Finally, I’ve figured out a few saner, safer ways of surviving the holidays other than pouring myself down a beer bottle. (Although if it happened to be a bottle of Highland’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale, it’d be a sweet way to drown.)
My first, albeit baby, steps to stress reduction at this time of year include keeping holiday time simple in terms of travel, scheduling, gift giving and wrapping.
My childhood memories—wondrous, hand-drawn Norman Rockwell ones—remain fogged by the lens of nostalgia. Some of my adult memories, fogged by the lens of alcohol, include miscommunication, stress and general pissiness. High expectations, excessive family togetherness, carbohydrate overload and brandy-infused eggnog can combine with the combustibility of gunpowder during the holiday season.
So I’m striving to reduce holiday stress and give myself the space to enjoy the time. Without drowning.
One change that’s helped me in recent years is that my immediate family stays home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Traveling between extended family groups became a carousel of forced merriment, exhaustion, cranky kids and ripped panty hose. Just thinking about the ride makes me feel barfy.
We still travel some, but those two days have become sacred stay-at-home days. We’re here, all seven of us (including the pets), in our little villa. Expectations are low. There’s no ordained schedule of events. I can lounge around in my jammies and drink coffee all day, a decidedly saner way of drowning.
Sometimes I miss the rounds of parties, family events and dress-up that accompany those two days I used to spend in Atlanta. I miss my parents and sisters and huge, extended Southern family there. But not pulling on pantyhose at 10:30 on Christmas morning makes me very happy, indeed.
I’ve also stopped sweating the gifting. I enjoy giving presents, particularly the unique, eclectic and silly varieties. So now, whenever I see a gift that strikes one of these chords, regardless of the time of year, I buy it and stash it. In late November, I weed through the gifts and assign them to various family members. I’m often delighted to discover fun gifts I’d forgotten buying, such as the bull’s skull I once purchased for my Dad (he works in investment banking). When I’ve sorted the existing gifts, I make a list and check it twice, and usually end up at Amazon.com filling in the holes.
Nor do I sweat the wrapping. If you’ve ever watched kids opening presents, you know the resultant shredding is comparable to that of a herd of cats in need of claw sharpening.
I reuse gift paper and gift bags, and have a supply of soft cloth bags that I recycle indefinitely. I let my kids wrap some of the gifts—a huge waste of tape—but it keeps them occupied for a couple of hours. My goal with wrapping is to keep most of the presents mostly under cover until Christmas morning. And away from the cats. Aesthetics be damned.
Saying no to just a few of the expectations, some of which are mine, keeps me somewhat sane during the holidays. Just remind me to reread this column in November 2008.
Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville. She covers a number of topics (including parenting) on her blog, www.EdgyMama.com.