Reader, do you know this song?
In case you don’t, it’s a song about the “hap-happiest season of all” (don’t you just want to punch him?). That’s right: the holiday season. My dear friend, Mrs. Kwood, and I have a running joke on this song. We’re apt to leave a sung rendition of it on each other’s voicemails, or text a snippet of lyrics. This song has become a bit of comic relief for me when the holiday preparations are getting me down.
And I’ve been thinking a lot about holiday preparations, and how they can sometimes get me down. I’ve been thinking of the long list of extra things that need doing: shopping, wrapping, Christmas cards, baking, cooking, decorating. And of the wee ones’ holiday concerts and parties at school. I’ve been thinking of all the heaped up excitement and expectation that I feel I’m on the hook to satisfy.
I remind myself that the lists and tasks and expectations are not what the holidays are all about. I know this, and yet, somehow finding that balance of a holiday that’s sufficiently special vs. my energy and stress levels — it’s never easy to find.
This year I’m trying to be extra-aware and more careful about how much I commit to during the holidays. I’m trying to choose the most important and least intense traditions to keep. The church I grew up in celebrates the season of joyful waiting called Advent. Although my faith is infinitely more complicated than it used to be, I’m trying to sink deep into that joyful waiting. Every night at dinner we light a candle and say a prayer especially focused on waiting.
Another peaceful, easy tradition: each year we pull out the Christmas books — a beautiful collection of stories my parents have given us over the years. The kids love reading and looking through them. My favorite of these books is A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. I have my own ritual of reading through The Penguin Book of Carols, which helps me channel the ancient sense of peace and awe the holidays inspire.
As for other preparations, I think I’ll limit the baking to three must-have favorites: windmill cookies, sugar cookies, and chocolate covered toffee. We’re not traveling this year, which makes logistics and budget much easier (but heartache much harder!). We’ve never been huge gifters: one big thing from Santa, a book and something “needed” (socks, underwear) from Mom and Dad; and stockings that always contain a toothbrush, an orange, and a dollar, amongst other, smaller treasures. We always do a hot dog roast for Christmas dinner because, by then, who’s not exhausted?
And, as always, I’m reminding myself that healthy food and enough sleep are important for managing stress and energy levels.
Meanwhile, when I feel my stress levels rising, it helps to belt it out: It’s the mooooost wonderful tiiiiiimme of the yearrrrrrr!” Or call Mrs. Kwood to commiserate (reason #548 why we need friends). Or just sit down and put my feet up with a hot cup of tea and a book of poems.
What strategies to do you have for staying peaceful and sane during the holidays? I hope they’re serving you well.