How to Actually Survive the Holidays

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I know this time of year, everyone encourages you to be thankful for the good in your life. Holidays, by their very definition, should be a time of reflection and gratitude.

So how is it that this time of year sometimes becomes the craziest of all? Relatives to visit, parties to attend, extra meals to make, visitors, and let’s not forget – THE GIFTS!

I grew up not celebrating the holidays for religious reasons. That’s right, NO holidays. So I was in an interesting position… I had all this time off but no added stress or obligations.

My co-workers who knew this used to tell me how lucky I was. I remember thinking, “how sad is that?” Here they wait all year for this time of year and yet when it arrives, the stress outweighs the joy.

As I left that religion, I wondered how my old beliefs would come together with my new beliefs – especially around holiday time. Would I be okay with giving gifts (yes!), eating turkey on Thanksgiving (no problem there!), a Christmas tree in my house (so far, no).

One thing I realized I wanted was a part of the traditional holidays – more time with family and friends, the fun of finding the “perfect” gift for someone – but didn’t want the stress and overwhelm experienced by the people around me. The question was “Is that even possible?”

Turns out, yes. However, I’ve needed to be very strategic about it. Here are my tips for surviving the holidays – newbie though I be!

GIFT GIVING – One thing I’ve done in the past, and will never do again, is buy a lame gift for someone simply because I “have” to. It feels forced and deprives me of that warm and fuzzy feeling of giving in the first place. There really is more happiness in giving than in receiving – when I find that perfect gift for someone.

Now when I don’t find the perfect gift, does that just mean “oh well, too bad for you.” I’m thinking that wouldn’t go over well since reciprocity is the un-written rule of gift giving this time of year. So my solution to buying a less-than-perfect gift? I either make someone their favorite treat (chocolate, sugar cookies, etc.) or offer to take them out to lunch or dinner (on me) during the holiday season when they need a break. What better offer than a gift of your time and attention?

“ME” TIME VS. “US” TIME – One reason I think people get so crazed during the holiday season is there is so much time spent tending to others. I know there are many women who love the holidays just for this reason but admit to feeling a bit haggard once it’s over.

It’s important to balance the time you spend with others with the time you spend with yourself. Holidays are supposed to refresh us and give us more energy, not deplete us. And if we’re always giving to others but not “refilling our tank” eventually we’re going to run empty.

I have several “me” times that are becoming a ritual so I stay grounded during the holidays. (*Note: if you have children, I realize these suggestions will take a little more creativity to implement. But that’s no excuse not to do something for yourself!)

Day after Thanksgiving – For those who have Friday off after Thanksgiving (which should be a legal holiday by the way!), since Thursday was most likely spent with lots of relatives and friends, Friday is a great day for some alone time. Last year, I checked into Bristol Harbour Resort (which was empty and cheaper because of the holiday) and spent the day and night reading, sleeping, hiking, and sitting by the fire in absolute quiet. No TV, no cell phone, no computer. It was oddly unsettling at first. It’s only then that I realized how “noisy” life had become.

New Year’s Day – Now some people may not be in any condition to do any “heavy lifting” after imbibing the night before, but since I’m not a big drinker, I dedicate this day to contemplation – where I’ve been, where I’m at and where I want to go. I reflect on the past year and I write the following: the top 25 accomplishments from the year, the top 10 distractions (always big AHA’s for me here) and my top 10 goals for the coming year. To me, it’s the perfect way to start the New Year.


Now this is where I think most people get it right. Many families have rituals they’ve followed for years. There is something comforting about familiarity and consistency.

Christmas Eve – For a long time, I spent Christmas Eve alone. As I said, my family doesn’t celebrate and most of my friends had plans with their own families. So with the stores closed and no one around, I started watching holiday-themed movies. I usually whipped up some “special” hot chocolate (I said I wasn’t a big drinker, not that I didn’t drink at all, popcorn and watched back-to-back movies. If you like chick-flicks, here are my recommendations: The Holiday (Jude Law – enough said!), Love Actually (Colin Firth and Hugh Grant – oh how did Bridget Jones choose?), and Notting Hill (Hugh Grant at his finest… hmm, are we seeing a theme here with British men?)

Trans-siberian Orchestra – If you’ve never heard of them, you’ve probably heard their music. Their live show is inspiring and electrifying. I’ve seen their concert the last five years (they always come to Rochester at some point during the holiday season) and I’m never disappointed. Just think opera, classical music, rock music, and holiday songs combined!

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