November 3, 2019

Simplify the Holidays

I see it. I smell it. Holiday season is in the air. The time we careen down the road to Christmas. (Feel free to substitute for your holiday tradition of choice.)

Gifts. Food. Beverages. Parties. Family time. Sounds great! Until it’s not.

The holiday season can be stressful for many reasons. It’s expensive, time-consuming, noisy and bright. It promotes wasteful consumption, heightens family dysfunction, and exacerbates loneliness. On top of that, it’s a lot of work (mostly for women).

I don’t want to sound like Scrooge. In fact, I love many of the seasonal trappings: food, lights, music and family time. However, when we go overboard, or when things don’t measure up to our unrealistic expectations, we end up tired, stressed and disappointed. No wonder people eat and drink so much this time of year.

We all know the Christmas card depiction: a cozy house surrounded by deep snowdrifts, smoke wafting from the chimney and a wreath hanging on the door. Through the brightly lit window sits a beautifully decorated evergreen set off by a blazing fire and stockings hanging from the mantle.

Despite the fact that this postcard perfect Christmas doesn’t really exist, we still expect it. We want the best yet we often underestimate the time and effort it takes to pull that off.

A few years ago, I decided to take back control. Although I don’t believe I grossly exaggerated with regard to the holiday festivities, I found myself cooking, baking, decorating and socializing a bit too much for my liking. I wasn’t having much fun because I was pressuring myself to live up to an illusion.

So over time, I started to cut back to the point that now, I employ a very simple and minimalist approach. I know that those of you who live for “everything Christmas” won’t necessarily relate to my method, but I think the majority of people would be happy to ease up on themselves just a bit.

Here’s how I made my holiday season more relaxed and pleasant.

I decorate less. I gave away a large number of my Christmas decorations. Now (much to my sister’s chagrin) I put up a small, and often weird, tree (my current one being a 60” artificial, pre-lit twig tree). Other than that, I set out a trio of angels that I received many years ago. Last year, I put up a small outdoor tree on my veranda, and I’ll likely do the same this year simply because I think it’s welcoming. My no fuss, no muss approach means I can decorate and dismantle in record time.

I cut back on gifts. I don’t remember what I got for Christmas last year, and if we’re being honest, a large number of gifts end up in a closet, broken, or re-gifted.

I cut most people off my Christmas gift list and advised them I didn’t want gifts either. When I do buy gifts, I focus on consumables like food and wine or gift certificates. My adult children get any combination of money and grocery/gas cards. If they’re around, I’ll usually throw one or two small things under the tree for them to unwrap (think underwear, socks and books).

I slashed the Christmas baking. Unfortunately, my kids and dinner guests never ate as much as I thought they would so my delightful confectionaries would sit in the freezer for ages or I’d end up giving them away. I enjoy baking but now I make one thing (a pan of squares or a couple dozen cookies), buy a box of chocolate, and open up some chips. I enjoy preparing a nice Christmas dinner (my mom brings something and volunteers to make the gravy) but I don’t cook enough for an army. Who needs relentless leftovers?

I keep my social calendar light. I’m an introvert so this works well for me. I count on having family for Christmas dinner. Other than that, I attend no more than one or two holiday-related social events. I generally avoid Christmas craft fairs, and I rarely attend holiday shows or concerts which, of course, is easier now that my children are adults.

Life can often seem like a stream of never-ending commitments, and unfortunately, the heightened activity of the holiday season can bring many of us to the breaking point.

This doesn’t mean that the holidays are inherently bad. Where we get it wrong is trying to do too much for too many at the expense of ourselves.

I realize that scaling things back can be met with a few howls of protest or even guilt-tripping. However, better to deal with that than be exhausted, stressed, burned out, bitter and resentful. In my experience, keeping things simple allows me to be more relaxed, energized and present to those around me. In my books, that’s a happy holiday.