We have a really fun post-holiday tradition as a family.
We try to get started around the end of October and just go all in. It’s takes a level of focus and determination to accomplish our post-holiday tradition at the highest level. As in, you gotta start early if you want to pull off this particular post-holiday tradition with excellence.
Our post-holiday tradition is this: each January, after putting ourselves through a hectic holiday schedule of travel and performances and late nights and decorating and baking and shopping and stress and sleeplessness and cleaning and party after recital after concert, we usually spend most of January sick with colds and stomach bugs. And if we’ve really pulled out all the stops, we can sometimes get all kinds of lingering illness to spread through a good part of February.
We come out of what is supposed to be the magical time of year as the most medicinal time of year.
I could be off here, but it seems like that should be something we aim to change.
When I visit with other parents and kids, I often find their experience is similar. We all look forward to the chunk of weeks in November and December where turkeys are carved and gifts are wrapped and carols are sung…but somehow, the pacing turns frenetic. In our mania to build memories, many of us misstep into miasma of merrymaking that leaves us stressed and worn out, instead of renewed and joyful.
What if we reclaimed holiday as holy days? Days to pause. To reflect. To soak up family and refresh relationships? What if we made that the cornerstone of those frenzy of weeks between now and the end of the year?
Here are some things I’m going to put into place this year that I hope will serve as preventive medicine, figuratively and literally, as merrymaking goes into high gear.
1. Predetermine how many holiday events you’ll attend or host…and then stick to that number.
Every year the November and December calendar starts off looking a bit more flexible~and then by the time I look again, we’ve got work parties and neighborhood gatherings and special galas leaking from every calendar square. If we aren’t deliberate about firmly fixing some nights to be home, those nights will get gulped up by a carnivorous calendar commitment that sidelines a well-intentioned philosophy of a relaxing holiday season.
2. Pick a smaller number of gifts per family member…and then stick to that number.
Okay, I’m the worst about this. I’ll ‘finish’ Christmas shopping. And then I’ll see that one more little thing that would be so funny or so cute for one of the kids. And then I have this need to balance out that gift with an equal number for the rest of the kids to try to make everything ‘fair’. Let’s not forget, I’ve got eight kids. So the particular level of mania this ‘just one more gift’ tendency ushers in is crazy to behold, with a pile of unnecessary items and a credit card begging for mercy. Don’t be like my usual self. Rein it in, my friends. Rein it in.
3. Pick a number of miles you’ll travel…and then stick to that number.
We typically travel over a thousand miles during the holidays in our big ol’ beat up 15 passenger van. On occasion, we’ve doubled that number, traveling for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and sometimes New Year’s. What the what? Triple travel is the exact opposite of relaxing. And I’ve also found that if we are spending the majority of the holidays traveling, when we arrive back in Austin, it feels like the holidays went speeding past us and we never got to celebrate with just our immediate (admittedly large) tribe. I see families making them selves nutty trying to visit all kinds of wide-spread extended family. Consider making some of those treks during the off-season. You’ll be able to commit greater focus to those relationships without the pressure of creating holiday feasts and sparkling family photo ops.
4. Pick a percentage of less crazy you’d like to see over the holidays…and then dial it down.
Don’t be embarrassed. You’re safe here. But this is important. It’s time to confess. Who here has done the ‘tree in every room’ thing? Who’s done the ‘decorate every inch of every surface that can possibly be decorated’? Who’s got some kind of religiously fervent belief that things you would never hand-make in your real life must somehow be artisan crafted during the holidays by your own little worn out fingers? Back in the day, I had full-out decorated trees in every room, hand-made Christmas minutiae, enough baked items that I should have also included syringes of insulin, and every inch of the exterior of the house covered in twinkle lights, with all kinds of festive debris in the yard. And I did it all. Every year. Guess what? The holidays will still happen if you dial it down. Memories will still be made. Sugar confections, whether purchased or home-baked, will still be regretted come January. Back off the décor by 25%. Back off the Christmas cards by 25%. Back off the stress by 50%.
5. Let some things happen organically over the holidays…and enjoy.
Many of our favorite holiday memories happened in spite of our best planning and frantic activity. The Christmas we got iced in at my parents. The Thanksgiving we went coastal and grilled steaks on the beach. The year one of my brothers and his wife literally tent-camped in our backyard because there was no room in (okay, no funds for) the inn. Sure, to pull off presents and meals and pictures, there’s a certain amount of thought and organization that needs to occur. But the real magic of the season is the moments of side-splitting laughter and the surprise snow storm and the reaction to a gift that you didn’t think would be a big deal. That is the treasure we seek. Not laminated spreadsheets designed to ‘conquer’ the holidays. Leave margin. Love what happens in the margin.
So that’s the plan this year, to end the Let’s-All-Get-Sick-In-January-From-Holiday-Fatigue tradition we have embraced too closely for too long. I’m going to attempt to turn over a new leaf. I’d love to have you join me. We’re going to pare down, simplify, cut down on the travel, enhance the margin.
And vitamin C. We’re going to up our vitamin C.
Happy Holidays Kick-Off, y’all. Let’s be merry. Let’s keep it merry.
Let the games begin.