I ask myself the same question every holiday season – when did the holidays become a test of endurance? When I was a child, I never wanted the holiday season to end. Now, our family advent calendar not only tells me how many days until Christmas but also how many days until I can pack away the decorations. I’m not a Grinch. I enjoy baking, wrapping presents, watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and picking the perfect gifts for the people I care about. I even host a holiday gathering at my house each year. I look forward to these holidays – until they start.
A lot of this has to do with my tendency to overextend myself, so having to incorporate holiday events and obligations into my already packed schedule exacerbates my stress level. But it also has to do with how I choose to think about the holidays. Instead of enjoying the holiday parties, I’m making a mental list of what still needs to be done to pull off my own. Instead of deciding ahead of time about what a perfect gift would be for a friend or colleague, I wander aimlessly around the shopping mall hoping the perfect gift will jump out at me. This same tendency also means I’m likely to spend more on gifts because by the time I find the right one, I’m also tired and frustrated and willing to pay whatever it costs if it means I get to go home. Cue the stress about blowing the holiday budget!
The answer may just be that we need to give ourselves permission to pick and choose what we do during the holidays. For example, shortly after I graduated from college, my mother decided to stop putting up a Christmas tree. I was horrified that she didn’t want to put up a tree. I mean, it’s Christmas! You have to have a tree! But I get it now. I really do. It’s a lot of work to put up a Christmas tree (and when you have kids and pets who want to “help” – well that’s just a holiday recipe no one is asking for). My mother opted to spend her time and energy doing other things. She was an amazingly talented crafter and she chose to use her time at the holidays to make thoughtful, hand-made gifts for her family and friends. It is what brought her joy and it showed in the love and care she put into her gifts.
It’s not selfish to do what brings YOU joy at any time of year but particularly during the holidays. It’s quite likely that by doing so, your joy spreads to those you care about. You are less stressed and more present during the holidays when you give yourself permission to slow down, plan ahead, and give the attention, time and energy to that which makes you happy. And when the holidays are over, and the New Year begins, you may just find that you still have the stamina and will to keep those New Year’s resolutions!