It seems no matter where you live, American Thanksgiving marks the official kick-off to the holiday season. Or should I say, the eating-and-spending-too-much-season.
Every year, I fantasize about what it would be like to get so organized through the month of November, that December is filled with nothing but relaxed get-togethers, decorating and baking goodies for sharing.
As much as my inner June Cleaver loves this picture, the reality is closer to Samantha Stephens when she’s promised not to use magic, with a hint of Elyse Keaton trying to resolve eco-friendly ideals with the consumer needs of the rest of the family.
Gets me thinking about what it takes to prepare for the holidays. Not just the house and the gifts, but what we need on the inside to avoid overwhelm on the outside.
Family triggers ready to snap and Aunt Rachel’s famous Nanaimo bars threatening to set your dietary efforts back 6 months. More invitations than you could want in a year…and some you’d rather not.
How can you navigate the holidays with grace and without letting the rich food on offer get the best of you?
Taking care of yourself over the holidays too often gets disguised as a need to deprive yourself all day or overdo at the gym, in anticipation of over-doing at the party later. In reality, it’s about addressing the parts of you that need to get back in touch with the true spirit of the season so you can openly embrace the love and joy.
In the lead-up to the holidays, I see 4 holiday attitudes coming to light among my clients and my friends.
- Women afraid that the month of December will wreak havoc on their diet and exercise plan.
This plays out 2 ways:
You become a martyr and not eat anything that might break your calorie budget or,
You throw caution to the wind and eat everything in site, then beat yourself up for it and enroll in the most punishingly intense boot-camp you can find in January.
- Women driven by guilt and obligation, running themselves ragged finding gifts for people they don’t care about or accepting invitations to places that drain them, because they feel they “should”. (I talked about the danger of the shoulds a few weeks back.)
- Adults disappointed and let down because Christmas doesn’t hold the same magic it did when they were kids.
- People (I can be guilty of this one) getting sick, grumpy and exhausted by wearing out their social energy budgets. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and enjoying myself, but put a confirmed introvert* like me in too many situations where I have to make polite conversation with large numbers and I get drained quickly.
Here are 3 simple, yet powerful ways to prepare for the holidays, so you come through in one piece. Print this PDF if you want to play along and find a more graceful and easy way through your holiday celebrations.
1. What are you Celebrating?
The commercialization of the holidays breaks my heart, and leaves me feeling more like Scrooge than Mrs. Claus. It’s not just Christmas either.
American Thanksgiving seems to be more about Black Friday sales than appreciation of abundance and family. The Hannukah decorations and products I see around my neighbourhood tell me that Hallmark and toy manufacturers have got their teeth into another holiday, making it retail competition for Christmas.
Whether Christian, Jewish, pagan, or Hindu, we’re celebrating the return of the light. We’re celebrating the Winter Solstice and the hope of new light – enlightenment – after a dark time (literally and metaphorically).
I taught my children that we’re celebrating the light of Jesus (the divinity) that lives in all of us, in our hearts. In giving gifts, we acknowledge the same in others. A way of manifesting the Golden Rule – loving another as we love ourselves – something that’s found in every religion.
At Christmas, I give gratitude for, and share my light with those around me.
The deep meaning may be somewhat different for you. The point is there needs to be an intention for the celebrating, otherwise it’s just a month of empty calories and mindless spending of money, time and energy.
Follow the prompts on the playsheet to uncover the values and intentions you want to foster through this time of celebration. Make a touchstone: a visual or other concrete reminder that you can keep with you, and use to centre yourself as you shop and bake and plan and visit and eat over the next month.
2. Give yourself Permission…or not.
You now have an intention by which you can weigh your options.
Next, get clear on your limits. How much time, energy and money are you able and willing to spend/share this holiday season? Kind of like the curfew your mother gave you. It’s not there to deprive you or rain on your parade in any way; the limit is for your safety and well-being.
With these two pieces grounding you, your choices become infinitely easier.
You can now seek the inner permission to accept (or decline) each invitation. To decide to buy a gift or not.
Perhaps you choose to buy a gift for a colleague or to attend an event out of obligation; give yourself permission to keep the gift simple, or only stay as long as you feel comfortable and plan ahead to leave early if need be.
Maybe it’s a party you love, but the large crowd overwhelms you. Give yourself permission to take a break in a quiet corner.
Go inside yourself to know exactly what that permission feels like to you. The directions for recognizing a Yes or a No in your body are on the playsheet.
3. See Temptation as a Blessing in Disguise
The food is richer and more copious.
The alcohol flows more freely.
The buffet table can look like Mount Everest, daring you or scaring you. Tempting you.
Like the Devil card in Tarot. It’s one of my favourites. It reminds me that Lucifer (light) shows me what’s in my shadows, lurking in the dark corners of my mind and heart.
I notice that part of what makes me uncomfortable at large parties is the sense of competition and insecurity that’s hidden behind all the excess. We live in a society of more is better, and so there’s pressure to be out there, proving that we’re more and better.
Even if everyone’s let their hair down at the office party, the undercurrent of the politics remains. Family issues don’t suddenly disappear at this time of year because there’s a tree in the living room. In fact, trying to make like everything’s great leads to a build-up of anxiety that starts to permeate the room and leaks out in unfortunate ways, especially when the booze is flowing.
I’ve seen men making cruel comments to their wives, poorly couched as jokes. I’ve witnessed women getting bent out of shape about place settings and etiquette to quell their own discomfort around underlying family tensions.
When you’re not nourished with the true joy and love of the season, you compensate with too much food and alcohol and sweets. You fill your belly because you’re not fulfilled.
Instead, understand that the temptation may be compensating for another need or covering up your insecurity.
“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” ~ Pema Chödrön
Follow the steps on the playsheet to shed some light in the corners of your temptation. The example is for food; even if your particular nemesis is the bar or inappropriate men or over-spending on gifts, the same principles apply.
Heading to the actual party is where the acid test for listening to your body comes into play.
Can you recognize the anxiety you feel about talking to your boss and give it an internal hug of reassurance rather than reaching for that 2nd piece of chocolate log?
When you see the host heading to refill your glass, can you check in for permission, to check if it’s better to stop now or feel like crap tomorrow?
The best times I’ve had at parties, large and small, with family, friends and colleagues – when I’ve chatted comfortably, eaten and drunk enough to enjoy myself without feeling pain or regret the next day – have been when I’ve taken the time to centre myself before and remained true to my needs throughout.
When you do, you give yourself permission to shine your light, adding to the warm glow of the season.
What gets you tied in a knot over the holidays and how do you untangle from its hold? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.
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such wonderfully enriching thoughts here, cathy. several years ago, we switched to preparing cornish game hens instead of the traditional turkey at thanksgiving, and it’s become a much easier and less time-consuming ritual, as well as one i thoroughly enjoy creating with my husband. this year my husband was in italy during the holiday, but my oldest son and i still came up with a simple and comforting meal for the rest of us, working together in the kitchen and then dining, relaxed and happy, by candlelight.
Lovely, April. I fully endorse (and try to instill in my family) the idea that tradition and celebration don’t necessarily equal convention.
So much goodness in this post, Cathy. This is the one time of year I am really grateful I’m married to an extreme introvert because we participate in very little of the holiday frenzy. I am looking forward to a trip to Colorado to spend some time with family and that’s always a challenge … so many personalities! I’ll be sure to fortify myself with some of these tips. I’m off to look at the play sheet. xxoo
Have a safe trip, Sue Ann. I hope you’re able to find some stability among the personalities!