[This first appeared on December 19, 2010, and I thought you’d appreciate it this week, too]
I wonder if you’re heading into the coming “magical” Christmas week with slightly more than a teensy bit of anxiety? So much to do, so little time. A lot of moving parts, and moving people. Gifts to get, food to prepare, people to be polite to (it’s that last part that’s the real challenge, huh?).
As Ricky Ricardo might say, “Ai, yi, yi, yi, yi”.
If you’re beginning to feel like all you have to do is endure the next week, take a deep breath. This 4-Step Holiday Survival Guide will turn things around for you.
Oh, it’s possible. Yes, I know your track record. I heard about the year with drunk Uncle Ralph, well… ralphing. I recall the Christmas of Misplaced Nuts and Bolts. And, of course, the never to be forgotten Year of the Stomach Flu.
Four things. That’s all you have to remember to not only get through this week, but to really enjoy it.
1. Have no expectations. This doesn’t have to be a Christmas to remember (great song, but sorry, Amy Grant). The more you push to make it “magical” the less likely it is going to be magical. You might have an expectation that the True Christmas Experience means handsome mother and father in matching Christmas sweaters sipping a hot toddy before the fire while their well-behaved children play quietly and reverently with their well-appreciated new toys. Honey, unless you live in Stepford, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Everyone has wild cards in their families. A puppy. Or toddlers. Or teens. Or Uncle Ralph. I’m just sayin’.
If you’re single, or newly divorced, or newly partnered, or newly widowed, holding this unattainable expectation of the fabled True Christmas Experience in your heart and mind will only bring you suffering. Drop it. Love what you’ve got. Oh, of course, recognize the learning in the yearning and work toward getting some of that – connection, belonging, love, perhaps – into your life another way. Maybe by volunteering at the food bank or mentoring a struggling reader. Remember: You can create what you want.
2. Be present. I mean: when you’re with people, look them in the eye. Participate in conversations. Help with the dishes. When you’re checking your office email, or mentally checking off your to-do list, you’re not really “here”. You’re “there”. When you find yourself with alone time during the holidays, be equally present. With yourself. Feel how you feel. Pay attention to the book you’re reading. Really taste your food. If you’re present to yourself, you’ll be a fuller person, and, voila!, much happier.
3. Find the fun. Let’s just say it out loud – the holidays are hilarious. You are making the stuff of family legends, folks. To tell you the truth, memories of the unintended humor inherent in Christmas gatherings can keep me going through the dark, cold days of February, like when Andrew ate potpourri, thinking it was a snack (priceless). Or, like the time my friend Karen and her family woke to the sound of “Crash (tinkle, tinkle, tinkle)” to find the Christmas tree had toppled, the ornaments had all broken and sappy tree water had run all over the gifts (OK, they laugh about it now). Oh, and remember that spontaneity can be an instant fun creator. Have a snowball fight. Or a margarita party. Dance. Do the Wii with great-grandma (I bet the old girl could nail Beatles Rock Band).
4. Give generously, not reciprocally. Yes, this is the lesson Scrooge finally learned, and we all know it because we saw the Bill Murray movie. But times are still tough for a lot of people, and what matters most is that you be the kind of person you want to be this Christmas. Want to send something to your nieces and nephews? Go ahead, do it – even if their family can’t reciprocate. And you don’t have to give Things – you can give time. Trust me on this one, even teenagers appreciate it when someone makes time to listen to them. Give because you want to be a giving person.
Oh, and don’t forget to give something to yourself this year. I mean it – find a little something that will buoy your spirits, and give you joy. Wrap it up and put it under the tree. Or give it to yourself in a quiet moment of reflection. It can be as low-cost as the gift of a nap. Or as expensive as a new car. Choose what feels right. Because taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of others.
When you hold Christmas in a clenched fist of direction and control, or focus on the keeping and settling of scores, it’s a lose-lose-lose situation you’re setting up. And you’ll have a lousy week. So, lighten up. Relax. Enjoy. And sing along as great-grandma belts out “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
She’s gonna nail it.