The Holiday Season – Oh My!

by Christie Shumate McElwee

“It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.” – Ram Dass

The holiday season is supposed to be joyous, right? Carols sing to us from every store. Twinkling lights line each street. Santas are at the mall, on corners ringing bells, and watch us when we sleep. Amazon packages pile up on porches. Cookies and other sweets deck our festive tables. 

Our calendars begin to fill with family dinners, children’s concerts, class parties, shopping expeditions, and special holiday events. We wrap presents. Meals are carefully planned. Lists grow every day.

As the obligations pile up, so does anxiety. Is there enough money to cover presents and fun activities? How do I handle family issues? Will I be able to juggle scheduling conflicts? What about the weather forecast? Will all the lights work? How many trips to Target will be required? Did I mention family issues? How is it possible to conquer all this and still enjoy the season?

Last weekend my husband and I hiked some local trails that look out over a river. When we reached the top, right there on the top of that bluff, I shouted, “Take my holiday anxieties. I release them to you. They no longer own me.” After I made this offer, I immediately felt lighter. Yes, I realize it was ceremonial, but often rituals help clear away the fog.

What I have grasped over the years is that is it important to let go of tightly-held expectations. Holiday traditions can be revised. This is not an easy task, though. Clinging to certain customs may give us a sense of satisfaction, but in order to breathe, we must learn to release what doesn’t serve us or our families. We need to ask ourselves, “Does it give me joy?” If it only causes frustration and stomachaches, then it may be time to reevaluate.

Do we have to send Christmas cards to every one of our friends? Why not send cards to those special individuals who have touched us throughout the year? Write a short note, detailing how they make your life better. Or just text. Or forget the whole thing. Whatever makes your life easier.

What about presents? Are we required to get presents for everyone on our lists? If finances are tight, explain that you are passing on physical gifts, but will instead offer up your time. Schedule dates in the next year for a movie or coffee or just a walk around the neighborhood.

Is it necessary to attend every holiday concert, event, and festival? Instead, why not pick one or two that you love, or search for a new experience? You are not required to fill every day on your calendar from now until January 1. I promise.

What about holiday decorations? You ask, “If I don’t deck my halls, some may call me Grinch or Scrooge.” It is okay to pass if you are not up to it, or if you have a toddler who is a walking destruction team of one. Maybe just string some twinkle lights up on the mantle instead of dragging out the boxes of garland and ornaments. You do you.

What if bad weather disrupts plans? Realize you have no control over the weather. No. Control. It’s the freaking weather. It is always good to have a Plan B or even a Plan C, but if a huge snow storm blows in, power up the FaceTime or Skype or Portal and sit down together to a meal, even if someone is stuck at home or an airport. It will end up becoming a great family story to tell someday.

What about those dang family issues? Uncle isn’t talking to a cousin. Aunt insists on bringing a green Jello dish that hasn’t been on the menu since 1976. Grandpa wants to loudly pontificate about his politics as he downs his fifth beer. Grandma wants to help, but she’s just in the way. Mom is resetting your table. Everyone misses Dad. Adult children are at their in-laws’ holiday meals, again. I don’t really have any great fixes to the family crap, but breathing helps. And yoga. And meditation. And that bottle of Chardonnay, but that’s just me. If you end up finding the magic elixir to solving it all, let me know. I’ll pay you for your services. 

I guess the bottom line is to channel your inner Elsa and “let it go.” Let go of expectations that everything should be a picture postcard of what you think the holidays should be, and instead just smile. If you are a young parent, just enjoy the chaos. It goes by so damn quickly. If you are a teenager, remember to put down your phone and offer to help your parents around the house. You’ll be gone from their home soon enough. If you are an empty-nester and things aren’t what they used to be, create new traditions. If your kids can’t come to you, go to them. Or take a trip by yourselves. Lounge on a beach. Climb a mountain. Don’t be rigid. Have fun.

For the past few years, my husband and I have taken a long walk or hiked on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, depending on when our families decide to celebrate. We laugh, snap a few pictures, get lost, and find ourselves during these expeditions. This year we plan to head to Forest Park again on Christmas Eve to commune with the bears at the zoo, and then have lunch and a few drinks at the Boathouse. Our tradition. Our joy.

I hope you find yours.

“I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up – they have no holidays.”

Henny Youngman

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