the best time of year, we await that magical moment and… it doesn’t always come. Of course, it’s great when it does, but this can also be a very emotional time and you can find yourself in a bit of a funk. I think that one of the toughest things to go through is experiencing loss and grief around the holidays.
One of the main reasons why Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays was because of my grandmother. Growing up we always spent the holidays at my grandparents’ house and that magic was just always there. Having lost her just 3 days before Christmas nearly two years ago seemed like some kind of a cruel twist. The holidays haven’t been the same and dealing with grief during what used to be your favorite time of year is tough and heartbreaking. You can’t always focus on the happy moments, because that grief just creeps up on you, the closer you get to the holidays. There are all these beautiful memories you store somewhere deep inside, where you keep them safe all year long because while beautiful, they can also be painful to recall.
Until you don’t, and they just all pour out at once.
One of the things that can help you shift your focus from any negative emotions you feel during the holidays is giving back. There are so many small ways to give back, so many ways to focus on positive and happy things- even when laughter and peace is not something you often experience during this time of year. It can be anything from helping a friend who’s going through a tough time to volunteering, donating to food banks, animal shelters. I’ve been sponsoring a little girl through World Vision for years now and getting cards, photos, and letters from her and her family in the mail always bring tears of joy to my eyes. We all say that we want to “make a difference” and the truth is that giving back doesn’t have to be difficult, intimidating or complicated- there are so many small ways in which we can give and help others. Of course, this is something that we should strive to do all year round, not just around the holidays. BUT, if you can’t find anything magical, happy or exciting about the holidays, giving back to your community, helping someone in need- that’s a place where you can find some of that magic, too.