It’s December, and the air is filled with the scent of mulberry candles, evergreen boughs, fresh baked gingerbread… and the pungent odor of stress-induced sweat oozing from the pores of everyone of us who has bought into the lie that if we aren’t skiing, skating, jingling, caroling, wassailing, dancing, shopping, baking, wrapping, trimming, or feasting our way from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day, we’re failing life.
There are the parties: office parties, classroom parties, house parties, group and club parties, community parties, school concerts, church concerts, community concerts.
There are the gifts for friends, coworkers or boss, teachers, family, and if television and Pinterest are to be believed, everybody you meet on the Twelve Days of Christmas.
You must also clean and decorate your house to Martha Stewart perfection, pile thoughtful and beautifully wrapped gifts around your tree, and park his and hers Lincolns in the driveway.
On the big day, you must prepare a juicy, golden brown turkey ringed with cranberries and rosemary sprigs, a green bean casserole, and an 18″ pumpkin pie with a single dollop of whipped cream in the center.
Now, to be fair, some people absolutely love the shopping and decorating and socializing, and if you are one of those people, that’s totally cool. You don’t need me to validate your feelings; the whole world does it for you!
There are many reasons for holiday ambivalence: financial stress, introversion, too little down time, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and painful associations. Whatever reasons you may have for dreading the hustle and bustle of the season, the added stress of unrealistic expectations won’t make it more enjoyable.
Usually, our home is Holiday Central for extended family: my twin brothers and their families, my cousins and their families, and our grown children. We clean and decorate, plan, shop, and cook. All while doing our regular work, but admittedly not many parties or concerts.
A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law had a health scare in November so my husband wanted to visit over Christmas. I couldn’t go, so he took my uncle (who lives with us) and went to visit for the week. Our daughter had just started a new job and couldn’t come home, and neither could my cousins or my brothers. It was just me and our two boys. The three of us stocked up on snacks and pizzas and drinks, and spent two days in our pajamas. On Christmas morning, we read the Christmas story from the Book of Luke. They played video games, I read a book, and we watched movies. No tree. No gifts. No stress. No guilt. We all went back to work a couple of days later feeling rested and refreshed and happy.
That might be a little too simple for you, and it’s not how we usually do things. But that year, at that time in our lives, we needed rest more than we needed feasting or tradition. And that’s OK.
This year we have put up a tree and outside lights. We will host a small potlock party for my book club, and about half of my family will be here for Christmas dinner. We will each put a small gift the others’ stockings, and the children will have gifts to open, and I think we’re going to have pizza and snacks because we just had a big Thanksgiving feast. That way we’ll have more time for games and puzzles and pajamas.
What will you do? I encourage you to say ‘Yes’ to those things you want to do or that are important to you and your loved ones, graciously pass on the things that aren’t, or that overextend you. If you can’t afford to or don’t want to participate in gift exchanges, let people know. Respond to unexpected gifts with a prompt, handwritten thank you rather than the hasty, guilt-prompted reciprocal gift that will make you both feel awkward.
Be kind to yourself, true to your beliefs, and forever grateful.
Mary Kunst lives in Forsyth, Montana with her husband, uncle, dad, two sons, her dog, and her dad’s dog. She is an expert on nothing, but has made a lot of mistakes and at almost 49, is starting to figure some stuff out.