If you are someone who experiences the coming of the holiday season with a similar premonition to that felt by a cartoon character over whom the shadow of a falling piano is growing, here are a few tips on getting through the end of the year season.
Option 1: Don’t celebrate at all
Re-examine what the holidays — be they religious or cultural — mean to you. You may have heard that the company REI closes for Black Friday to encourage customers to “go outside.” “We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand,” said Jerry Stritzke, C.E.O. of the chain that specializes in outdoor and fitness gear. Maybe your family’s passive aggressive, overtly aggressive and simply wrong behavior has also gotten out of hand. Maybe you don’t have any close family to be with or have been through a family trauma and need some space. Winter is hard enough already, isn’t it? Maybe you just need to get away from it all.
There is a speaker from Al-Anon (a families and friends of alcoholics group), Father Tom W., who gives talks with names like, “How to live in the world with crazy people.” He is honest and funny, and while I don’t remember the exact quote, he mentioned a friend who dealt with Christian family holidays by traveling to non-Christian countries. The point he made was, if you keep seeing those people every year, who is the crazy one? Maybe it’s time to take a year or more off from all that nonsense. You can still do things that are fun for you and potentially enjoy some time off work, or out of town. Or sometimes just a day off at home — a mini staycation — is ideal.
You may choose this option on your own, and you may find there are more anti- or un-holiday folks in your midst than you had realized.
Option 2: Celebrate with family — on your terms
You think they are crazy, they think you are crazy — and that’s how it is. Maybe you want to be a fire-walker and see them anyway. That’s your choice. If you go into that fire, wear your own homemade protective gear, or get some upgrades from a therapist or good friend on how to bring a cloud of self-love with you when you go into unfriendly places full of old landmines. If you’re into mindfulness meditation or guided imagery, I recommend this short “sacred pause” guided awareness activityfrom Tara Brach. Or, if you have time, try this longer talk on self-love by Buddhist teacher James Baraz, who I was lucky enough to hear speak in Richmond, Virginia.
Maybe the people you are with for the holidays honestly aren’t your favorite people. Knowing that is OK — because reality is better than pretending sometimes. Maybe you love them, and maybe you’re not sure about that — maybe you love them to death, but they are infuriating. You know how they say, “Put on your own oxygen mask first.” You really don’t want to go into a charged family scenario without your oxygen mask. Make self-care a priority and see who you want, when you want, for as long as you want. Your needs, schedule and voice are important, right? Be your own delegate at the great table and maintain your bubble of personal space.
You don’t have to take on any invitation to argue that is thrown your way. You can listen to yourself and try to respond in a way that feels right for you. You can be imperfect. For some people, taking lots of walks, watching TV or cooking can help get them through an uncomfortable or scathingly awkward day with family.
Option 3: Create your own traditions
The holidays have all been made up by various people, so make up your own! Celebrate the Last Taco Night of December or the First New Socks of January. You may have heard of or celebrated a “Friendsgiving,” which is a friend-oriented Thanksgiving celebration. Another great example of a unique holiday plan in New York City is to let Humans of New York find you a Christmas family, a program set up by the über-popular photography and contemporary sidewalk anthropology site Humans of New York. Some people may choose to volunteer, go skinny dipping in icy water, dress like a naughty elf or stay in their pajamas all day watching any show in which there are British accents while drinking Bailey’s and hot chocolate.
The point is, you have one sweet and sour life that is all your own. If the traditions created by the humans who have come before you aren’t really your thing, don’t feel the need to be tied down by them. By being creative and true to yourself in how you spend your winter holidays, you may be creating more wiggle room for those around you and those yet to come as well.
So, do what you want.