The holiday season is all about traditions ‒ but what if the traditions you grew up with don’t resonate with your current, authentic self? I grew up with an extroverted mother who invited everyone to our family holidays. Although I thought she was the kindest, most hospitable host, I also saw her body pay the toll as she spent weeks preparing for parties! When it came down to it, I never once saw her truly sit down, enjoy her own cooking, or engage with guests.
As I transitioned into adulthood, I found myself trying to walk in my mother’s domestic footsteps and found that I simply didn’t enjoy it. Instead, my party preferences lean more toward intimate, casual, and impromptu gatherings. In short, the planning, preparation, entertaining, decorating, and cleanup during the holiday season are way more than I was willing to tolerate and completely outside of my comfort zone. After many years of trying, I embraced my authenticity and quit trying to live up to others’ expectations; consequently, I stopped hosting large holiday gatherings.
My feelings aside, the holidays still come with expectations around them. I’ve gathered some tips on how to embrace your passions, stay in your comfort zone, and experience as little stress as possible this holiday season.
1. Hire Help
If you struggle during the normal week to cook dinner, you’ll likely be even more stressed out during the holidays. Contact friends and family who know caterers or personal chefs and contact them to help you, with not just the cooking but also the food shopping and preparation.
Although I love to cook, I work long hours and am a single mom. I must be realistic about my time and how much I can handle, and it feels great to pay local chefs to prepare most of the food. Not only is it always delicious, but it’s also a wonderful way to support others in what brings them joy and purpose.
If this is not within your budget, you will often find that your local food markets and restaurants offer holiday catering ‒ and it isn’t that costly, all things are considered. Remember, time is money, too. You can also do a potluck and assign your guests to contribute parts of the meal, from appetizers to dessert, so the cost of the entire dinner doesn’t land on you.
2. Plan Ahead
Preparing, cooking, and freezing dishes ahead of time will alleviate the pressure and anxiety that comes with day-of holiday cooking. These festivities happen every year, so planning the menu in advance can ease the mental load.
On a different note: With everything that’s been happening in the world over the past two years, there certainly could be some charged debates around the dinner table. If you know there’s polarization among your loved ones, set loving boundaries and inform your guests that you’d rather no one talk about certain topics. If this doesn’t sound like an option for you, then create your own terms.
If you’re approached by anyone provocative, kindly decline to speak about that particular topic, practice a response in advance so you’re not caught off guard, or graciously excuse yourself from the discussion. The important thing is to focus on your own behavior and not that of your relatives. Take control of your own engagement and set a centered, loving example.
3. Get Creative
No doubt, the holidays are expensive, but they don’t have to be a financial burden on you and your family. There is no reason one should have to anticipate spending buckets of cash on loved ones, especially when, as a collective, we should be much more conscious about consumption and the effect it has on our planet.
Instead of having holiday cards printed, save some trees and consider sending digital greetings. Get crafty and make gifts using materials you have around your home; you might be amazed at what you find! Homemade gifts are precious and meaningful. This could include a scrapbook of photos of your favorite memories together or a cookbook filled with handwritten favorite family recipes.
4. Tone Down Gift Giving
Speaking of getting creative, consider doing a gift card exchange. Rather than buying every single family member a gift, get everyone to agree on a set budget and have them purchase a single gift card to throw in a hat. This way, everyone gets one great gift card, and this reduces all the contemplation, list making, and expense of traditional gifts.
Figuring out what to buy someone is very personal and can often be the most stressful part of the season. In this case, if anyone ends up with a gift card they don’t want, they can trade among themselves. I personally love gift cards that offer experiences such as restaurant meals, amusement park visits, cooking classes, art classes, escape room events, and spa treatments.
5. Know When to Take Breaks
Know your limitations. If you feel that you may be hitting your breaking point, excuse yourself. Take a walk around the block, get some fresh air, offer to hold a sleeping baby, wash some dishes, go sit at the kids’ table, find a quiet room, or lock yourself in the bathroom (something I have, admittedly, done many times). Understanding when you need a break and then taking one is an act of self-love, and it’ll help you better manage anxiety and show up for others as your best self.
6. Downsize Your Guest List
Although recent events have probably taken care of this, you shouldn’t feel obligated to host large get-togethers this season. Smaller, more intimate gatherings allow for quality conversations, and we get to enjoy one another’s company. Many of us have not seen our families in a very long time, so use this as an opportunity to reconnect in a meaningful way.
7. Set a Schedule and Delegate
Write down on paper everything you hope to achieve, from your highest priorities down to the least important things. But don’t forget to include self-care: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to say no and cross some of the tasks off your list.
You don’t have to attend every holiday party you’re invited to, and there’s nothing wrong with picking up prebaked treats or having your loved ones share the responsibilities. If you’re serious about making your holidays as stress-free as possible, then learning to delegate is essential.
8. Practice Mindfulness
If you don’t already have one, consider establishing a mindfulness practice before the holidays. Having something in place to prepare for any issues that may arise can help you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, allowing for feelings of calm during moments of stress. The practice can include meditation, deep breathing exercises, repeated mantras, restorative yoga, mindful walking, and binaural beats sessions.
9. Do Everything in Moderation
We tend to overeat and indulge during the holiday season, and we’re often sedentary, which can make us feel unhealthy. Try to maintain your regular eating habits during the holidays as much as possible and limit your sugar and alcohol intake.
Finding Joy Amid the Stress
The hard reality of today’s climate is that many of us are unable to travel to be with loved ones over the holiday season. If this is your situation, know that lots of people around the globe are feeling disconnected and far from home, too. In anticipation of this, plan a virtual gathering, prepare your favorite dish, watch some comedies, treat yourself to something special, and know that you’re truly and deeply loved.
Ultimately, remember to do what makes you happy and brings you joy. The holidays are not about being perfect or showing up as someone you’re not. This is a wonderful opportunity to step into your authentic self and to gift yourself with some real self-love and compassion.