“Oh, sure,” I can hear you say, “how am I supposed to relax when holidays mean having five times as much to do as usual? I mean, just living my everyday life is busy enough! Now on top of everything else I have to shop for and cook several huge holiday feasts, clean up after them, decorate, buy gifts, wrap gifts, and send holiday cards. If I relax, I’m likely to collapse in a corner and not come out till after New Year’s.” Which might sound sort of appealing, actually.
But the holidays are meant to be sources of joy, right? So what do we do to rediscover the joy?
Here are some of my suggestionswith an invitation to share yours, too.
Really, all of these ideas are variations on a theme. You’ll see.
1. Go to Roots of Your Holiday Traditions. When I remember to bask in the candlelight, to see that light reflected in the faces of those I love, to spend time singing carols with my community of creative mavericks, and to be grateful for the return of new light and hope and joy in the darkest time of year, then my heart settles. Reach deep into your own heart for the images, symbols and activities that give the holiday meaning to you.
2. Say No. For many years, I persisted in trotting out activities that my son had really outgrown, all in the name of tradition. (In that case, he was the one who said “No” in his way, by refusing to participate!) And I did so many time-consuming things (sending holiday cards, for example) that I truly didn’t want to do. And somehow the roots of the whole holiday season started getting lost in the muck and mire of my own exhaustion. You may truly enjoy sending holiday cards, so in your case, go for it! But I finally gave it up, and that gave me more time to take walks in the snow with my family or to sing a carol or two beside the tree. And I’m not much of a partygoer, so saying no to the fifth one this week means saying yes to more time connecting with the quiet.
3. Accept Yourself and Your Limitations. When I really looked at my reasons for doing so darned much every holiday, it all boiled down to this: I was afraid. Afraid of not being a good enough mother, or hostess or person. Afraid of not pleasing people, or being liked. Aging has given me many gifts, not the least of which is making peace with who I am. I figure that people will either like me for that or they won’t like me at all, but knocking myself out trying to please everybody is not likely to help anybody much. My work schedule is insanely busy these daysand mine isn’t the only one. Just yesterday, a friend and I agreed that the best gift we could give each other this year is to say, “No gifts!” for each other. If you have a big family, you might consider doing a “children only” gift-giving, or do what my mother’s numerous relatives do: put names in a hat and have everybody pick one. Gone are the days when I had time to labor for hours over handmade presents for everybody on my list. I actually love making gifts and wrapping them, so I will try to fold some of that in, but I have to accept reality, and my life is just not as spacious as it once was.
4. Simplify. A friend told me she would be spending a relaxed Thanksgiving with her loved one cooking all day, because that’s what they enjoy doing together, and then eating leftovers the rest of the week. But the meal itself, she said, would be simple, just things they both love to eat. What if we took this as our watchwords for the holidays? Make it simple by only doing what you love. I remember my mother slaving away for hours making elaborate holiday meals that were consumed in 15 minutes. Then, utterly exhausted, she would seethe with resentment. Resentment is poison, and I could feel it all through my childhood. What was the point? If it feeds you, do it. If it exhausts you, don’t. Which reminds me: I want to give my mom the gift of a massage or a spa day this year, to replenish. She deserves it after all those holidays.
5. Buy Less. It occurred to me several years ago that it wasn’t up to me to keep the machinery of the retail business moving along at a brisk clip. Most of the folks I know have enough “stuff,” and are busier trying to get rid of it than wanting to add to it. Plus, times are tight, and some of us loathe shopping malls. So, we’re opting for gifts of an experience (tickets to a concert, or a trip to an art museum together, or a full-on astrological chart and reading). And if we do buy gifts, we try to support local artisans and shop-owners, rather than big chains or corporations.
6. Reach Out. One thing many of us like to do is sit down with our families and decide which good cause we want to donate to this year. We have so many choices. Some of us adopt a wild animal through Defenders of Wildlife. Others sponsor a hungry child. Others put in a few hours cooking at a homeless shelter, or dropping off clothing donations to a battered women’s center. It can give us a lot of joy to know we’re making a difference, and the more joy we feel, the more our very hearts and souls relax.
What are your ways to relax during the holidays? Please share