One of my most vivid childhood holiday memories is looking at my mother in mid-December and wondering why she looked like she was going to cry. She professed to love the holidays. Our white flocked tree looked like it was out of a designer showroom, no two ornaments alike. She planned elaborate meals, shopped ‘til she dropped and wrapped the most fantastic packages ever. She would spend hours decorating her special spice cookies to look like Santa and angels and snowmen.
Fast forward a few decades, and I get it. The meals—pre-food processor and microwave—took hours of preparation; the endless pile of packages were multiplying in the closet faster than her arthritic fingers could make a fabulous bow. And those fricking cookies were out of control. I tried to do them once, and it looked like there had been a homicide in my kitchen. (And red icing dye does not come out of the holiday apron… or the rubber spatula, or the laminate countertop…) My parents ran their own business, and as entrepreneurs know, you still have to do bookkeeping, pay payroll, and keep the business running while the rest of the world takes a holiday.
So, here’s advice from a mom of two and a grandma of five: With a nod to local humor author Kathleen Rhodes, embrace the word “adequate.” There’s no secret scorecard for overachieving here. If you are feeling miserable and overwhelmed, you are not doing this for yourself, so stop. Trust me, no one will notice. And as the child of a chronic over-achiever, let me share something with you: I would have much rather my mom run down to Roselyn and buy cookies and given in to the pre-tied bow than look like she’d been run over by a reindeer.
You are not alone in the holiday stress you may be feeling. According to the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of people surveyed said their stress level increased during the holiday season. Participants listed the top stressors: lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, the pressures of gift-giving, and family gatherings. A similar poll by Principal Financial Group that surveyed more than 1,000 adults revealed that 53 percent of people experience financial stress due to holiday spending, despite the fact more than half set budgets for their holiday spending.
Sure, there are tips like “plan ahead,” “make a budget” and “treat yourself,” but if we were inclined to do that, we probably wouldn’t be feeling this stress (and that list exists in 100 places, so it’s silly to recreate it for you). Yes, we want to do nice things for the ones we love … but if they love you back, it won’t upset the holly cart if you don’t make your own mincemeat, re-create Martha Stewart ornaments and stage the perfect family photo with matching jammies.
There’s a lot of talk about “the reason for the season” that emphasizes spending more time with the ones you love versus frenetic gift giving and event planning. In many cultures, the winter is embraced with a natural slowing down, celebrating the quiet peace one can find in a fresh snowfall. The Danish embrace “hygge” (creating a cozy, restful atmosphere during the winter months) and Iceland all but stops in its tracks to read a book by the fire during Jolabokaflod (the flood of books). Perhaps giving way to our body’s natural rhythms during the season combined with embracing “the perfectly adequate holiday” will lead to a happier, healthier you. Happy (adequate) holiday!