When did the “holidays” stop being holidays? A lesson from my mom

My inbox is flooded this time of year with requests for articles regarding tips and tricks for “surviving the holidays” or “surviving the holiday stress” or “how to keep calm during the holiday season.” Everywhere I go I hear people talking about how stressed and anxious they are about the holidays. Everyone is one-upping each other with how much they have to do and how many commitments they have. I get anxious listening. Is there a big prize for being the busiest, most stressed out person during the holidays? When did the holiday season become the exact opposite of a holiday?

I come from a large blended family both in numbers and height. Every year my mother, who is always the smallest person in the room, even among the grandchildren, manages to create a larger than life Thanksgiving spread. This usually includes extra tables, more than one turkey, countless pounds of potatoes, side dishes, and a decadent buffet of desserts to feed the ever growing herd of people who sit down at her table.

A little more than three weeks later, she magically transforms their home into a winter wonderland. She manages to buy and beautifully wrap gifts for six adult children, their spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends; twelve grandchildren; aunts; uncles; nieces; nephews; and even extra things just in case anyone else happens to show up. Everyone is welcome at Lizzie and Poppy’s.

Once again we all descend upon my parent’s home for the Christmas Eve feast. The feast is huge and we all take full advantage of the lavish spread. We then take over the living room and begin the chaotic exchanging of gifts. “Thank you” and “I love it” are shouted across the room to one another. By the end of the night, no matter how hard we try, my parent’s home looks like a winter wonderland after being directly hit by a tornado. I am exhausted and stressed just thinking about all the work my mom does year after year!

This year things are a little different. After repeating this craziness, year after year, for well over two decades, my mom put the kibosh on Christmas. Guess what happened. We are all thrilled! We are still doing the traditional Thanksgiving at my parents. We will still be together and enjoy time. This year, however, on Christmas, my parents are actually taking the day off. They are having a true holiday.

Can you allow yourself a true holiday? I know, most of you are rolling your eyes and thinking, “I wish.” Well, maybe you don’t have to wish. What if others in your life are wishing the same thing? You may not be able to take it all off, but perhaps by taking some things off your plate the holidays would be less stressful.

Take a look at whatever holidays you celebrate or traditions you have.

  • Are they fun or stressful?
  • Some things can’t be changed, but which ones can?
  • Which ones can you opt out of?
  • Which ones are you just doing because you have always done them?
  • What unrealistic expectations are you placing on yourself and perhaps others?
  • If you are so bogged down with obligations are you really present when spending time with friends and family?

It is ok to say no. It is ok to make changes. And dare I say, it is more than ok to NOT be stressed out over the holidays.

Best wishes for a safe and stress free holiday season!

Sarah E Stewart, MSW, CPC

Life Coach & Author

Sarah Stewart Consulting    Broken in the Back Bay

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