Thursday, December 13, 2012

How to Enjoy the Holidays (and save your sanity)

I know, that sounds contrary to what most of us anticipate about Christmas and celebrating a new year, but I have my reasons. There is far too much stress around most holidays.

For those who have recently had their hearts broken, lost someone dear to them, lost a job, seen a financial decline or anything else that puts a damper on their mood, listen-up. You are hardly alone and you can get through this.

Every one of us has certain expectations about what should happen during the coming weeks. Traditions must be adhered to, and should not be altered in any way. Forget the nutmeg in the eggnog always consumed after church on Christmas Eve -- blasphemy!

Menus for certain meals are written in stone and heaven forbid the cook forgets to serve Grandma’s rutabaga casserole even though everyone hates it! And cookies . . .? Well, lets just say there can never be too many varieties. Even if she/he who must mix, roll-out, cut, bake and decorate stopped enjoying that activity years ago, the cookie jar (if not several) must be filled to brimming with beautifully decorated, delicious cookies in several varieties -- it’s tradition!

Timing is also crucial to the success of the Christmas celebration. If someone wants to sleep in on Christmas morning; forget it, especially if there are children in the house. If they sleep at all, they’re always up before the sun chomping at the bit to dive into all their gifts. [When I was little “Santa” would leave our stockings outside our bedroom doors in hopes of occupying us until breakfast hours later. While grabbing them from the hall floor, we tried to stifle the stupid bells on them, but usually gave ourselves away to a light-sleeping parent.]

The person who is probably the most stressed during Christmas is the one who does most of the cooking. I, for one, never have been good at timing dishes to be done at the same time. It also seems that meat and poultry have a mysterious and arbitrary way of deciding when they will reach the correct serving temperature. Can’t tell you how many times everyone has been seated at the festively decorated table, candles lit, hungry as bears waiting for the main course to reach serving temperature. Other carefully prepared dishes sit cooling or warming (remember, there’s always a Jell-O mold) until they lose some of their appeal.

I won’t even touch on the fact that children are seldom satisfied with the gifts others have so thoughtfully made or purchased for them. That and the fact that during the course of the day, often the boxes gifts came in become more interesting than what they contained.

No, the way to survive and perhaps enjoy the holidays is to go into them with absolutely no expectations.

Being pleasantly surprised when things go well is so much better for one’s soul than being disappointed or frustrated when inevitable glitches happen.

If the top layer of the Jell-O mold slides off when being removed from its mold onto it’s special platter, so what -- it will still taste good. Dump it into a bowl and add a spoon.

If the old family dog loses control while everyone is opening their gifts on the family room floor, turn your grimace into a patient smile, grab the paper towels and mop it up, knowing that s/he is excited, too.

If you aren’t gifted with that special something, get over it and keep your disappointment to yourself. Buy it for yourself if it’s that important to you.

If someone has too much to drink at dinner and turns rude or lewd, in advance, ask someone to gently escort the offender into another room to keep watch over a special candle set out just for that purpose. It becomes his/her responsibility to make sure it doesn’t burn down to low. [I’m sure you can come up with something better to handle these difficult situations.]

Last, but not least, ask the cook/host specifically what you can do to ease their burden during the day. Don’t push if you’re told everything is in hand, but look for opportunities to help like picking up discarded paper napkins, empty glasses/punch cups.

Distracting tired, bored, hungry, angry, whiny children can be a huge gift to everyone. If you know there will be children where you’re spending Christmas day, try to think of simple activities to do with them. Even loops of string can keep them busy if you know how to teach them to make a cat’s cradle and all those other funky shapes with string.

Gratitude for others’ efforts to please you are always best expressed at the time, followed up in writing -- on actual paper in your handwriting. Getting a piece of mail other than a bill or advertisement is special. It doesn’t cost more than a couple of dollars and a couple of minutes to make a lasting impression.

Holidays are about family ties which can be mixed blessings. Relatives may not be your favorite people but we make the effort because we share history and roots. And, thankfully, we gather for just a few hours, right?

So . . . . Relax. Don’t worry if you cannot get everything done that you think you “should” do. Do what you can, get enough sleep and remember that no one is perfect, including you.


Mark said...

This is such a good post. You had me smiling too. Love the idea of the stockings by the bedroom door. Your parents were so smart!But I would have lost that bell, ensuring even more sleep.

Your so right about the stress involved with holidays. It doesn't have to be.

dcpeg said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Mark. As for the bells, we were forbidden to remove them . . . *sigh*