Here we are, in the last and craziest month of the year, when everything seems to move at warp speed. Everyone’s running around like a bunch of squirrels on espresso (as is our national tradition), buying Christmas and Hanukkah presents, going to parties, checking our budgets twice — and trying to keep it all together.
I’m definitely not immune to this manic pace — I’ve had a few crazy days in the last few weeks myself, believe me — but it’s nothing compared to how I used to be. You see, a few years ago, I figured out the secret of slowing down the holidays and not losing my mind. While I can’t follow my own advice as much as I’d like, here’s the holiday game plan that I try to stick to each year:
“Just say no.” I have become very choosy about the things our family does around this time of year. We map out the really important stuff, add a few fun extras, and keep it really, really simple. We probably have a much quieter holiday than most people, but it works for us!
Check yourself — When Your Pulse Starts Racing, Take a Deep Breath: Here’s an up-to-the-minute example. As I was wrapping some gifts yesterday, my 6 year-old son kept taking the paper in an attempt to make airplanes out of it. Well, when I found his little stash of F-1 bombers, I nearly lost it. Out came mean mommy and the words, “How many times do I have to tell you ‘no’! That’s not for you to play with!” Luckily, I caught that fingernails-on-the-chalkboard tone in my voice and realized I needed to ratchet it down a little. I had a cup of tea, took a deep breath, went to my son’s room and said, “You know Honey, I’m not sure if there’s enough paper for all these presents. Can you use some scrap paper for your airplanes instead” He was fine with that, we hugged, and I felt much calmer. Which brings me to my next tip:
Remember to breathe: A wise woman gave me this advice a few years ago. She said, “You’d be surprised how often we forget to breathe when we’re stressed and upset.” So true. So unclench that jaw, take a few deep breaths and stretch when you think of it. Even small moments of peace can have a powerful impact in your life.
Pick a few activities that add meaning to your holiday. Start new traditions: My family was never very big on Christmas. It was a hard time of year for both my parents (let’s face it, it’s a hard time of year for a lot of people out there) and so in many ways, it was a holiday to get through, not to enjoy. As an adult, while I’m not a huge Christmas person, I do want to create some new traditions with my family to make the season warm and bright. The activities we do are just small things, really — making cookies, listening to certain music (Charlie Brown Christmas is my favorite!), seeing our friend perform in an annual concert, and going to church on Christmas Eve night.
Don’t go overboard with gifts, and take your time opening them: My friend Julie Falatko at World of Julie advocates doing “slow Christmas.” She and her family open presents one by one, play with them, take breaks to eat or what have you. The kids really enjoy their presents and there isn’t that frenzy of paper tearing (and the inevitable anti-climax) that comes with the orgy of Christmas morning. I have also found that a few well-chosen gifts mean a lot more than tons of things my son will stop playing with in two weeks.
Give something to someone who could use a hand: I heard a wonderful story last year about a man who gave presents to a single mom and her child every Christmas. This mother could not afford any presents whatsoever (she was just scraping by) so their neighbor anonymously left a bag of presents at their doorstep every Christmas for years. Inspired by this story, for the last two years we’ve been buying a winter coat and donating it to a child in need in our community. I take my son out shopping, we pick something out, and give it to the shelter in our town. I love seeing the look on my son’s face when he chooses the coats each year — he really is starting to think about what it means to help people.
That’s the list so far, but I am certain I’ll keep adding to it over the years. (I just hope I can follow my own advice!) I’d also love to hear any ideas you have for slowing down the pace and reducing stress around this time of year.
Here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season!
About Elisabeth Wilkins
Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.