Every year, I declare several weeks at the end of the year the “Running of the Gauntlet.” Gauntlet Season, as I casually refer to it, runs from the Monday before Thanksgiving to the day after New Year’s Day. We cram a lot in these short weeks and it’s enough to make us crazy.
Now is the perfect time to check ourselves and put into place practices that will curb anxiety, lighten the load, and give us a chance to enjoy the holidays instead of merely survive them.
#1 — You do not have to accept an invitation just because it is offered.
There is nothing that is going to stifle a season of joy like an obligation. Let’s be clear on one thing: very few people are entitled to your time and your company. Keep that list short.
If an invitation is going to cause you a massive amount of stress, it’s okay to turn it down. Yes, there may be some fallout but you have every right to enjoy your holiday on your own terms.
My parents are making the pilgrimage to California to spend Christmas with my sister and brother-in-law. My boyfriend currently lives out of town but will be here for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and will be with me, cozied up on the couch.
The day after he booked his flights, my parents extended the invitation to go with them. As much as I would love to spend the holiday as a whole family, I made my own plans and I won’t change them on my boyfriend. That’s not fair and I really want to be with him.
I was honest and open with my family and I was delighted with how supportive they were. In previous years, I would have broken my plans out of obligation. That would have made me a stressed-out mess. We have to make choices that are right for us.
#2 — You do not have to honor every single tradition.
My first husband’s family had a Christmas morning tradition that involved homemade cinnamon rolls that were put together into the shape of a Christmas tree. There were maraschino cherries involved. The bright red kind.
I was never a fan of the Christmas rolls. When we were not with his family for Christmas, I made it clear that I would not be honoring his family tradition of making Christmas rolls and that if he wanted to make them, I would most likely not be partaking.
We also reserve the right to create our own holiday traditions. I am a staunch advocate for using the Marie Kondo method on holidays. If a tradition does not spark joy, get rid of it. It’s not for you. Let it go.
#3 — Set boundaries and stick to them.
The holidays make everyone a little weird. There are all kinds of expectations and a myriad of behaviors that are unacceptable that should never be part of the holidays.
Family disagreements seem to spike hard at the end of the year. If it’s your house where the holiday is held, you have every right to set ground rules.
If your crazy right or left-leaning relative has a penchant for starting political arguments at dinner, let everyone know that politics are not a welcome discussion topic. Say that out loud. Then, stick to it.
Likewise, your kids don’t have to hug people they don’t want to. They don’t have to sit on someone’s lap. Make it clear to your family and friends that your kids make that decision, not the receiver of the affection. Letting people know this upfront calms everyone down. Let your kids have what little agency they should.
If you have a rule that everyone that comes to your house needs to get a Covid test, tell them. If it’s a non-starter, keep to it. Your house, your rules.
#4 — Give yourself grace and room for imperfection.
Please don’t mop your floors 18 times. No one is going to eat off the floor. That is what a table and plates are for. Cut yourself some slack and don’t feel like you have to spend the whole week before the holiday scrubbing every inch of your house. Do your best and let that be okay.
My grandmother had a saying. “If people are coming to see my house, they come once and never come back. If they are coming to see me, my house doesn’t matter.” This, of course, came from a woman who would mop her carpets with Pine-Sol.
Perfect does not exist. If you try to fabricate perfection, it will blow up in your face. You will be miserable. Don’t choose misery. If you don’t get a chance to totally reorganize your entire pantry, the world will not end. Just banish your mom from that area. Boundaries.
#5 — Give others some grace, as well.
Listen, we’re all doing our best right now. It’s not easy. Be understanding that everyone has had a really hard year. You may have family and friends that just can’t do it. Travel is not recommended right now and getting people together that haven’t seen each other in a while is not a smart idea.
If someone doesn’t feel comfortable going anywhere for the holidays, respect that. If people don’t have the money for gifts, let them off the hook.
If their kids want to show up in their pajamas on Christmas Day, the world will not end. Hell, embrace the idea and wear yours, too. You can fit a lot more food in your body when you’re wearing pajama pants.
Holidays should be fun. Let’s not suck the fun out of holidays by loading them with preconceived notions. This is our chance to end the year on a high note, one filled with twinkling lights and really fattening eggnog. Do not let expectations overshadow eggnog. Eat the cookies, put your feet up when you need, and let go.