I’ve always loved this time of year. When it’s starts getting dark early and cold with a few light snowfalls, I know one of my favourite time of year is around the corner. Something about the cheerful atmosphere, colourful lights and cozy nights inside focusing on hobbies that have languished during the summer. This is what the holidays are like for me these days. It wasn’t always like this, they used to be stressful with all the running around, hustle to get stuff done and expensive with gifts. And then I realized that all traditions and gift giving are OPTIONAL.
Path to Holiday Enlightenment
The path to stress free, or mostly stress free holidays had a lot of twists and turns. I love the idea of traditions, they create memories. Often though, we get lost in the mechanics and routines of traditions instead of upholding the underlying ‘raison d’être’. Or in other words, the intention or reason that started the tradition. There are three main components to re-engineer your holiday to be as stress free as possible. It isn’t rocket science but when you’re in the midst of stress and doing things a certain way without thinking about it (because that’s how it’s always been done… or at least a long time), what’s straight forward can become less obvious:
- Understand the why of a tradition and what you want to get out of it
- Tailor existing traditions or make new ones
- Change how you approach it without changing the tradition
Understand the ‘Why’
Growing up in a french household, the réveillon was our christmas tradition. In a nutshell, kids are woken up first thing christmas morning (midnight) and get to open their gifts, and stay up until they fall asleep wherever they are. While the kids are busy playing with their toys, adults stay up late into the early morning enjoying food, cocktails, dancing and catching up with family.
When I started ‘adulting’, I couldn’t wait to host and replicate what I had grown up with. I had so many great memories. The novelty of hosting quickly wore off after the first couple years and I realized this just WASN’t fun. At all. When I stopped to think about it, I realized as an adult, what it really did was give everyone a chance to get together, relax, have fun and catch up. It was the time spent with everyone.
Ok cool, so getting together with lots of family was in line with the ‘why’ and what I wanted and valued, but it still was too stressful and not all that enjoyable. Is that really part of being an adult? The same things were just less enjoyable because now you had to do all the work to make it happen? I wasn’t going to accept that easily.
Tailor existing traditions or make new ones
We’re nostalgic about tradition because a repetitive routine or plans had meaning and becomes a representation of emotion or ideas. In the beginning though, it’s just a means to an end, a vehicle of accomplishing something. People grow, families and situations change, traditions have to evolve and grow to stay relevant. If the intent behind the tradition just isn’t important to you, or it isn’t accomplishing what it’s supposed to, then eliminate it. Sometimes it’s that easy. Stopping for a few minutes to question why we’re doing something and whether it still makes sense.
Awesome! So it’s always that easy? Sometimes but… not usually. What happens if the reason behind the tradition still works and it’s important to you? Figure out what’s changed and how to do it differently.
Spending quality time with family was important to me during the holidays, and the réveillon did that. But it wasn’t the same anymore. So what changed? Everyone lived further apart. To keep getting together under one roof meant sharing of prep work was no longer balanced AND a disproportionate added burden for cost and traveling. Once I could see what had changed, it was quickly obvious what options I might have to alter the formula, getting back to
quality time + family = fun memories
In this case, I changed the tradition a bit. Instead of trying to see EVERYONE every year around the holidays, I would take turns every year visiting clusters of family. And every so often, we would have BIG gathering at christmas.
Changing your approach without changing the tradition
Another option, obvious from the title, is changing how you get there without changing the end result. Essentially, take what makes or contributes to the stress of said tradition, and find a better way of doing it. On years of big family gatherings, we start planning much sooner. This helps with cost of traveling and hosting not to mention generally having a better chance to avoid the last minute time crunch. Here are some ideas for common stressors
- Avoid travel during holiday season. Spend it with family and friends that are within a few hours drive.
- Instead of spending extra on everything: gifts, travel, food, etc, pick one area to spend your money. If you’re doing the traveling, don’t spend money on gifts. Your company IS the gift.
- Gifts are optional. Have a no gift policy. Or agree on options to limit the cost: gift exchange, price limit per gift, only for kids 18 or younger, DIY gifts, etc
- Take turns hosting
- Make the planning and prep work for hosting part of spending time with family and friends.
- Make special ‘dates’ with friends where you teach each other a holiday recipe that help supply what you need, then have a chat over wine after.
- Don’t have a sit down dinner, have a buffet!
- Pot lucks are also a popular option
So there you have it! Not rocket science but a few points to keep in mind that you can quickly refer to if you find yourself in the midst of holiday madness and wanting to reduce holiday stress.
What are your favourite traditions and tricks to reduce stress during the holidays?