Stressful Holiday Traditions? Bring Back Joy!

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Most of us have traditions around the holidays. Some customs and practices handed down, often unquestioned, from our families. Others, created by us for various reasons; co-mingling of two different family histories, a desire to create a new legacy for future generations, or mere insanity. Maintaining holiday rituals can feel demanding and tiresome, especially to those responsible for the sorcery.

I personally have a couple of Christmas customs that I have a love/hate relationship with. And, like most of us; one I inherited and one I manufactured.

Growing up in a Cuban-American home, ‘Little Havana‘ on the inside and ‘the good’ol USA‘ on the outside of the front door, my family celebrated Noche Buena (Good Night) on December 24th. My family celebrated… my mother worked. Every 24th, wafts of garlicky, citrus-infused slow roasted pork, aromatic bubbling pots of thick, rich-tasting black beans, and a sundry of other traditional Cuban dishes permeated my childhood home.  By the day’s end our house would also brim over with people; family, friends, and neighbors. It was a magical day; and, as a kid, it seemed as effortless as waking up to a tree full of gifts constructed by Santa’s elves, delivered via reindeer. 

I now provide the magic. And, while yes, it is stressful finalizing the headcount; grocery shopping; three-days of food prep; hosting; and clean-up; it is still my favorite night of the year. Better yet, it’s my son’s favorite. Better than actual Christmas. That says a lot. Luckily, for me, at 15 he proclaimed that he needed to learn how to make the customary fare; already planning for my absence. Teaching him how to cook by taste, look, and feel is pure enjoyment. Knowing that my heritage’s tradition outlives my parents and, eventually, me, makes it worthwhile.

Extended families, frantic shopping, over-the-top decorating and attending multiple parties overextends us physically, mentally and financially. The holiday extravaganza can be overstimulating and more stressful than satisfying. It is a time that seems to be chockfull of events, obligations, travel, and unhealthy food and imbibing opportunities. But, we don’t have to sign up for more and more during the holidays. We DON’T. If we can get past our collective issue of using the word ‘No’.

When we find ourselves repeating holiday traditions that no longer bring us pleasure, it may be time to make changes. We don’t want to disappoint others, and as women, most of us carry the brunt of creating the holiday magic. I know; I personally had plenty of, what became, holiday time ‘chores’. Over the years, I’ve managed to pare down my holiday obligations. I found that having a litany of them, all lined up, basically made me anxious about the season.

Some of the ways I altered my holiday experience? For instance, I no longer travel during Christmas time. It felt rushed, unsettling, and exhausting. I keep the baking to a minimum, opting to do one Gingerbread cookie baking session with my god-children and son (this is the tradition I manufactured). The grown-ups in my life don’t get physical gifts. Lastly, I have scaled back on the number of ‘Yes’ RSVPs; opting for more unscheduled downtime, allowing for second viewings of “White Christmas” in comfy pjs with family. 

I am sure there are other ways to minimize the holiday stress. And, I understand that sometimes the holidays exacerbate emotions for those of us dealing with grief, health issues, loneliness. No matter of baking reduction will help there.

But, if you are just ‘in over your head‘ on the prescribed rituals and ‘yeses‘, there is something to be done. Not all of us have the same stress points. Maybe cooking for, and entertaining, a large number of people puts you over the edge; STOP it. Seriously, what is the worse thing that will happen? We don’t live in a vacuum, our actions affect others. Talk to your family members and brainstorm ways to reduce the holiday time clutter. For most of us, by middle-age, we no longer have young children to contend with. Teens and young adults are much more reasonable. 

The notion of doing things ‘differently’ can be downright scary. It takes courage to raise our hands and proclaim: ‘”This doesn’t work for me anymore; what are WE going to do about it?” Sometimes, other members of the family are completely unaware of the level of effort and discomfort behind the scenes of many of our holiday rituals. Having the conversation with your family may pleasantly surprise. One of the rank and file may volunteer to take something off your plate. Or, offer up a small, negligible change for this year; minimize gift giving or scale back the decorations or bake just one type of cookie versus a smorgasbord – IT  WILL HELP!

 If you have something you’ve altered in your holiday repetoire that has helped bring more joy and less stress to this time of year, please share it with the rest of us! Wishing you a healthy, happy, and stress-lite season.