While Christmas and New Years are supposed to be a time for joy, celebrating with friends, giving, and receiving, for many it can be incredibly stressful, exhausting, and even lonely. Whether it is the pressures at work of getting everything done by Christmas, work Christmas parties, spending time with difficult relatives, having the perfectly decorated house, buying the best gifts for your kids and relatives, or perhaps even not having anyone to share it with, there are things we can do to take care of ourselves and those around us this silly season.
If you are not Christian or from a Christian majority Western Country, these principals can be applied to your big religious holidays too, whether it is Ramadan, Deepavali, Galungan and Kuningan, Hanukkah, and the list goes on.
Working up until Christmas
For some people in particular, work is incredibly busy in the lead up to Christmas, and the pressure is on. Spare a thought for retail workers, those in hospitality, farming, and manufacturing in particular. The increase in Christmas parties and catch ups mean hospitality and entertainment worker hours inevitably increase, and their customers are often more inebriated and stressed than usual. Don’t be that customer, respect those people trying to make sure you have a good time, and enjoy yourself.
Retail workers are similarly under the pump and rarely get days off until that glorious one day for Christmas, before they get back the next day for the Boxing Day sales. It is exhausting and difficult for them to prepare for their own Christmases. There are many in farming, manufacturing, and other industries you may not see, working behind the scenes to ship out everything you need before Christmas, so you have the perfect prawns for the big day, your new lounge suite to impress your relatives, or those new toys to wow your loved ones.
I worked in hospitality and retail when I was younger and remember basically being on autopilot up until Christmas. Boxing Day was a forced public holiday then, and I celebrated it as having two glorious, consecutive days off in a row. But it was usually later in January and February when the downtime came and I could actually relax a little before adding school and university to my mercifully reduced shifts.
I recommend for those in this situation getting as much sleep as you can, not being too hard on yourself, understanding most people you deal with are in a highly charged situation too, thinking of the increased pay check, and focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel.
Workplace and end of year parties
Aaaaaah, the office Christmas party. The time to let your hair down, bond as a team, and potentially ruin your reputation for years to come. Remember, you are not in Canberra (for those not from Australia, this refers to a recent expose on antics of some of Australia’s politicians and junior staffers), but even if you are, the media are onto you now.
However, don’t not hit on your co-workers and subordinates just because the media, or anyone with a mobile phone, might catch you; don’t do it because it is a stupid thing to do. Keep it out of the workplace Barnaby Joyce.
“If you’re married with three kids and having sex with your young secretary on the staircase at the work Christmas party, you can’t show back up in the office the next day, and pretend it didn’t happen,” said one of my friends who worked for many years in a law firm. She said there were many resignations after office Christmas parties there.
There are so many other ways to pick up, why do you have to do it at work? I guess in the words of Hannibal Lector in the movie Silence of the Lambs, “You covert what you see everyday.”
Otherwise it may be tempting to “get your monies worth” out of your organisation if they have an open bar, but you may pay in other ways! Drink lots of water and don’t be the last one to leave.
Also, don’t just sit with the people in your team you work with every day. Meet people from other areas of the company you don’t know that well. You never know when you might need them for something, and if you can make nice connections with new people, you are making good use of your time.
It is not just office Christmas parties to beware of; there’s your book club, volunteer group, sports club, professional association, suppliers, customers, high school mates, and whatever other group you might be a part of.
“We must catch up before Christmas!”
Guess what? There is no law stating that. If you are finding yourself overwhelmed with pre-Christmas catch ups, remember, you can say “no.” If that is too difficult, try suggesting a date within the first couple of months in the new year.
“Gee, I’m a bit flat out with all of the Christmas and New Year craziness, how about we have a proper catch up when things have died down a bit in the new year and we can enjoy each other’s company? How about the third Thursday in January? Does that work for everyone?”
You might be surprised how relieved everyone else is too.
Buying the perfect presents for everyone
Christmas is a time for sharing and enjoying each other’s company, not bankrupting yourself. If you consume any type of media, or walk around in the world and are not blind, advertising images will tell you otherwise. Of course they do.
It has been a particularly tough year for a lot of people. But even if you are blessed with a lot of money, what are you really teaching your kids about life if you shower them with multiple gifts? Will they value those things? Kids that get everything they want become horrendous adults. The world went a bit crazy there for a while and kids were getting 15 to 20+ gifts each Christmas. Are those kids who will grow up to value things? And how do you feel when they start fighting with the cat to play with the boxes, and leave their expensive contents on the ground?
What your kids ACTUALLY want, and your teenagers actually NEED (because you are so uncool they will never admit it) is quality time with you, focused and fully present with each other. That is, not sucked into screens (I’m not just talking about them, you know who you are), and not focused on all of the other things. That is where memories are made and character is built. THAT is what Christmas is all about.
If you are putting financial pressure on yourself by purchasing too many or too expensive gifts, stop. It is not necessary, and despite what the advertisers tell you, it is not in the spirit of Christmas.
One of my friends told me for the first time this year her extended family are doing a Secret Santa for presents. That is, instead of buying 20 presents for 20 people, they draw names out of a hat and only have to buy for one person. This means the giver only has to think of one present which frees up a lot of mental space and likely saves considerable time and money, and the receiver will likely get something thoughtful, worth a little more, that they actually want, rather than 20 crappy gifts that will eventually end up in landfill.
Physically shopping can also be incredibly stressful because of the crowds in shopping centres. Parking is a nightmare, stocks are short because of coronavirus delivery issues, and kids are everywhere because it is school holidays…
A man in his 80s asked my Mum for help at the supermarket freezers the other day. He was completely overwhelmed. When talking to his four year old granddaughter, he foolishly asked her if there was anything she would like him to have when she came over for Christmas.
“I want Sara Lee chocolate ice cream,” she said.
The poor man went to two supermarkets and couldn’t find it. He then did some research on the internet, found out which supermarket stocked it, then came down, and still couldn’t find it in the freezers. He was quite deaf and a bit vision impaired so communicating was difficult. Luckily he picked the right woman to ask for help as my Mum is somewhat of an expert in that (and let’s face it any) brand of desserts, and was able to guide him to the appropriate tub. His next adventure was to find ice cream cones in another part of the store. Ice cream cones at home, so old school!
That was one stressed out shopper, and I’m sure that young four year old had no idea the challenge she threw up for her ailing granddad. But he asked for help and got it. I’m sure he will get pleasure out of dishing up the treat to this little girl once the stress of finding what he needed has passed.
Try and support local businesses who might have been affected by the coronavirus. If you are too stressed by shopping centres, go online. There are a lot of interesting smaller retailers with incredible products if you are morally opposed to supporting the big boys. But make sure they are legit and you have enough time to take delivery before Christmas to avoid disappointment.
And, of course, spare a thought for the overworked retail and hospitality staff and don’t be a dick. Patience is a virtue at this time of year.
Creating the “perfect” Christmas
Are you one of these people who loves decorating the tree, setting up Christmas lights around the house for the neighbourhood kids to walk past, setting the perfect table, and doing everything right? Are you someone who hates all of that, but does it anyway?
These can be incredibly fun things to do with your family together to create a little wonder at this special time of year. Or they can be a source of stress because you think you have to do it, or wish to ‘keep up with the Jones’s.’ You can appreciate someone else’s creativity and drive and not feel like you have to do it also if it is not something that interests you.
What is a ‘perfect Christmas’ for someone else, might be completely different for you. If you have a family, or people you share this season with, and you think you might all be doing things you don’t enjoy because you feel obligated, why not check in and have the discussion. What is really important for each of you? What are the things you love doing at Christmas and what is a chore? Design your own perfect Christmas because that is who it is for.
If you are someone who feels like you do the lion’s share of the Christmas preparation, this can be the perfect time to discuss sharing the load as well as what is important. If your kids love the ginger bread house you painstakingly bake, construct, and decorate which takes you hours every year, and you hate doing it, perhaps it is time for them to learn and take over the tradition.
Going to church / giving back
For a lot of people, this is the time of the year they check back in with their church community if they are not consistent throughout the year, or look at giving or ramping up their charity work to help those in need.
This is a great thing to do with your family, but also shouldn’t be to your mental or financial detriment. If you are stressed to the max working like crazy until the end of the year, organising everything for the big day, and just don’t have the time, but you do have extra money from all your overtime, give money instead of time.
If you are really strapped for cash, but can spare the time, don’t give money, give time. Remember on the plane they tell you to fit your own oxygen mask before you help those around you? Do what you can, but if you can’t, don’t sweat it. There will be other times to give back.
Spending time with difficult relatives
Many of our relatives are a joy to be with and lovely mirrors of us and our values. But SOME of them, and if you don’t have at least one of these, you are in a minority, drive us up the wall. It might be a critical parent, a racist auntie, an offensive uncle, or a drug addict cousin.
Every year at Christmas, you brace yourself to cringe through the inappropriate remarks, judgements, and/or crude behaviour.
Do you know the great thing about getting older, moving out of home, and getting your own life? You can do whatever you want. You can say “no” to being around people you don’t want to spend time with, even if they are family.
You also have COVID19 as a lovely excuse this year to limit family gatherings. Even if you are in Australia and New Zealand where there is now limited to no community spread, you can never be too careful…
“Sorry Auntie Nelly, this year we have decided to go away for Christmas as a family so we can’t make it. Perhaps we can have a video conference on the day to send our best wishes.”
“Hi Mum, I can’t make it to the extended family Christmas this year, but I can come and see you beforehand and we can have our own special celebration.”
Will people judge you and talk about you for not going? Yes. And? So what? At least you won’t have to live through it!
But if, for whatever reason, you can’t say no, and have to spend the day with relatives you hate, I have a suggestion which works for me way better than domestic violence or suicide. I make a game out of it.
Sure, you can get upset when racist Auntie Nelly makes inappropriate comments. You have probably confronted her in the past and know there is no point trying to change her at this stage of her life. Or you know Uncle Simon is going to make some derogatory remarks about the salad you brought or the clothes you are wearing; why should that spoil your day?
If I am on my own, I play a little game I call, Asshole Bingo.
“Did you use store bought mayonnaise in this?” [BINGO!] (said silently in my head).
“That was a brave choice in top. I can see why you wore those earrings to distract from it.” [BINGO!]
If I am conspiring with other friends or family members, I add a rating system. You can even place bets beforehand on who will get the most points if you have multiple offenders.
“All immigrants are terrorists and should be sent back to where they came from.” [BINGO!] (you smile at each other with recognition).
Then when out of earshot, you compare notes.
“Coming from a first generation immigrant that gets a 9/10 on the ignorance scale and a 7/10 on the racism scale.”
“Oh really? I had 9/10 for racism.”
“Amateur, this racist is just getting warmed up. You’ve got to leave some room for movement.”
Drugged out cousin Mary falls into the Christmas tree you and your kids spent so much time decorating and messes it up before lunch. [BINGO!]
“5/10 for inebriation. The day is young.”
Keep a tally and see if you can top it next year, or on the next family gathering they attend you can’t avoid them at. It has the added bonus of turning nasty and potentially hurtful behaviour into a light-hearted game which reflects on the individuals with the behaviour, taking the steam out of their comments for you.
It can validate the way you feel because you know you are not making it up. Auntie Nelly really is a racist; there were 15 high ranking remarks in the first two hours. And Uncle Simon is going to find something wrong with you or anything you do, because as soon as you walk in every time, he hits you with a couple of 40 pointers without fail. And you might notice it is not just you, or that there are some favourites he will heap praise on with equal predictability. You can mentally [BINGO!] those too.
The Big (Christmas) Day
It’s a public holiday, you have the day off, and you have frantically worked so you can hopefully relax and enjoy the day. The presents are wrapped, the food is bought and prepared, and your plans are set in stone. The day is upon us and it is time to reap the spoils of all that stress and preparation!
Only maybe you have to run the gauntlet of multiple family gatherings. Maybe you are divorced and your kids are not with you, or only with you for part of the day. Maybe you work in emergency services, counselling, or hospitality which is open and you don’t get the day off. Maybe you are away from home and have no one to spend the day with. Maybe you have a violent partner and you are on edge because this time of year triggers them. Or perhaps you are isolating because of COVID19 and it is taking its toll.
If you have multiple functions, or have to go to a function with relatives or ‘friends’ you struggle with, at least one from your household should stay sober so you can strategically exit and be the masters of your own domain. Carpooling and being at the mercy of others is a terrible idea. Sure, you might think drinking through it would help, but being able to just drive away at will is FAR more therapeutic.
If you have a difficult function and it is the only one for the day, Jesus will forgive you for making up another one so you can exit ‘early.’ Better still, have another a little later where you invite friends you actually enjoy being with who might be on their own to come around and relax and enjoy a couple of hours with you.
And do we really need that much food? Okay, yes we do. But it doesn’t mean we have to eat it on the day. Christmas leftovers are THE BEST! Remember you don’t have to eat everything on the day… Enjoy a bit of everything, but your body will thank you for a little restraint, not just on the day, but as you enjoy it for days after.
Do spare a thought for friends and family who might be struggling, or on their own. Technology is a wonderful thing and, as I discovered when I was in quarantine, virtual parties are actually great fun too! Even just sending messages to let them know you are thinking of them can make someone’s day.
If you are living in a controlling or violent situation and are fortunate enough to live in a country that has support services, they are prepared and have ramped up staff and services for this time of year because there are spikes. You are not alone even if you feel like it. And if you struggle mentally at this time of year like an awful lot of people do, reach out if you can, and also remember, this is but one day out of 365 days in a year. Tomorrow is only a few hours away, and the bright, shiny new year is only a few days away. The marketing stuff is really all hype and it really is just another day. You’ve got this.
New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve is another funny time. Regardless of which country I am in, or whether I have plans for the evening or not, it just has a weird vibe. It is not a bad weird vibe, but the passing of the earth around the sun once more does invite reflection and contemplation.
There are so many ways to bring in the new year, and again, it is up to you how you want to do it. Whether it is out on the town at your local fireworks spot getting hammered with your friends, sitting around with a bunch of hippies doing a lunar ceremony inviting good energy and vibes for the new year, or just going to bed early and getting up to see the sunrise all fresh instead of bleary eyed at the other end.
Take that time to feel grateful for what you have and who you have in your life. Contemplate how you want the new year to go. No one expected 2020 to go the way it did when we did whatever we were doing on 31 December 2019. When I sat with one of my crew at the side of the soccer field in the middle of Ubud, Bali dodging dodgy fireworks set off by a range of locals I can safely assume were not licensed professionals, drinking beer we bought from the convenience store, I would not have told you I would fill this year the way I did. I feel incredibly lucky that although it didn’t go AT ALL the way I planned (those who know me know I use the word ‘planned’ very loosely here), I was surrounded by lovely people all the way through who have made my unexpected deviations a complete joy.
There are a lot of challenges in the holiday season. There are lots of reasons to get stressed. There are lots of reasons to feel overwhelmed. But there are lots of reasons to be grateful if we remember spending quality time being present with our loved ones is the most important thing at this and any other time of the year. And we can say “no” to other things, events, and people that distract us from that, or don’t light us up. If we can’t say “no,” ask for help, redefine what is perfect for you, and if all else fails, make a game out of it!
This time of year is meant to be fun. That is my wish for you this silly season. Have fun! I hope this helped. xx
Until next time!