10 ways to not freak out before the holidays

Softly blurred white Christmas lights, stockings, and Christmas tree

We’re living in a freaking pandemic. Time to cut yourself some slack

So many people this year (mostly women, let’s be honest) are feeling like they are falling short preparing for the Holidays. Before I turn this into a feminist screed about unpaid emotional labor (which will only make both of us more angry), I wanted to give you some handy real life tips for turning your stress down from 11 which don’t require immediate and swift deconstruction of the patriarchy. For now.

Tip one: Decide whether you have time or money or neither

If you have tons of money, by all means, throw money at the problem. Instead of home baking something, send a fucking all out balls to the wall cookie arrangement or call up your local specialty store and have them put together a tower of treats. Order the best fucking pears you’ve ever had in your life from Harry and David and have them sent to everyone you know. Buy experiences– tickets for a play, one of those cool subscription boxes (my niece and nephew loved the Universal Yums one). And please, if you have extra money on your hands, I will absolutely help you spend it on thoughtful gifts for a small consulting fee 😉

If you don’t have lots of extra money, but you have some time, think about using your time wisely. If you have any crafty instincts, now’s the time to get that done. You don’t want to be trying to hot glue gun a Rudolph nose to a personalized picture frame at the last second. Believe me that does NOT end well. Try for something you can do as a kind of assembly line for multiple gifts. As many people as possible get the same kind of thing, with differences here and there for their fave color palette or motifs or animals or member of BTS. If you aren’t crafty, you can artfully put things together. Buy some picture frames and download and print things to go in them. Write a lovely, personalized note of appreciation! A poem! A song! Less is more. Just be thoughtful.

Tip two: Aim LOW!

Theoretically, living in apocalyptic times should make us more adept to using our FUCK IT button and writing shit off. Will the world be a better place if the kids get the perfect present? If your mother in law is finally impressed with one goddamned thing? NO! And yet. There’s been so much loss, and things look pretty fucking ominous for the future. We still want to indulge ourselves in moments of magic or possibility. And if not for ourselves, for others who have suffered more change and loss than ourselves.

Now is the time not to give up on magic and possibility, but to edit. What was the truly meaningful thing about a particular tradition? Take a minute and think about the feelings behind something you’re stuck on doing. When you identify what that feeling is, you can focus on creating an experience or a food or a present that fulfills that emotional need, without needing to recreate or fabricate from scratch something that doesn’t fit for today.

Tip three: Get adventurous

In my husband’s family, they always ate lasagna for dinner on Christmas. I’ve heard of family meal traditions that make me scratch my head… from stuffed goose to fresh carp (kept alive in the bathtub!) to ordering Chinese Takeout. If your ritual is something that is too laborious, or for some reason just doesn’t feel right this year, SCRATCH IT. Have everyone stay in their pjs and make a taco bar and watch movies. Pair up with other friends and each cook a dish and drop it off at the other one’s house so you’re not responsible for a whole dang meal. Order from a restaurant and just re-heat it. Have a Chopped-style competition where everyone in the family does their own version of something and everyone compares. YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DONE. Traditions are just things that stuck because one person liked them. If you don’t like what this holiday turns out as, you can always do it the old way next year!

Tip four: Health and Wellness isn’t optional

Do NOT put time and energy into seeing people who aren’t vaccinated or taking health and safety precautions. Don’t.

Send them their gift (or not). Call them or FaceTime them (or don’t). They are making the decision, not you. If they are torn up by you having healthy boundaries, that tells you something, and it’s not about your worth. It’s about their capability to be a healthy and good influence in your life. Here’s some sample text:

I’m so sorry (name), but we won’t be able to celebrate (holiday) with you this year. I understand this might be upsetting, but we’re just not comfortable risking (our health/your health/our sanity).

And then do not engage in any back-and-forth. Anything they say, you simply answer “I’m sorry you feel that way.

Tip five: Something suddenly came up

If you just feel NOT RIGHT in one way or another, that’s as valid as anything else. We are tired! Some of us are still in mourning! Holidays are always so fraught! If you are not up for conflict, but need a goddamned break, I’ve got you. Here’s a great thread of advice from the amazing CZ Edwards, who is a writer and a therapist. So like IT IS OFFICIAL AND GOOD ADVICE! It was written prior to Thanksgiving, but would work equally well for any other holidays.

Tip six: Take the lowest or most odious thing on your to do list and cancel it

Can’t bring yourself to put up a tree? Don’t!
Worried about getting holiday cards out on time? WHY ARE YOU STILL MAILING HOLIDAY CARDS?
Feeling overwhelmed about all the cookies you usually bake? NO ONE LIKES THE FIG COOKIES ANYWAY. Or buy them!
Stressed out about cleaning the house for visitors? Limit the rooms they can go in! Or tell them they should stay in a hotel!
Hate everything your brother in law says? BUY AN AIRHORN!

Tip seven: Talk to others and set expectations

People are generally pretty amenable if they are warned ahead of time. If you’re struggling to pay bills and can’t spend on Christmas this year, TELL THEM. If you’re just not into something fancy or being around lots of folks, MAKE YOUR GATHERING SMALLER. Feeling like things have gotten too materialistic? Make a pact to only spend a certain dollar amount on everyone and be creative about it. Trying to minimize the amount of shit in your house? TELL OTHERS YOU DON’T WANT THINGS.

It’s ok if others aren’t 100% on board with YOUR plans. But at least you’ve minimized your own stress. Let them worry about their own stress.

Tip Eight: Survival

It’s easy to rush around so much that we forget to eat. We forget to drink. We aren’t sleeping well. We skip workouts. Try as much as possible to keep (or, hey, establish) good routines. If you starve yourself, if you are dehydrated, if you’re overtired or grumpy, you may make it to the actual holiday and feel like a scoop of shit on an ice cream cone. I know the temptation to eat cookies in lieu of meals and look, it’s a valid meal replacement for one or two meals the week leading up to a holiday. But you aren’t going to feel your best if you’re not doing the other things that help your body feel good. So, carry around a big ass water bottle and make sure to drink. Don’t leave the house without it. Not feeling like cooking? Go buy some healthy prepared food. Or some frozen shit but also maybe one of those bagged salads. Eat three mandarin oranges a day. You don’t need to suffer to make everything fine for everyone else EXCEPT yourself.

Tip nine: Focus on others

Your family driving you up a fucking wall? Are you just OVER everything and everyone? Feeling down about humanity and humans? Then pull back and focus on things that are meaningful. Donate money in someone’s name to a nonprofit. There’s so much good to do right now.

If you’re concerned about: Homelessness and scarcity
Donate to: Your local non-religious homeless coalition, soup kitchen, toy drive

If you’re concerned about: Voting rights
Donate to: Fair fight, Democracy Docket, the ACLU, League of Women Voters

If you’re concerned about: Abortion and body autonomy
Donate to: A state’s abortion fund, Planned Parenthood, Trans organizations

If you’re concerned about: Media and journalism
Donate to: Outside Voice :), DAME Magazine, or Mother Jones

Make a commitment to volunteer once a month (either by yourself, with your BFF, or with family) for a cause that’s near and dear to you. Serve in a soup kitchen. Put together care packages for the unhoused. Clean out cages at the local animal shelter.

Tip Ten: Don’t forget who you are just because it’s a holiday

Stay grounded in your values and beliefs. Remember that you are more than how festive your house is, how impressed your neighbors are, or how many boxes will be in your recycling in the next week or two. You don’t have to be a different you to get through the holiday season. In fact, you’re lovable and generous and helpful when you are being supported by others. December/January doesn’t have to be a roller coaster between excess and regret. At least if you don’t want it to. Be kind to yourself and listen to yourself and give yourself and others the grace to just be.

Softly blurred white Christmas lights, stockings, and Christmas tree