This year, I worked hard for Christmas. Not shopping, cleaning or cooking. I worked hard on my attitude. And it paid off.
The holidays are really hard for so many of us, an emotional flashpoint for anxiety, depression, addiction and bad memories. I've had a lot of nice moments during previous holidays, but paid a price along the way. One way I coped in the past decade has been by launching myself into huge holiday projects - toy drives, adopt a family, gift card drives and more. I spent hundreds of hours trying to make the holidays bright for the recipient and the giver. And then, without warning, it was over. The gifts were gone and my coworkers were ready to pursue their own holidays and I was left ... alone? empty? lost? A little bit of all of those things. Plus, tired, irritable and feeling like an elf with a toy hangover.
I was successful - I raised tens of thousands of dollars and gifts, I created a gift card project that continues to this day even though I am no longer working at that agency, I received tons of feedback to affirm and confirm that the projects had an impact. I also learned A LOT about holidays and poverty and "charity" and gratitude. But I rarely felt good.
This year, no project. I was supporting a coat/blanket drive and promoting events for social media clients, but no big holiday crescendo. So I put my energy into my own holiday.
First, I realized that many things I appreciate happen over the "holiday break" - meals and visits and fun adventures. So I reprogrammed myself to think of holidays extending over a week or more rather than a few hours on Christmas Day as some sort of pinnacle. Basically I am spreading 6 hours of stress to 14 days - do the math, its way more relaxing.
Second, I worked consciously to stay in the moment. I went to Target on Christmas Eve and reminded myself to enjoy it - I had saved up and spent an actually pleasant hour picking out stocking stuffers. I smiled at people, helped a lady juggling a load and made small talk in line. I astounded myself! I had to stop the cart several times and remind myself not to worry about the next task or the errand still to be completed that evening. Just grip the cart and stay grounded.
Third, I savored the moments. No we didn't get lights on the tree but it was still pretty. No I didn't figure out how to permanently display a family heirloom Christmas House but I set it up under the tree, took photos to share with family and reminisced while doing so. Then I tucked it away. No outside lights. Unexpected dinner at a friend's home? Joyful. Learning that our favorite restaurant was opening on Xmas Eve? Splendid. Plans with our dear friends to see the lights at Phipps as well as time with three of our favorite boys? Excellent. I even took a dozen photo of my dogs eating their Christmas rawhide so I could appreciate their pleasure. One of my favorite moments - I bought us matching flannel pajamas (pink and gray plaid) from JC Penney's sale rack. I surprised Laura with them and she indulged me by wearing them with me on Christmas Eve. It was a sweet and silly moment, but also romantic and indulgent.
Fourth, I gave. One server was brand new on the job. I left her a 40% tip. Learned of a 19-year-old mother of a toddler who had just arrived in town with nothing - far too late to sign up for a holiday toy project. I had just purchased an age-appropriate toy for a young friend so I trotted out to my car and handed it over to staff to pass along to her from Santa. I used my social media access to ask people to donate to the coat and blanket drive for the Gay and Lesbian Community Center - the emergency appeal generated more than 200 coats and about 250 blankets, while the overall larger drive generated more than 2,000 items including clothing of all types.
Finally, I planned. I had a few hours of downtime on Christmas afternoon while Ledcat visited some family so I knew I could wrap my presents then. I also knew I wasn't able to wrap so I bought gift bags. I used a bit of this time to do some work (teaching myself how to better use Reddit) to give my brain a break from holiday thoughts. We planned our meal, our chores and even planned our laundry. I knew I would want to blog so I started this post last night while Ledcat (my partner) had another task to do and then finished while she was out so I'm not letting blogging intrude on our family time.
It wasn't all roses and rainbows. I had an asthma attack after a candle's fumes infiltrated all of our clothing and hair and skin - we even had to wash our coats. Then a cashier dropped a bottle of root beer at Giant Eagle at McIntyre Square - we were both drenched and several items in my purse were ruined (soaked), but worst of all Giant Eagle management didn't even offer us a paper towel to wipe off our faces and hands, much less help us. That was a tense moment even though it was an accident. I left three messages for Giant Eagle to little avail. And we had to wash our entire ensemble again, plus shoes this time. Several other small stressors reared their ugly heads, but not to the point that they derailed our overall holiday. Because even as we walked to our car dripping wet and oozing root beer from our sneakers, we talked it out and were just grateful - we had a car, not a long wait for a bus; we had a washer and dryer at home, not a laundromat; our phones weren't soaked, etc. I'm not saying we didn't have some choice words for Giant Eagle management and I will probably repeat them when and if someone ever calls me back. But... better root beer than olive oil, right?
Here's hoping you found a way to use your tools and skills to manage holiday stress and didn't simply "get through it" this year.
And don't forget that the opportunity to feel good about giving extends year round. No resolution necessary.
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