By Taylor Long
Some people love the Holidays. They start playing Christmas music the minute Thanksgiving is over (or even earlier), get their decorating done that weekend, have their shopping done well in advance, live for cookie swaps or yankee swaps or ugly sweater parties or all of the above.
I am not one of those people.
For me, the Holidays are synonymous with stress. Nothing makes me want to jab a pencil in my eardrum like the song “Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney. Looking at a Christmas Tree doesn’t fill me with wonder so much as the thought of the pine needles you’ll still be finding when you vacuum months later. Scrambling for a gift under $20 that I’ll have to wait in an absurdly long line to pay for, then wrap, then awkwardly hand over to someone who will pretend to be amused or thrilled by it is my personal hell. Were the world to present me with a time travel device or ability, I’d gladly jump from Black Friday to December 26th every year. (Well, okay – maybe just to the 24th. It’s more-so the anxiety-filled lead-up than the actual Holiday that gets me worked-up.)
Regardless of where you fall on the enthusiasm scale, I have a few suggestions to help you pace yourself this Holiday season.
1. You can say no to holiday parties and gift swaps.
Within a one-week period, I was invited to about five holiday parties. It’s tempting to say yes to them all, at first, particularly if they’re spaced out enough. But any calendar can get quickly bogged down with too many commitments, especially if you factor in that most of them require a food dish, some sort of dress code, gift swap, or some combination of the three, which might require special trips to the store. Yes, this is the time for merriment and cheer and what have you, but we all have our limits. In cases where I struggle to give a hard no (like office parties), I’ve reduced the commitment by saying yes to the party, but no to the gift swap. If some verbiage would help, here are some phrases you can try on for size: “The holidays are a stressful time for me, so I’m working on saying no to things so my schedule is more manageable.” “I’m sorry to miss it, but would love to catch up with you one-on-one after the holidays.”
2. Store bought is fine.
For the parties you do decide to attend, not everything has to be homemade. If you absolutely positively must make your grandma’s favorite cookie recipe, or your uncle’s special egg nog, or whatever other traditional recipe, and you take joy in the process, you do you! But not everyone has a great quick and easy, make-ahead recipe that also meets a diverse array of dietary needs stashed away. And that’s fine! I can throw down in the kitchen with the best of them, but honestly, I don’t always have the time. I bear no shame in bringing goodies from King Arthur, or any local bakery or market, really, to any party. Or hitting up the cheese section to slap together a dynamite cheese plate.
3. Same goes for gift wrapping.
Wrapping presents is actually one of the few inherently zen moments I can find in the holiday season, but having said that – no one is going to judge you for letting someone at the mall or Amazon do it. And if they do – that’s their problem!
4. For your closest loved ones, go for experiences over gifts.
Haven’t you seen Marie Kondo’s Netflix series, yet? Few, if any of us, need more stuff. And any grown ass adult with a comfortable job and a budget can probably buy a lot of their wishlist themselves. My favorite gifts to give – and receive – are experience-based. Go on a trip (it doesn’t have to be major - even just a short overnight or weekend jaunt), go see a concert, take a class or a workshop, go out to a nice dinner. I’d rather make a memory than have something that sits on a shelf or in a closet and collects dust. If the idea of deciding the what/where/when magnifies instead of reduces your stress, just put together a hand-drawn coupon (“a concert of your choice,” “dinner at your favorite restaurant,” etc.) and put it in a card. Or even better, sit down and decide together. You can always choose a course of action and put the planning off until January, when things are usually on sale. This way, you get to work together and you’ll have something to look forward to.
5. For everyone else, small is fine.
As someone who travels for the holidays, the last thing I want to do is schlep an extra suitcase just to haul presents – and again, who needs more stuff?! Consumables make ideal gifts. One year I gave small jugs of maple syrup to everyone back home (though, disclaimer: your bag will absolutely get searched by the TSA if you do this). For the out of state beer nerds in your life, the Alchemist delivers to the Upper Valley now! A good friend of mine gives me her favorite book she read that year. If you can make a tradition out of it like that, even better.
6. Ditch the decorations (or just keep it minimal.)
I recently came to the realization that any kind of seasonal decorations (not just for the holidays) are a sham. Think of all the money and storage space that goes to something that you can only use for a small fraction of the year. What a waste! There are so many things you can use to set the mood for a season that won’t take up the better part of a closet – candles, smells, food, music. Use all five senses and think creatively to set the scene. You don’t need a bunch of special napkins, throw pillows, tablecloths, or whatever else to do it for you.
These are just some things that work for me, and may not work for everyone, but hopefully I’ve inspired you to examine the myriad social agreements baked into this time of year and remind you that you have agency over them. Ultimately, the main thing to remember during the holiday season – or any time of year, really – is to reflect on the things that enrich your life and the things that don’t, and to feel free to say no to the things in the latter category as often as possible, so that your energy can be channeled into all the yeses.
Taylor K. Long is a writer, editor, and photographer based in Windsor, VT. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Press, New York Magazine, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more.