We’re well into the holiday season and I’m surprised to be feeling so chill about things. I know it’s still early but I don’t feel stressed or spread-too-thin like I usually do by this time in December. It’s our first Christmas on the coast and there’s a lovely slower pace of life here to begin with, but the absolute madness that accompanies any holiday activity in a big city is absent here and it feels like it actually is the most wonderful time of the year (after summertime, of course). Here are a couple extra things I’ve been doing (or not doing!) that help get us through December without feeling like we’re starting the new year at a major energy deficit.
Mindfully Avoid Sources of Stress: this has helped me a lot. It’s tough to seek calm and avoid chaos if you don’t know which things trigger stress reactions for you. Spend a few minutes thinking about the activities, events, or people that usually make you feel overwhelmed or overstretched during the holidays – this will look different for each of us, of course! Keep in mind that there’s good chaos and bad chaos; some things are inconvenient but unavoidable (busy parking lots, holiday traffic, crowded malls) and some things might make us feel the kind of negative, out-of-control stressed that is harder to recover from. Once you’ve identified the key things that set off your stress/anxiety during the season you can decide if you should try to manage them or if it’s best to avoid them completely. Life is too short to do tons of stuff you don’t feel like doing so if you hate Santa photos, don’t have the energy for Elf on the Shelf, don’t worry about it. If parking at a busy mall gives you a panic attack before you even get inside, shop online. If you have a shitty friend or a toxic family situation, consider staying home to create your own meaningful traditions. Craft the perfect holiday season based on exactly what your family needs in order to make lasting memories.
Focus on the Magic and Forget the Rest: what makes the season special for your family? Is it Santa? Jesus? Giving back to others? Long overdue family time? Sometimes we get hung up on the small stuff during the holidays and don’t even give ourselves the time to step back and realize it’s not as important as we thought. Many of us are probably guilty of stressing over cooking a big meal when the most important aspect of the night is spending time with those we’re cooking for, or finding the “perfect” gift for someone when the season isn’t actually about the gifts. Putting some of our priorities into perspective can shift the vibe and help us chill out about those little things, like the kids refusing to wear their matching sweaters or the stuffing getting a little too crispy. When in doubt, make like Elsa or Anna or whatever (I haven’t seen Frozen yet) and let it gooooo… nobody’s gonna remember that stuff, anyway!
Keep Expectations for Kids Super Low: some kids do pretty well attending an onslaught of social functions and fun activities over the course of December but even the most extrovert kids I know need to recharge at home between all of the festivities. Lights, crowds, and a full day of sugary treats make even adults feel a little nuts and our kiddos get even more overstimulated (and then we feel frustrated with them when they have an epic meltdown; “they don’t normally do this!” …well you don’t normally skip their nap, give them a hot chocolate and then expect them to sit on a weird stranger’s lap either, Susan. Use your brain). Of course it’s okay for them to have a late bedtime once in a while so they can catch the magic of the Santa Parade or go carolling but often I find that framing the fun stuff around established nap times and routines helps my kids to enjoy those activities more fully because they have more energy (not to mention every time our family scrimps on sleep we all get sick!). But like I said, you know your kids best. Mine are very young and get overtired pretty quickly so keeping big events short and sweet (and then slinking off early to watch a Christmas movie on the couch in our jammies) works well for us! Other families I know try to keep just one big activity or family visit per day in their schedule so they aren’t driving around to multiple cities to cram too much in. Do what works for you!
A Word about Consent: just a friendly reminder that there are a lot of ways for your kids to say hello/goodbye to their relatives or thank them for a gift that don’t involve physical touch. Some children are naturally affectionate but some (like mine!) have a large bubble of ‘personal space’. If your child doesn’t want to hug or kiss their relatives you have a perfect opportunity to teach them about consent and show them that you respect their boundaries. There are a ton of articles online discussing this point if you’re interested in reading more but I find it helpful to consider this during the holidays.
Mindful Seasonal Traditions You Can Start: picking out a Christmas tree, decorating the tree, making cookies for family or neighbours, making a meal for the local shelter, choosing toys and coats to donate (both new and used), DIYing a garland from yard clippings (go ‘foraging’ first to find pinecones, berries, etc), making Christmas playdough (try using peppermint extract or pumpkin spices!), advent calendars (so many ideas on Pinterest), stamping kraft paper to use to wrap gifts (did you know that wrapping paper isn’t recyclable?), having a bonfire (don’t forget hot chocolate!), writing a Christmas story together, cooking something new for dinner, salt dough ornaments, Christmas colouring sheets, letting the kids pick out small gifts for their siblings, bundling up and going to the beach…there’s so much you can do during the day with kids in the winter! What would you add?