If you are like me, I look forward to the latter part of the calendar year with both anticipation and dread. “Happy Holidays” has taken on new meaning these days. Some lament how commercial and expensive Christmas, for example, has become. Unfortunately, those same people continue to spend money they don’t have and pretend to make merry attending events they’d rather skip.
Families spend more time arguing or running around tiring themselves out instead of enjoying each other’s company. The beginning of the following year is fraught with holiday bills that won’t be paid off until summer.
None of this sounds very happy and yet most of us repeat the same routine each year. What’s the definition of “insanity” again? Anyway, the cycle doesn’t have to continue for yet another year. The one beauty of holidays is that they come around every year. If you don’t get things just so this time, there will be a “do-over” in another twelve months.
Also, Christmas is not the only holiday on the calendar. It is one of the most recognized so everyone’s stomach knots up when it’s mentioned. And there are others that can stress you out, make you cranky or cause logistical nightmares. Before Christmas, there is New Year’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Yikes!
Each person has their opinion of what makes a holiday good, bad or indifferent. It depends on how much you and your family have invested in each event. Halloween might not mean as much unless you have kids or if it was a big tradition growing up.
Whatever your holiday dreams and wishes, make them come true in the best possible way the next time around. Begin by learning how to recapture the positive feelings that continue to elude you. Keep reading and find out how to make a change for the better, how to maintain a stress-free atmosphere for yourself, as well as a few tips for some of the more common holiday times that cause digestive distress.
It all Begins with “You”
Happiness is a choice. Who hasn’t heard this uttered a million times? Fortunately for all of us, it’s true. What happens when the holidays roll around? We begin to discuss how last year’s celebration was anything but. Reluctantly, we accept party invitations, agree to have the family gathering at our house, spend money on gifts (for Christmas), decorate the entire home (including bathrooms), max out the credit cards and put by a stash of alcohol to get through some of the more trying encounters.
The big question is “Why?” Here’s the answer. Tradition, though irritating and hectic, is comfortable. People don’t like change much and that includes you. It is easier to complain and proceed than to step out and introduce the family to something better. What if they disagree? What if they don’t want to go along with it? The truth of the matter is that they are going to complain anyway if events remain unchanged, so what’s the harm?
So, let’s decide that the holidays are too hectic, expensive, stressful and not at all good for you or your family. Specifically, what makes you unhappy about how the holidays operate around your home? Make a list. Before any successful change can be made, the need for the change must be identified and understood. For instance, Christmas dinner might be an ordeal with the grandparents, aunts and uncles in your home. The issue behind the dinner could be that your uncle drinks too much or that everyone decides you should host (so you are cleaning before and after the event). Address what you feel the problem to be and figure a way to turn that negative into a positive.
The truth about change is that, in the beginning, it only affects you. No matter how much you desire it, others won’t follow your example unless they want to. In light of that fact, learning how to present your suggestions will go a long way towards the acceptance of what you are trying to accomplish.
Make your point all the more enticing by including the reasons you feel the change is necessary. Maybe you miss sitting in front of the fire and telling Christmas stories or having dinner at one big table on Thanksgiving. Sitting and watching scary movies and eating snacks might be the most enjoyable thing to do on Halloween. Flesh out your ideas for new traditions as much as possible so you’ll be prepared for any questions that will surely arise.
Present your ideas to the family group. Do it as far in advance of the holiday as possible. Bowing out of the family trip to the beach a week before Memorial Day won’t go over well with anyone. The time frame will vary depending on the types of plans you traditionally make for each event. So, if you want to change the Christmas gift giving policy, do so during the summer, preferably when the family is together for another celebration. Time may make your idea look more appealing.
Put the Spin on It
Present your ideas in a positive light. Here’s a good example that many of us can use. If Christmas has become too commercial, decide that you will make gifts this year. Everyone will know what you intend to do. Now, you are not suggesting that they do the same, but for your reasons (too commercial with less meaning) that is what they will be receiving from you. Anyone can follow suit if they choose. Now the ball is in their court. Family members can choose to still spend lots of money on gifts if that makes them happy but it will be their decision as this has been yours.
You might find that they were thinking the same thing but were afraid to voice it to the group. Singlehandedly, the entire family fortune has just been saved by your bravery. New traditions are not bad, just different. It might be time for something exciting.
One word of advice: Resist the urge to elevate your idea by bashing what you do already. Painting the current holiday traditions as pricey, selfish or “never your idea” won’t help your case one bit. People don’t respond well to unrestrained criticism (as you probably already know from all too memorable family gatherings).
Don’t become discouraged if you meet with resistance. Like we said in the beginning, bad and familiar is more comfortable than better and unknown. Ease into the changes by not getting your hopes up too high. At least one person will be in good spirits and that will be you for taking charge of your holiday joy. Cheer is contagious, so it won’t be long before they begin to look for ways to make their enjoyment of a particular holiday more complete.
Tips for Enjoying the Holidays from Start to Finish
Now that you are on board with turning the holidays into the happy times they were meant to be, it’s time to go one step further by putting that into practice. Stress and holiday events seem to go hand in hand but they don’t have to. Here are a few ways to remove this potential impediment.
Stop the madness before it begins – What about the process makes you cringe? It could be preparing all of the food for family dinners or decorating your yard or indoor rooms. Some people dread attending all the events or traveling. Decide what stresses you out and create a plan for avoiding it this year, once and for all.
Build on traditions – If getting together at your home is a holiday tradition, make it less stressful for you by instituting a potluck dinner idea. Everyone could come together a few days before and decorate (for holidays like Halloween, the 4th of July and Easter), to make the house festive. This limits the amount of work you have to do and increases the relaxing time the family will spend together. Give each family member a different task for the holiday gathering to avoid one person completing all the work.
Learn to say no – Do holiday parties, cookouts and events tire you out? Maybe you have decided to spend more time with family. Determine which events you don’t want to miss and only attend those. Instead of accepting invitations right away, say that you will “think about it.” Over committing oneself is a good way to increase your stress level.
Keep a family calendar – Are the kids attending a Halloween party? Do you need to make snacks for the office Christmas party? Will your grill be the center of attention for the 4th of July? When you can look ahead and see what is coming throughout the year, planning a detailed schedule is much less complicated.
Celebrate your “to do” list – Lists might be old-fashioned but they are still the best way to keep up with what needs doing. It could be written on a nifty little tablet or within an organizational app on your phone. Write out what steps are needed to complete the celebration prep on time. Go as far out as possible, time wise, to integrate your extra holiday tasks with normal daily activities. The feeling of being overwhelmed is one reason people fall into stress and ill feelings during festivities.
Take time for yourself – Each and every day, set aside time when you are the most important person. As parents, siblings and children, we wear many hats. The best time, for you, might be at the beginning of the day. Meditate, read a good book, exercise or listen to music. Set yourself up for the day and the tasks ahead. Mental and physical well-being plays a major role in handling potentially stressful situations.
Nurture yourself – This differs from the above point because it refers to healthy habits. Eat a proper diet full of vegetables, lean meat and grains. Get plenty of physical activity at least 30 minutes a day. Sleep for at least seven to eight hours a night. Keep the lines of communication open between you and your family. Since holidays are traditionally a time for putting healthy habits on hold, it is even more important to develop a routine of good care beforehand.
Have a Plan B – It doesn’t hurt to have a contingency plan in place in case something goes wrong. And, if it’s a holiday we are talking about, something is bound to happen. If the plan is to cook at your house for Easter, having the oven go down might be a small problem. Investigate a caterer or grocery store catering to feed the family so the dinner can proceed.
Keep everyone in the loop – How many times have you heard from a family member that they didn’t get the message about one change or another? Social media is such a handy tool for family members to keep in touch these days. Create a family page where members can post comments, pictures, questions and more, just as if you were all in the same room. Start a new post for each holiday gathering as early as possible so plans can be made, issues discussed and dealt with, and a positive outcome experienced by all.
Don’t sweat the small stuff – Holidays are hard enough. When you make positive changes for the sake of family bliss, things are not going to be perfect from the start. Accept that the holiday won’t be a picture. As long as it’s good, memories will be made. This attitude also cultivates an air of thankfulness and gratitude. Reflect on the good points of your holiday celebrations as you work to make them more meaningful and enjoyable.
Calendar of Happy Events
Several times a year, you will be challenged to make memories for your family. As early as you can, begin to plan the particulars of your festivities.
New Year’s Eve – Decide if you will attend a party, stay home or host a family gathering. Since drinking is usually part of the fun, traveling from party to party is not a good idea. If you do, take a cab.
Easter – Plan egg hunts on a different day than the holiday dinner to avoid too much activity all at once. It’s hard to hide eggs and cook at the same time.
Memorial Day – Make travel plans well in advance to get the cheapest rates for this busy holiday.
Fourth of July – Stay safe. Attend fireworks shows instead of setting off your own. Use safe grill practices to avoid fire, explosion and injury.
Halloween – If you have kids, decide if you will trick-or-treat or attend a holiday party. Get costumes and decorations several weeks early to avoid the last-minute rush.
Thanksgiving – Make travel and lodging arrangements, dinner menus, hosting choices and activity ideas several months in advance, so other family members can plan to attend and assist without it being a financial burden on anyone.
Christmas – These plans can begin as early as summer, especially for the gift giving portion and travel plans.
The reason for holidays is to celebrate – history, family, tradition and just pure fun. Stress is nowhere in this equation at all. Reduce your anxiety and increase your laughter with a few tips and a lot of advanced planning. Don’t dread the next go-round of events because it might be just like last time. Decide that you are going to fix what stresses you, put family first and look at the holiday big picture instead of all the little things that weren’t quite right. Faux pas make the most entertaining memories anyway.