The holiday season. I liken it to an express train on a long, straight track: You can see it coming from miles away, but you don’t realize how fast it’s approaching until it’s flying by, leaving your ears ringing, your hair a windswept mess, and the pit of your stomach churning with unspent adrenaline.
With several decades of adulthood, parenthood, and small business ownership under my belt, I’ve gotten better at preparing for the madness that marks the end of each calendar year. My mode of preparation, however, probably looks a little less than standard. Sure, you’ll find me RSVP-ing for a party or two, and picking up presents for my daughter, parents, and dear friends. I’m also not above pureeing some cranberries, hanging lights, or trimming a tree. And on the business side, juggling schedule adjustments, financial paperwork, and season-specific client care is par for the course.
But for me, the real prep work is an inside job. My version of “getting into the holiday spirit” entails fortifying the mind, body, and soul for what will inevitably be a tumultuous period — and helping others to do the same.
So, grab a cup of hot cocoa and let’s talk strategy. By the time we’re done, even the Three Wise Men will be asking you for advice.
Make a List and Check It (More than) Twice
When I say “list,” I’m not referring to a guest list, a gift list, or a grocery list. I’m referring to a gratitude list, which is something I’ve mentioned to the ModernMom community before. Writing out the things that I’m thankful for has long been a daily practice of mine, and I find it to be more essential than usual in the lead up to the winter holidays. Why? Because sustaining a holly, jolly attitude for nearly two months is quite a taxing task. At some point, even those with naturally sunny dispositions can start to feel frostbite from overexposure to the typical stresses of the season.
Reserving five minutes each morning to zero in on the areas of your life that fill you with joy year-round can not only keep you grounded throughout the blizzard of ribbon-candy-coated festivities; it can help you to prevent the holiday hangover effect that traditionally chases New Year’s toasts — whether champagne is involved or not. And bonus: This can be a solo practice (for those parents who need “just a second, honey,” to restore their sanity), a family bonding activity, or both. However you choose to employ it, a gratitude list is the gift that keeps on giving.
Forgo the Reindeer Games
From the moment we swap out our jack-o’-lanterns for twinkling lights, the world can start to look like one big window-display in which each one of us — willingly or not — has been installed. Once we allow this “see and be seen” mindset to take hold, we can easily lose sight of what is really important to us. Baking the best pumpkin pie for your family’s Thanksgiving get-together, securing the ultimate kid-gifts-of-the-moment for your youngest relatives, selecting the snazziest possible outfit for that unavoidable office party… Left unchecked, such external pressures can easily turn the most wonderful time of the year into the most competitive, most frustrating, most exhausting of time vacuums.
We have a choice here, though. We don’t have to let societal expectations dominate our thoughts and inform our behavior, and we certainly don’t have to let them trickle into tiny minds more impressionable than our own. Just as gratitude lists can keep us centered amidst the general holiday hubbub, so can regular value checking keep us from becoming embroiled in the “anything you can do, I can do with more tinsel” mentality.
About that pumpkin pie: Do you actually enjoy baking? If so, great! Make up your mind to bake your best pie, not because you need your sister to know that you always have been better with a whisk, but because it will bring you satisfaction — and share that satisfaction with your kids by welcoming them into the kitchen. They will be absorbing more than just culinary skills; they will be taking in your healthy holiday energy, as well.
When it comes to picking out presents, redirect your efforts: Instead of trying to figure out what will make the biggest bang when the wrapping paper is ripped off, spend a bit of time determining what might be most meaningful or useful to the recipient. If they love coloring, by golly, get them that 64-count Crayola pack. And again, your kids can be part of the process, from purchase to packaging.
As to costume choices, no one will care who wore that “it” dress better in a month or so. Wear what makes you feel comfortable and charismatic — something that allows you to shine naturally, with or without sequins. (And if you know you’ll be standing around a lot, take my advice when I say forgo the heels. Your feet will thank you.)
Gather Near to Faithful Friends
For many, this Thanksgiving may mark the first opportunity to see family and friends in person — and even for those still “gathering” at a distance, the holiday likely holds even more emotional weight this year than it did last. It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t experienced some form of loss nowadays, and on a global level, grief has had a palpable impact on our collective energy.
There is, however, a silver lining to the trauma and tragedy with which the world is currently grappling, and that is a greater awareness of just how vital and valuable human-to-human connection is. That means that when we finally do meet up with our loved ones, whether physically in the same space or in a Zoom room, we have the chance to bond with and relate to each other to a deeper degree than ever before.
If, for instance, you and your siblings lost a parent or your tightest circle of friends lost one of its beloved members, Thanksgiving dinner has the potential to be a healing event — a much needed moment to swap remembrances and stories about the person or people who have passed on, and to raise a toast to the impact they had on our lives. As a group, you will be able to generate the strength, the inspiration, and the motivation you need to begin moving through the pain, sadness, and emptiness of loss. Your shared love for each other and for the departed will fill you up more than any delicious seasonal dish, and it will help you to look toward the remaining festivities of the year with hope and heart.
Whatever the season ahead holds in store for you, know that your spirit is fully capable of braving it — and if you need a bit of guidance along the way, I am happy to be a resource. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and feel free to reach out to me personally via my website