This is my confession; I am a closet holiday junkie. Well, not exactly closeted…I am more like an eggnog-guzzling, compulsive-decorating and constantly baking holiday machine that inspires murmurs of both shock and awe. I can’t help it. The holiday season is my favorite time of year. I love the avalanche of holidays that lead us up to the New Year – a chance to make resolutions and start over fresh, right?
This thinking spirals downward into something that I fondly refer to as my annual and inevitable “Happy Holiday Meltdown.”
I have years of coffee dates, girlfriend rants and plenty of anecdotal evidence to support my theory that I am not the only one who suffers from a self-induced meltdown the second week of January. It is a common occurrence and this year I am determined to break the cycle. First, let’s talk about what contributes to the perfect storm of holiday fun leading to post-holiday malaise.
- It’s a time of year that revolves around eating… need I say more?
It really doesn’t matter what you are trying to do with your eating habits – they are going to be the subject of public scrutiny from November 20th to January 2nd.
You could be trying to eat less carbs, more organic, vegan, vegetarian, whatever. It is open season for people commenting on your eating. Not to mention that most friends and family gatherings this time of year are centered on sharing a meal. This time of year we feel an immense amount of pressure to eat, or not to eat, or sometimes BOTH! Between coffee dates, dinner plans and ice cream trips, sometimes when I am visiting my hometown for the holiday I think to myself, “Can we please do something that doesn’t involve eating?” Then usually someone suggests baking…great suggestion!
So if your holidays are giving you an unrestricted license to eat, here are a few activity suggestions that don’t involve food:
- Play a group game, card game or board game.
- Go to after-dinner bar trivia (many pubs have kid-friendly family trivia)
- Decorate Christmas gifts/ornaments
- Enjoy the Christmas lights by car or by foot
- Last minute Christmas shopping at the mall
- Have a gift wrapping party/session
If your family has been known to make unwanted comments about your eating habits – prepare a short, kind but firm response that sets the record straight.
Uncle Dan: Geez Katie, you have an entire plate of vegetables. Put some meat on your plate and your bones.
Katie: Oh Uncle Dan, I guess you didn’t know that I have recently become a vegetarian! Thanks for taking an interest. There is a really cool documentary on Netflix that I could recommend if you want to learn more about it.
Aunt Mae: Katie are you really going back for seconds? This meal was so heavy!
Katie: Why yes, Aunt Mae. I just absolutely love my Mom’s cooking! Don’t you? I have to take advantage of it while I am in town. Can I get you some more wine?
Your uncle probably won’t watch the documentary and your aunt probably does want some more wine, but who cares! The most important thing is that the holidays should never make you feel pressured to do anything but enjoy the people you are choosing to spend them with!
- The holidays are full of love, but sometimes some misinterpreted love.
The holidays can mean seeing our families, which is part of what makes it such a special time of year. However, it can also be an intense time of year and we don’t have to look far to find out why.
Think about it…
A close-knit group of people coming together after an extended period of time apart. Usually staying together in one house, in an environment that they never did or no longer inhabit. People celebrating a holiday that they have been looking forward to with great expectation that makes them very nostalgic, but also critically reminiscent of their past. You see where I am going with this?
People often try to cram so much family time and catching up into the holiday season that it can feel a lot like a pressure cooker, and the turkey isn’t the only one in trouble!
We all know what happens when you get in a room with family members that you haven’t seen in a while: joyful reunions, lots of hugs and many uncomfortable opportunities for people who have not seen you in a while to comment about the way you look.
As I am writing this my roommate is praying out loud that his slight, practically nonexistent, acne will calm down before he goes home for Christmas, lest he suffer another debate with his grandma about his skincare or receive another zit prevention themed gift in his stocking. I rest my case.
Our body image issues are as diverse as our physical bodies, but an unfortunate truth is that many of our body positive battles began in our youth, and with our families.
There is something about family that can trigger our defenses, even when their actual words are innocent and even supportive.
Perhaps it is because they were present during your awkward middle school phase or remember what you looked like before you grew into your nose. Any way you look at it the holidays can inspire some pretty wicked puberty PTSD.
The big question that I ask myself when I can feel that angry teenage ghost of Christmas past bubbling up inside of me is this: Is this actually misplaced love?
Is this person making an effort, perhaps a hugely mislead effort, to express real love and concern? If that is the case, it doesn’t mean the comments won’t sting a little, but they definitely don’t have to progress to a burn. If the love is there, find it and hold onto it like an umbrella in a hailstorm.
The cold hard truth is that holidays are NOT the time to have intense heart-to-hearts with family members about their body, lifestyle or personal choices. If the person genuinely cares for you, then they can make plans to talk with you about it another time, a more comfortable time. If your grandmother starts talking about your acne, kindly point out to her that since it is Christmas and you only have a limited time with her, you don’t want to waste it talking about your acne…or diet…or haircut…or ear piercing.
- Our New Year’s goals and resolutions are fun to plan but difficult to achieve.
In my search to nail down what brings about my post-holiday panic, this subject sent up a big red flag. I absolutely love to plan my New Year’s Resolutions. The idea of starting over fresh, making changes, gaining momentum and championing a new year is exciting and invigorating! Until a week later and guess what happens?
You realize that there is a reason you were putting this off until next year – because it isn’t easy!
Whatever it is you have decided to tackle in the upcoming year, it is definitely going to be more difficult to execute it than it is to plan it, dream about it and write it all over your sparkly new notebook.
So how do we use the momentum and excitement of the New Year to our advantage and keep the ship sailing past the third week of January?
Don’t just plan for your GOALS, plan for YOU. Focus less on what you want to achieve and more on how you want to feel doing it.
Set goals, but set goals that would have been attainable if you had put your mind to it the past year. It is entirely possible that on January 1st you will still wake up with December 31st ‘s brain and a headache!
- The light at the end of the tunnel is ANOTHER TUNNEL.
The holidays are a marathon. It always starts with the first day of October. Dropping temperatures, cozy sweaters, pumpkin flavored everything and the first holiday right around the corner. Halloween came and went, Thanksgiving becomes a blur and then it is an all-out sprint to the finish line! Schoolwork piles up, exams are due, the office becomes a nightmare of deadlines and we keep up the pace because we know that the light at the end of the tunnel is our beloved December holiday break! A chance for us to finally relax and catch our breath, yet every year we seem to forget that the light at the end of the tunnel is another tunnel.
We have to do this whole thing again! Life goes on and we go back to work and school feeling happy, dazed and not quite as refreshed as we hoped to be. I am trying to find the words to describe the way I feel every year on January 20th but the only image coming to mind is a sunshiny yellow balloon that is about to lose the last of its inflated helium and poof out of its existence. You know as well as I do what happens when the air runs out. It starts with happy and ends with holiday meltdown.
But what can I do? Is it the build up that leads to such a sharp decline? Is it my love of celebrating, seeing my family, giving to the people I love and enjoying the splendor of the season? I can’t just do this stuff every dang day of the week!
Wait… can I?
The incredible thing about the winter holidays is that we take the time to intentionally enjoy every moment. All of that stuff you love about the holidays, you can absolutely do on the second Thursday of April! Decorate your house for spring, light some beautiful candles or even send your mom a card! Trust me she would love it. There are beloved traditions and seasonal joys that we relish to take part in, but isn’t that true of every season! We can take the time to intentionally enjoy every day of our lives, the very act that helps us feel immense joy during the holiday season. To quote the original holiday humbug, Mr. Scrooge himself, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
When you calculate it out, the meltdown does make logical sense. Review numbers 1-4 on this list above and it begins to come into focus. We try to do a full year’s worth of living, loving and eating in just two short weeks. It simply isn’t enough time. The good news is that we don’t have only two weeks, we have an entire lifetime. I can connect with my family more during the year, bake more pies and give out presents just because it’s Wednesday. Why not? Instead of trying to have one less meltdown a year, I think I am going to try to have one long and happy year. Happy Holidays!