No, I am not advocating nudity. If you are reading this blog article as a parent, you are likely past your skinny dipping days. Whether due to stretch marks or prudish children, you no longer want to walk around naked. Instead, I am advocating that people strip their holidays down to their naked underpinnings. Find the original message of the holiday, and run with that.
How do you strip Thanksgiving naked? You can spend time learning the history of Thanksgiving (ugh, time gobbler!), or you can simply look at the word parts: “thanks” and “giving.” Ask your children how your family can create the lowest-stress, most-relaxing holiday focused on the giving of thanks. Figure out whom to thank, and how to give thanks. Be creative, but set time and money limits.
If cooking a full Thanksgiving meal causes you stress, skip the cooking. One of my best Thanksgiving meals happened at a restaurant long ago with an elderly female relative. She and her equally elderly friends had figured out that spending a holiday slaving away in the kitchen was for the birds. Why bother cooking when restaurants are willing to pamper you?
If going to a restaurant with your children creates more stress than relaxation (e.g. impatient kids, allergy concerns, money worries), then stay home. If your kids prefer pizza or pancakes over turkey and stuffing, go ahead and skip the bird. If your children insist on turkey, shape the pizzas or pancakes like turkeys. Careful placement of toppings on a pizza or pancake can win you Pinterest pride or Instagram idolatry.
If your family members insist on real turkey rather than photo-ready fake turkey, go ahead and spend the five minutes necessary to stick a dead, naked bird in your oven. Yes, the baking will take hours, but plopping a turkey in a pan and pushing the pan in the oven can take less of your time than cooking hamburgers in a frying pan. I love the simple, two-step turkey-baking directions provided by the here. Even if no one ever taught you to remove the giblets, gizzards, and gutty whatnots from the inside of the bird before baking, all will be well. Been there, forgot that.,
Another secret of easy turkey baking? Forget the trappings. If you must have gravy, buy some. If you must have cranberry sauce, open a can of it. Stuffing? Forget it or have your children destroy a loaf of bread into crumbs, toss the crumbs in melted butter, bake with or without seasonings, and call it stuffing. Voila! A low stress, simple.
Let’s do a thought experiment. Think of the original purpose of the December holiday or holidays your family wants to celebrate. When you strip your holidays down to their naked origins, do you see piles of commercialism, floods of decorations, or armies of? Of course not. If you are environmentally attuned, do you desire your holiday’s carbon footprint to be super-sized? Of course not. If you value the original intent of the holidays you celebrate, if you treasure relaxation, and if you care about the environment, you want your holidays naked.
The December holidays are harder-than-average to strip naked. If you have children, they probably want gifts for Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. If your children are culturally aware and argumentative, they might demand gifts for all three of those holidays.
The quickest way to kill gift-demanding in conscientious children is to show them The Story of Stuff and its newest sibling, The Story of Solutions. Another quick method is to tour your local landfill with your children on a gloomy day. Make sure to emphasize that landfills are forever, complete with toxins and liners and monitoring systems. If possible, take your children on virtual tours of third world countries suffering the effects of first-world consumption. The trick is to shock your children the right amount–enough that they’ll give up gifts, but not enough that they’ll need therapy.
If you have relatives, they probably want to see your shocked children over the December holidays. If possible, please include grandparents in your holidays. I speak both as a grandmother and as person who misses her own dearly departed parents and grandparents. I also speak as someone who believes that family togetherness is part of the core of holidays.
If, however, your holiday-stress-o-meter requires you to limit your definition of family to “those who live with me,” tell your extended family members that you’re planning a no-frills, non-memorable, boring, and invite them for a visit in January or February instead. If saying “no holiday visits” feels necessary but impossible, book an appointment with your therapist.
Holiday decorations, you ask? If the young people in your house insist on holiday decorations, how about delegating decorating tasks to them? If you don’t trust them to take down the decorations in a timely and tidily manner, how about requiring a monetary “decoration deposit”?
Do the sweets of the season cause you stress, possibly via hyper-children or hot flashes? Why not have a “grocery-splurge” holiday instead of one filled with sugar and starch? I love my grocery splurge holidays made possible by those rare shopping trips when I splurge on the yummiest fruits and vegetables and fish and meats and other healthy yums available in the store. By my calculations, a “grocery-splurge” meal of healthy foods costs less than a bigcomplete with desserts destine to live on hips and thighs forever.
The Calendar Overload Beast (COB)
Once you’ve experienced a December holiday season with school-aged children, you’ve experienced the dreaded Calendar Overload Beast (COB). The COB eats up days faster than a teenage boy eats pizza. In order to reduce holiday stress, you need to tame your COB.
Tame your COB by accepting only low-stress invitations. By “low stress” I mean those that require no special clothes, no gift shopping, no home baking, and no social “walking on egg shells.” Repeat after me, at least ten times: “I’m sorry–we have other plans.”
About your children’s holiday performances, repeat after me this part of The Serenity Prayer: “God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Accept that you are genetically programmed to attend your children’s holiday performances. If your children play string instruments and you have a trained musical ear, bring earplugs. If you bore easily, volunteer to videotape or usher the festivities. If you have trouble sitting still, walk to the event or park far from the venue. If all else fails, you can join the sorry herd of parents whose bodies sit in school auditoriums while their minds reside in smart phones.
If you simply must attend a certain holiday party, pray for serenity and go to the party. If you wish to avoid certain relatives or colleagues at the party, arrive early and “own” the event by standing near the door and making a point of speaking to everyone who arrives. Ask all everything about themselves, thus pushing their “I love to talk about me” buttons. Pretend you are in a blockbuster Hollywood movie and act like you are interested in all their answers. Transform yourself for the evening from introverted wall flower to a certified “don’t mess with me, I own this party” extrovert. Make it a game. If necessary, give yourself points for questions asked or answers heard. Give yourself double the points for any interactions with those relatives or colleagues you had hoped to avoid. Reward yourself for winning the holiday party game.
A Personal, Low-Stress Example
My husband and I recently enjoyed a low-stress vacation week at home. Granted, our week was a simple vacation week, not *holiday* vacation week. But if you strip your holidays down to their bare essentials, your holiday vacation time might begin to feel like ordinary vacation time.
We woke up each day, savored our morning tea, and lazed around as long as we wished. Because our bodies crave exercise, we took a long hike each day. Because we love trees, we savored the fall colors at a nearby arboretum. Because we like museums, we visited a few local ones.
For food, we enjoyed a few grocery-splurges. Once we bought fancy, expensive, healthy soups and ate them directly out of their containers. Yes, eating directly from cans or similar containers might gross out your average, American-cultured person, but in our practical minds, such behavior approximates that of naked apes relaxing in the wilderness. We love those vacation times we manage to meet our low-stress, low-cost, good exercise, fresh air, and healthy eating goals.
Let’s all aspire to serenity-filled, relaxing holidays. Let’s strip our holidays naked, down to their relaxing cores. I leave you with my very own holiday version of The Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the holiday shenanigans I cannot change,
The courage to strip my holidays down to their naked cores,
And the wisdom to know my children will recover from the shock.