We all know that Christmas (or the Holiday Season) is the highlight of the year for some and a season of emotional pain, debt, or drudgery for others. This partly depends on personality, partly on challenging life circumstances. Much, I’d argue, on personal choice.
I am all about living with purpose, health, and JOY all year round and over the holidays this equates to staying within my budget, keeping things simple but meaningful, and protecting my health. When I speak about health I am referring to emotional and physical health, in particular, but also taking into consideration my environmental footprint – or the health of our planet. I do not offer these suggestions as rules for anyone else but simply as a glimpse into how I (imperfectly) navigate the holidays.
10 Ways That I Maintain Peace of Mind, Body & Spirit Through The Holidays:
1.Simplify gift-giving. I actually love giving people meaningful gifts (when I want to and have the funds) and have a hard time keeping gifts secret for long (ask my kids). BUT I detest feeling forced to purchase unneeded gifts just because someone, somewhere decided that this was tradition… and I hate clutter. We are such a consumerist society already – who really needs a bunch more ‘stuff’ in December? Having said that, we made the decision years ago to purchase three gifts for our children (generally creative gifts and within a predetermined budget) and to fill stockings for them (more about this later). When they are young, they are required to declutter their belongings a bit before Christmas. When they reach adult age we gift cash so they can apply it to whatever they want or need. My husband and I do not generally purchase gifts for each other and we opted out, many long years ago, of extended family gifting. I suppose if my primary Love Language was Receiving Gifts I might feel differently but one of the greatest gifts anyone could give me is Quality Time (undivided attention). Or time alone to read;) Furthermore, debt isn’t magical for me – who decided that over spending and beginning each new year under the crushing weight of credit card debt was a meaningful way to celebrate? We set a realistic gift budget and contribute to it each month faithfully.
“We spend money that we do not have, on things we do not need, to impress people who do not care.” -Will Smith
2. Opt out of excessive baking & eating. Growing up, my mom would amass a deep-freeze full of homemade baking. No one needs to eat that much sugar, butter, and flour! I aim to bake once or twice a week throughout the year anyways (granola, muffins, raw vegan treats, etc.) so during the months of December and January I continue with this schedule but prepare family holiday favorites in smallish batches (and a few new recipes for me because I like experimenting) – mostly ‘healthified’ versions but occasionally not. This means no extra work, no extra weight gain, but definitely some extra fun as we take turns choosing favorite holiday treats to prepare. I do not eat packaged holiday goods – many contain hazelnuts and almonds to which I am allergic but I’d also rather hold out for homemade treats which taste a whole lot better. Even then I don’t eat much sugar because it doesn’t make me feel well. We keep our immune systems strong over the holidays with a rainbow of veggies (raw and cooked), some low GI fruit, bone broth based soups and stews, probiotics, herbs and spices, herbal teas, and plenty of sleep.
A few holiday treats that I’ll be making this year: Raw Snickers Candy Bars, GF sugar cookies for my 10 year old to roll, cut & decorate to her delight, Vegan Peppermint Patties, and homemade Turtles.
3. Maintain a few meaningful traditions and say no to the rest. I love filling stockings for my kids; this was my favorite part of Christmas when I was young. My mom would always put a tree ornament in my stocking (most often an angel) which I later used when I began my own family and I have continued this tradition with my children. While we have stayed home in our pj’s a couple times, most years we attend a beautiful candle-lit church service on Christmas Eve, the kids open one gift, and we hang out eating snacks and either watch a movie or play wii as a family. I dislike TV for the most part and even rarely watch movies (unless I am procrastinating on work), but over the holidays I love to watch old Christmas movies with my family (sometimes I walk on my treadmill as we watch, which my kids hate, but I have a hard time sitting still for ages). Somehow, Elf makes me laugh every time. We have a cloth advent calendar with little pouches that I fill (for younger kids) with a coin, a little treat, or a ‘ticket’ exchangeable for things like a massage from mom, making homemade hot cacao together, or extra time to read or play a game together. Another tradition from my childhood is pulling out the board games over Christmas holidays. We grouch at each other and laugh our way through games of Pictionary, Clue, or Scrabble. You might love to travel or attend Christmas parties – all great as long as they are meaningful activities to you!
4. Reduce waste (I still have a way to go). Throughout the year, as through the holidays, most of my shopping is done online which, unfortunately, means a garage filled with boxes and packing (the paper I can compost or recycle; the plastic stuff I add to our plastic recycle bin; if we ever get Styrofoam filling I contact the company to request that they consider an alternative). Years ago I upcycled a large, flannel, red plaid dress into some reusable cloth bags using ribbon for draw strings. We have also been reusing three paper, decorated bags that my kids purchased from a charity craft sale many years ago but they still want to use some colorful paper wrapping (purchased cheaply in the new year) and I feel like a Grinch refusing altogether. We save and reuse ribbon and tissue paper. In terms of gifts, we prefer consumable or creative gifts (craft supplies, experiences) but clothing, books, Lego (new or used from ebay), and handcrafted items from etsy have also been well-loved and well-used gifts. We have a few simple, mostly hand-crafted decorations (purchased through craft sales or small online businesses) as I prefer to support small business owners.
I do like sparkly Christmas lights but we keep things simple to reduce energy usage. I used to hand make cards for family and friends but honestly feel like this just generates more waste; I am perfectly fine with a text or email these days (please don’t mail mass-produced cards with just your signature). We buy a (most likely chemical laden) tree which isn’t the greenest option perhaps; our town used to mulch them after the holidays for local walking trails and quit doing so but many municipalities still offer this service. When I was a child, my dad would take us out into the woods to chop down a giant version of a Charlie Brown Tree (I hated freezing my butt off). I suppose we could buy a permit and continue this tradition but, frankly, I think neither my husband nor I should be allowed to carry an axe. Seriously. I’d actually like a reusable wooden tree with hooks for favorite ornaments once my kids are grown. Finally, I tend to quit composting once snow arrives but aim to get back at it over the holidays.
5. Give back. One of my primary life values is living with generosity. We all have gifts to share: finances, skills, time. But the holiday season is a lovely time to stretch out our hands to those in need. This might look different each year but a few meaningful examples from our life this year: my teenage daughter and I purchased hardcover children’s books for kids admitted to acute care at our local hospital. I bought multicultural books which made me happy and we are major book lovers so this was great fun for us. My daughter had seizures when she was little and spent time in the hospital; one day she received a donated gift from a nurse which she still has to this day – this was the impetus for giving in this way; I recently dropped a load of goods off at the local food bank and am currently running an offer of a free registration to a class I am running to someone who cannot afford it but could use some self-care; and every Christmas (in addition to other times in the year) we are able to send some funds to family in Africa. Admittedly, I don’t think we should go around advertising our giving but the point of my sharing today was to simply point out that our giving can reflect who we are as people (our particular strengths or interests), our current finances, and whatever it is we have to share. The ways to give are endless: a shoulder to cry on, a bag of groceries to a family in need, volunteering at a soup kitchen or spending time with lonely Seniors, filling shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse, or sharing a meal with someone who doesn’t have family nearby.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” -Aesop
6. Set aside time for reflection and planning. I think planning is key to a purposeful life and this is one of three times each year that I set aside time to reflect, dream, and plan. The school holidays zoom by and I must be very intentional about taking this time which plays a huge role in my mental wellbeing (but also cascades into every area of my life) as I move into the new year. It can be tricky to get alone time when the whole family is home for the holidays – mornings when teens are sleeping in, or an unexpected moment when everyone else is happily engaged, work well. Some people head to a coffee shop for this purpose but I have a hard time concentrating surrounded by people (I love to people watch). So I let my need be known for some quiet time and simply close myself into my room for chunks of time here and there and usually finish off once everyone else returns to work/school.
7. Engage the troops. You may think me a selfish mom when I share the truth here but I am completely and utterly unwilling to do all the work of decorating, food preparing, cleaning, etc., while everyone else rests. I need a holiday, too. I’d rather have takeout pizza with water than a big Christmas meal if the alternative is me doing all the work myself. So we all pitch in, like it or not. I mean, I do all the detail work anyways (planning/organizing/gift buying/baking, etc.) and my husband actually likes to help cook when he’s home (although his cooking doesn’t typically involve a ton of veggies) and takes care of snow shoveling and cleaning bathrooms (love this guy). But the minions would happily sleep, eat, and be merry without lifting a finger to help. So I have to insist on everyone helping with tidy ups, meal prep, and so on to even out, even a wee bit, the work-play balance for all. Even with this – and this is a big deal for me – I need to breathe deeply and adjust my expectations because my idea of clean or tidy tends to be quite different from everyone else’s. Otherwise, I will spend my holidays resentfully tidying up instead of resting or having fun.
8. Lay low. We are, for the most part, a bunch of hermit introverts so our idea of fun includes lazy days in pj’s, few scheduled events, plenty of time to rest, read, and enjoy simple, slow meals. I do miss my family over the holidays (and my girls would love to see more of their little cousins) but not enough to want to pack bags and travel on icy roads to visit them (we plan more visits in warmer weather). We rarely attend social events- although this year a girlfriend and I, along with our 10 year olds, have booked a night at a hotel together in a nearby city (2 hours away for me and a province away for her!). My friends got tired of me going home early to bed from New Years Eve get-togethers and stopped inviting. But we are who we are and sleep makes me a happy lady. What I really want for Christmas is time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate for the months to come. For all you extroverts – I’ve got nothing for you;)
“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured…Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.” -Susan Cain
9. Get Moving. All this unusual time of reading, resting, watching movies, and playing games can leave me sluggish and moody. I track my movement through the holidays as I do any other time of year. Walks outside (as long as it is not icy) with my husband or on my treadmill, stretching/yoga and simple weight-bearing exercises help me feel better. We might even get to the gym and shoot some hoops or wheel out our ping-pong table for some laughs and a bit of movement. When my big kids were little we’d get them out to the sledding hill or playing in the snow and ski trips are always welcome by my girls (but so expensive) although for me this means more sitting in the chalet. We are definitely less active over the school holidays but at least try to keep moving. I also avoid too much sleeping in; I feel better overall when I rise around the same time each day and follow my morning routine, even if the rest of my normal schedule is messed up over the holidays.
10. Practice Mindfulness. Christmas is a spiritual celebration for my family but even if it weren’t, my children are safe and healthy. We have food to nourish our bodies, warm and dry beds to rest in, and a safe community to grow in. We are rich and we know it. So we pause and give thanks. I begin or end my days with a 15-20 minute calming meditative practice which keeps me more anchored and peaceful. Before eating I take a couple deep, calming breaths and put my fork down sometimes; I want to enjoy the sight, smell, and flavor of my food and the company I am with rather than rushing through my meals. I try to stay in the moment and fully savor whatever activity or conversation I am engaged in – this takes work for me and a fairly regular pulling back of my attention to the moment. It also requires me turning off sound on my cell or putting it in another room when I am spending time with my family (I do not use my cell when I am with friends as I find this extremely rude but somehow do not always offer the same courtesy to my family!). I am a work in progress.
So that’s it – 10 ways that I maintain peace through the holidays. Can you relate to any of these ideas? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic.
P.S. Keep in mind that if you were planning on registering for the MIND-BODY REBOOT live class, the 15% rebate ends on December 22nd 🙂