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I’ll be honest: I dread the holidays.
Each year, I fight it kicking and screaming as soon as I see the holiday decorations appear at Target.
Let me be clear about what I mean when I say I dread the holidays. I fully support joy, celebration, and giving to those in need.
What I take issue with is a holiday season (at least in the United States) that is marked with stress, overbooked schedules, greed, and gluttony. Expectations to overspend, overeat, and overschedule leave me feeling resentful and decidedly unfestive.
If the holiday season lasted for a week or two, I might not be such a scrooge. But it seems that the season gets a little longer with each passing year. And it isn’t limited to the month of December, nor does it wait for Thanksgiving to pass. At some point in the past, the holiday season started to creep up in early November, and now we are lucky if it waits for the Halloween candy to clear out.
What’s with the holiday season “creep”? Well, retailers make most of their sales in the last quarter of the year, so naturally they are eager to kick off holiday buying time as early as possible. This is the foundation on which our holiday season is built—sales, shopping, and spending money that we may or may not have.
No matter where you go, you cannot avoid the holiday madness—crowded stores, heavy traffic, harried people. And don’t even get me started on the mindless consumption that starts with Black Friday (and now Thanksgiving) sales. At some point, peace and joy morphed into trampling people for a doorbuster sale.
Tell me again how this is the greatest time of year?
Call me jaded, but most years I can’t muster much of a holiday spirit. Try as I might, I struggle to embrace a holiday season that doesn’t resonate with me. So, I’ve learned a few coping mechanisms for surviving this time of year. Some of these tips will help you avoid the traditional holiday festivities altogether, while others will help you make the most of it.
Tips for Celebrating (or Not) the Holidays on your Terms:
1. Opt Out. This might not be an option for everyone, depending on your life and familial obligations, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Options range from opting out completely to saying no to certain things like decorating, gift giving, party attending, or any holiday activity that doesn’t bring you joy. A simple “I don’t celebrate” or “I’m scaling back this year,” can be an effective explanation.
2. Get Out of Dodge. Take a trip! Go somewhere new. Strike out on your own if you’re comfortable traveling solo, or take your family on an adventure. Last year, my family and I spent a week in Costa Rica at Christmas, and we loved it so much we’re going back again this year. A change in scenery and weather does a world of good.
3. Reframe the Holidays. Depending on the role of spirituality and religion in your life, can you reframe the meaning of the holidays to have more spiritual significance?
Personally, I connect with the winter solstice more than any religious tradition at this time of year. In the past, I’ve gone to winter solstice yoga practices that lead you through 108 sun salutations—quite a challenge! I also use New Year’s as a time to reflect on the closing of one year and the dawn of a new one, setting intentions for the year ahead.
4. Make Giving to Charity a Priority. In the true spirit of the season, identify the charities that are most important to you. Adopt a family in need. Volunteer your time. Give to food banks, clothing drives, animal shelters, or homeless shelters. You can also make donations in the name of loved ones as gifts. There have been years in the past when I’ve requested that any gifts given to me be donations to a charity in my name.
5. Set Expectations with Children. Help your kids understand that the holiday spirit isn’t all about making long lists of wants and expecting a mountain of presents on Christmas morning. While we might think over-the-top gift giving brings joy and magic, it also feeds greed and entitlement. Try to make the magic of the holidays more about experiences and togetherness. You can also get kids involved in charitable activities.
The “four-gift rule” has been gaining traction recently with folks looking to scale back. The rule limits everyone to four gifts—something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.
6. Do Something New or Create New Traditions. Some people love following the same traditions each year because it provides comfort and a connection to the past. If you get bored easily, like me, try something outside of the holiday box. Make gifts for loved ones instead of shopping or skip the gifts completely. Replace the Christmas tree with a wall tree or skip the decorations altogether. Eat something completely different on Christmas or do something active like run a 5K. Get creative here—the sky is the limit.
Another option is to create a completely new tradition that is unique to your family. For example, my partner’s family has a tradition of eating pizza on Christmas Eve. They’ve been doing it for over 50 years and nothing can break them of it. It’s special to them because it is unique to their family.
7. Make it Less about Food and Alcohol. The average American gains around seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Instead of a cookie swap that leaves you with 80 cookies, consider having a book swap instead. If you’re like me and can’t limit yourself to just one of the bourbon balls that your coworker so generously gave you, don’t even bring them home. Regift the fruitcake if you don’t want the temptation in the house (or just don’t want it period!).
Limit or avoid the party appetizers by eating healthy snacks at home before going to the holiday get-togethers. Go plant-based if you aren’t already and avoid the holiday weight gain entirely!
8. Say No and Make Time for You. Prioritize which holiday parties to attend and which to decline. If overbooking your calendar leaves you feeling depleted, make the kindest choice for yourself and pick the events that mean the most to you.
It’s important to take care of yourself any time of the year. But self-care is even more important during a stressful time of year, so prioritize the activities that give you pause from the hustle and bustle.
If you have other suggestions for surviving and thriving during the holidays, I’d love to hear them.
I hope you have a happy holiday season—on your own terms!