“He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough” ~Lao Tzu
It’s already happening. Shopping, shopping lists, shopping sales, shopping must-haves, shopping for food, shopping for presents, shopping. It all begins the week before Thanksgiving. And while “the holidays” — that period of time between Thanksgiving and New Years — are meant to be joyous, for many Thanksgiving signifies the beginning of five weeks of unrelenting stress. The combination and pressure of giving and receiving, social commitments, decorating, cooking and baking, drinking and eating, filling every free moment with holiday to-do tasks leave many people feeling the holiday blues rather than holiday cheer.
In fact, a study of the impact of holiday stress by the Amercian Psychological Association found that “people wonder where they will find the time and money to get everything done. It is during these times that many people experience an increase in stress that can detract from the celebrations and downtime that they seek.”
In the brilliant words of Henry David Thoreau, “Simplify, simplify.”
Stop for a moment, forget the business-as-usual holiday, close your eyes and visualize what your perfect holiday looks like. Is it quiet, reflective and intimate with the ones you love? Is it a large gathering of friends and family? Is it centered on the people in your life? I can’t imagine that your perfect picture includes the holiday frenzy that we put ourselves through year-in and year-out.
Give yourself this gift: Reclaim “the holidays” and define exactly what that means to you. For me, it is a time to focus on what is important in my life: family, close friends, gratitude, forgiveness, and generosity. Over the years I’ve honed in on these priorities and when I find myself feeling pressured I ask myself, “does this serve my holiday vision?” This one question has transformed my holidays from an exercise in overabundance to a creation of a season full of wonder.
There are simple, mindful choices to consider when taking back your holiday and designing it to reflect your life.
Planning an elaborate meal, including every relative you haven’t seen since last year’s holiday, the mad dash to buy all the gifts on everyone’s lists, pulling out the boxes and boxes of decorations stored in the basement, accepting every single holiday invitation you receive …. does this serve your holiday vision? How does this serve you? Your family? Your close friends? If the answer is “no,” let it go.
Consider downsizing elaborate meals that you prepare all on your own for the following reasons:
a.) it creates stress by forcing you to spend every free minute rushing around and preparing.
b.) an abundance of food usually creates an abundance of waste.
c.) most people aren’t there for the food. They really don’t care.
A newly-revised holiday meal, (and, in fact, all get-togethers I host) are community meals. As the host I set the tone, but everyone plays an important role. A community event creates inclusion and connectedness. What does that look like for you? For me, I request that everyone bring their favorite dish, or flowers, or wine.
And, this is a big one, are you ready? Ask for help.
A community meal means the community members are involved from beginning to end. If you are indeed surrounding yourself with intimate friends and family, you will have assistance every step of the way — from set-up to decorating to clean-up. Plus, there’s the added bonus of spending a little extra time with those special people. On more than one occasion I have had relationship-shifting conversations during the set-up before the rest of the community arrived.
Here’s two more aspects to consider in setting your holiday stage:
- reduce the number of dishes offered, reduce the amount of ingredients and increase the inclusion of delicious, clean foods, reminiscent of more serene holidays past.
- who says your holiday must feature “traditional” foods? Start a tradition of your own.
For instance, at Thanksgiving we no longer serve turkey. Instead we have a big beautiful pot of soup and all the fixins. No one misses the turkey; we all love the meal and joke about it each year.
Do you bemoan having to get out all the holiday decorations and then several weeks later dread putting them all away? Free yourself! Try decorating with greenery, flowers, bittersweet, and pine cones instead of mass-produced, store-bought items. Add candles, mulling spices, your favorite holiday music and revel in a beautiful, natural environment.
Shopping and Gift-Giving
This one is loaded. It is Pandora’s Box wrapped up in shiny paper and a pretty bow. Once you open it, though, the simple act of buying a few gifts snowballs into a frenzy of buying more, more, more. It seems to be the gift that keeps on giving. It’s the perfect example of making choices based on what you believe other people think. And, this, of course, taps into “are my presents good enough?” and “well, they bought me something so I have to buy them something.”
The American Psychological Association found that the related areas of money and gifts are huge stress triggers. In their study of holiday stress:
62% of participants report lack of money as a source of holiday pressure.
53% report commericialism and hype as a source of stress.
47% feel the pressure in the giving and receiving of gifts.
35% worry about credit card debt.
The answer? Set your boundaries and limits early, and stick to them.
I found this out by accident. Several years ago I had very little money to spend on gifts. I devised a plan. Little did I know that it would transform my holidays into a season I love and appreciate.
Here are some of the keys:
Decide for whom you are buying presents. Make your list early so you have time to make adjustments after some reflection. Does this serve your vision for the holiday?
Decide on a limit. For instance, if you are buying gifts for children, decide on how many gifts you will give. With my own children, I give one large gift, and three small gifts (What do I mean by small? A pair of fuzzy socks). When we give with overabundance to the people in our lives we desensitize them to the meaning of the gifts. Less really is more.
Put a moratorium on gift-giving and receiving. Call friends and family and suggest a no-gift policy for the holidays. You might say something like, “I was thinking about how to make the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable. I really think we should consider enjoying one another without exchanging gifts. We’ll save money and we’ll have more time to really enjoy what’s important.” Those first few phone calls were scary, but in the end every single person I spoke with was relieved.
Give gifts with intention. They will be more appreciated, remembered and will have more meaning to the receiver. For instance I have a friend who just finished purging her home and redecorating. A gift for her home, even something as small as an organic, beeswax candle, will be more meaningful to her than the latest gadget.
Go back to your original gift list and revise it. When you shift the way you view gifting and align it with your holiday vision, your gift list will shift too.
The act of gift-giving is not only a bank-account zap but it also extremely time-demanding. Imagine if you used all the time you took shopping and wrapping to walk around looking at everyone’s decorations, or going for a “holiday walk in the park” with a special friend followed by a pit stop in a cafe. Doesn’t that sound more like holiday cheer? And do yourself a favor, stop reading all the holiday flyers, advertisments and emails. Wasting your time on marketing does not serve your holiday vision.
Look beyond the superficial tones and really find the heart and soul of the holiday season. For me, that means being on the lookout for opportunities to show gratitude and generosity, such as bringing the holiday to a homebound neighbor, for instance. It also means slowing down, simplifying the entire experience in order to amplify my connections to the ones I love. It’s time you will never regain so enjoy every moment you can.
A final word on parties. Accept the ones you want to go to. Period. For the others, suggest getting together after the New Year. Besides, you will have something to celebrate … a less-stressed you!