How Not To Lose Your Mind During the Holiday Season

Here we are in another holiday season. Right away we can observe how different folks handle the preparations. High-achievers are more likely to be saddled with anxiety about creating the perfect holiday celebration at home– you know, finding perfect gifts for everyone, decorating the house so it looks like a magazine, and trying to recreate what childhood memories of their mother’s and grandmothers’ “perfect” holiday milieu.
While we would all love to jump through the looking glass into this amazing dream world of perfection, what we’re doing to ourselves is saying that if we don’t make our world perfect during the holiday season, we’re failures, inadequate and our children and spouses will suffer and everything will be poopy.

But what is it that’s really driving us here?

  1. Shame that our houses don’t look perfect all year long? (Guilty!)
  2. Guilt that we consider our business success more important than a house that looks like a magazine layout? (Guilty!)
  3. Childhood memories (however inaccurate) of all the wonderful things your mother and grandmother did to get ready for big meals with extended family and desserts coming out of the oven and cookies and candy there for the taking for weeks. (Not guilty!)
  4. Are we hypnotized by “women’s magazines that show how “easy” it is to bake a 1000 cookies a night, have a cake done and decorated in an hour and have the house clean itself with a little effort each day plus 1300 storage bins and decorative baskets. (Guilty!)
  5. Let me be clear, if all this preparation and running around gives you joy, then you’re doing the right thing. But if all of this hustle and bustle gives you a knot in your stomach or changes you into a witch, it’s time to face reality.

My mother was a stay-at-home mom who was not fanatical about housekeeping except when company was expected. We had a living room that was off limits so it was always neat and clean. Once per week the house was vacuumed, dusted, bathrooms cleaned and floors mopped.

But during the month of December Mom became the wicked witch of the suburbs – she was bent on creating the best Christmas food, decorations, dinners, brunches – she was all business. She was a list maker – shopping lists for gifts, checks for charities, grocery lists for various dinners, brunches at the house, decorating lists – Christmas tree, nativity display, outdoor decorations, lights, candles, changing out pictures on the walls, chore lists – polishing silver, candelabras, door knockers and knobs – aaagh!

As an only child, I couldn’t go out to play as often because there were these extra chores to do. And no siblings to divide them with. I couldn’t “hang out” with Mom and chit chat about school, boyfriends, movies, food because Mom was laser-focused on the “Christmas prep.” (I hated polishing silver and brass – it turned my fingers black!) My dad was safely at work; he didn’t have to tiptoe around my mom until he got home!

      Each present perfectly wrapped of course

I often wondered why Mom was doing all these preparations if they were making her miserable? She was obviously stressed, impatient if anything went wrong, and took on so much extra stuff – baking, creating decorations, writing letters to insert into Christmas cards, trying new recipes, taking on so much activity! She was usually up until 2 or 3 a.m.

My dad did his part by taking care of the outside Christmas lights (and re-doing them under Mom’s instructions), and setting up the Lionel train around the Christmas tree. Once Mom asked him to put the tinsel on the tree and he placed the entire box of tinsel as one piece onto the tree like a wig! Of course that had to be re-done.

I’m not sure how Mom would have handled Christmas if she had had a full time job outside the home. Maybe that’s why she undertook so much: it was her way of compensating for being a housewife. All I remember is Dad and me tiptoeing around her as she was busy destroying the kitchen with baking and cooking and taking over the only other family room, the basement, with wrapping paper, ribbons and decorations for the presents. There were few places to hide.

     Our cat was a big help


When the compliments rolled in from visiting relatives and friends, Mom would smile wryly and thank them – she never thought she’d done enough. She couldn’t even enjoy the festivities because she was exhausted.

As a result, her ever-lovin’ and very much less-talented daughter learned this much from her:

  1. Divide things into simple tasks that can be done each day. Be reasonable about how important they are. (Don’t use your mother’s standard.)Don’t attempt a new recipe to try out on your guests. Make your own family the guinea pigs.
  2. If you work at home, plan on one trip out each day to take care of things on your list. Couple items within the same location if you can.
  3. Don’t buy gifts you can’t afford, it’s not worth the deluge of bills the following month.
  4. Take a walk or exercise each day even if you haven’t done it regularly before. It only takes 15-30 minutes to feel better and get a little energy.
  5. Drink plenty of water and limit your caffeine to two drinks a day – caffeine dehydrates you and doesn’t supply “real” energy.
  6. Make your To Do list before going to bed each night and try to grab at least 8 hours of sleep a night.
  7. Do yourself a favor – stop reading those decorating articles or watching the food or DIY channels – they’ll only drive you crazy.

After all, Mary and Joseph didn’t decorate at all…

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

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