I’m officially done with my teaching duties for the semester. I spent four hours this morning proctoring my students final exam. With teaching over for a few weeks, and only another week of lab before going on holiday, I’ve been preparing to celebrate Christmas.
This week I mailed our holiday cards, and the tree is completely trimmed. My display of collectible holiday houses is up, and we even have lights on our front porch this year. The only thing left to do is finish ordering presents and wrapping. With just 10 days until Christmas, it’s comforting to know that all my ducks are in a row for my favorite holiday.
This serene feeling has not always been most pervasive during the month of December. Surviving the holidays has been more like it, and a quick Google search of the phrase finds over 17 million hits alone. Clearly I’m not the only one who has felt overwhelming pressure to get the holidays ‘right’ (whatever that means), yet I can’t help but feel saddened that one of the most magical times of the year actually ends up being chock full of stress and anxiety.
My holiday stress would usually start if we didn’t get our Christmas tree right away after Thanksgiving, as if the holiday decoration Gods would strike me down for committing such a senseless act. There was and still is a checklist in my mind of what it takes for the holidays to be special. What has changed is my approach to the idea that everything has to be pulled off just right in order to have a good time. The perfect example is my approach to Christmas day dinner.
In years past I would make an entire meal from scratch, ham or a turkey with all of the fixings, whether it was just my husband, stepdaughter and I, or more family and friends were joining us. This is a lovely tradition. Who doesn’t like to see a beautifully set table, and eat a delicious meal together with the people you care about? Guess what, restaurants can also have nicely decorated tables and depending on where you go, the food can be just as delectable as at home.
This is our new holiday tradition, Christmas lunch at the same restaurant every year. I get turkey, my husband gets prime rib, and we enjoy each other’s company without the stress of a mountain of dishes waiting in the sink. What makes it extra special is that we only go to our Christmas restaurant on Christmas, not any other time of the year.
I’ve also learned to say no to certain things during the month of December so that I can spend my limited energy and time on what is really important to me. Invitations to parties that I’m not terribly excited to go to? I’ll pass. Spending hours and hours in the mall shopping for presents? Online delivery please. If I’m not genuinely excited about doing it, then I’m not going to do it just for the sake of the holidays. Baking cookies and other treats from scratch is a fun activity I enjoy, so while it is festive (especially if you use red and green icing), it’s fun for me to do and doesn’t feel like a chore.
Are there nonnegotiables that I always do regardless of how tired or busy I am in December? Absolutely. Mailing out Christmas cards is one of them. I truly love hearing from my friends and family across the country during the holidays, and just letting someone know that I’m thinking about them with a card is extra special to me. I also attend a yearly production of the Nutcracker, early in December which just makes the month start out on a festive note. This tradition has special meaning for me so it’s easy to motivate myself despite cold weather and looming work deadlines.
Whatever the holidays mean to you and your family, I hope you can shift your mindset from that of survival to one of serenity, and if that doesn’t work, spiked eggnog might do the trick (I promise I won’t tell).