Barely Staying Sane for Christmas
Are We Sane to Begin With?
Staying level-headed during the Christmas season is easier said than done. First off, the idea requires that we're already sane, and for some for us, this is at best a negotiable prospect. By the time December rolls around, we've already had a full year of ups and downs, and for those of us with children, those ups and downs are really up and down. We've survived birthdays and Halloween and summer vacation; we've navigated the start of school and friends gained and friends lost; we've attempted to be disciplinarians and confidants and medics; we've tried to remain a constant in others' lives, even if we felt there were no constants in our own. When the late, dark month of December rolls around, we're lucky not to be drooling in our Cheerios. Our sanity going into the holiday season is a testament to how strong we are. Making it through Christmas and New Year's, however, is another venture altogether.
Step 1: Strangle Holiday Conversation
Conversation about the holiday often starts before anything else. Nothing is as off-putting as that dang co-worker who continually asks "So...all done with your Christmas shopping?!" I've had people ask me if I'm almost done shopping for Christmas a solid two weeks before Thanksgiving. Usually, I simply say "no, not yet," but the last couple of years I've had the urge to go further with my explanation, to make the questioner forever regret the question. "If you're wondering about your present," I'd like to exclaim, "why...I thought we could sit down some time soon and discuss a list of possibilities!" Or "I deeply and firmly believe that Christmas shopping is a plot by the <insert 'far left' or 'far right'>, and I'm not willing to be a pawn in their political schemes."
Basically, the thing to do is to avoid holiday conversation entirely. Aside from stress, there's nothing to be gained from reviewing your purchases with strangers, and if you haven't done any shopping by that point, your time would be better spent buying. If you can't avoid the subject, however, keep your commitment to the conversation light. Don't invest yourself. If your dentist asks you if you're getting what you want this year, respond with "Dunno." "Dunno" is one of the best weapons you have in your arsenal against almost any holiday conversation.
Step 2: Minimize Shopping
It's not rocket science to figure out that you need to shop online. Why anyone would still be bumping elbows at the mall is beyond me. I'd suggest buying multiple items for your friends and family who don't know each other; consider going through one online checkout for every five people on your list. The potential for an awkward moment with all of them weeks from now is well worth the convenience today. Keep in mind, too, that this strategy will save you on shipping expenses. (Also, and this isn't related to minimizing the shopping experience, remember that the best gifts are those you can borrow later on).
If you must go to the mall, be stealthy about it. Go to that store in the upper-back of E-wing that no one else goes to. You know the one I mean: they sell some curious sports memorabilia, some neon-colored bathing suits, and teen heartthrob posters. It's called "The Z-Zone" or something like that. You'll have no jostling, the prices are cheap, and with the great range of products, you're guaranteed to find just the item for everyone on your list. You'll be out of the mall in 15 minutes flat.
Another way to minimize your shopping is to reconsider where you place it. I'm not sure when or how it happened, but the Christmas stocking is woefully overlooked. Once upon a time, people actually put pieces of fruit in stockings and recipients were overjoyed! But, alas, now the stocking has been reduced to books, magazines, ChapStick, gum, socks, mints, pencils, playing cards, and we're not at all thrilled. For kids and their parents, the stocking is a poor substitute for the real thing. Why? Why not use the stocking as a diversion? If we placed one small but substantial item in the stocking, we might be able to put a little less under the tree. Seriously, if you got a new phone in your stocking, you'd be too busy with it even to notice the rest of the junk under the tree. So, if you have stockings on your mantle, use them wisely. A phone in the stocking = little else in that stocking and at least three fewer gifts under the tree. This is what minimizing is all about.
Step 3: Party for Yourself
You're sure to be invited to various holiday celebrations, and that's great. But before you attend any one of them, remind yourself to celebrate yourself. One thing all of us have in common is that we're all fascinated by the intricacies of our own minds. We like to tell other people really long stories about our vacations in Montreal and share with them the ins and outs of the somewhat-relevant Freudian dream we had the night before. Not to be deterred by any social cue, we'll endlessly share our views on religion and politics and HBO, and we love to complain about our in-laws and other peoples' spending habits. And, well, why not? This is a great way to survive anything, never mind the holiday season. For every one dinner you have at someone else's house, make sure you tell at least four intensely complicated anecdotes involving no one but you. This, combined with a steady dose of what you refer to as "eggnog," will keep you as happy as the day you gave birth to your first child.
Step 4: Stay Home When it Counts
Those of us who have kids in particular need to learn a valuable lesson for the holiday season: other people should come to us. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day can be quickly ruined by travel. Highways are congested with people who have to go somewhere other than their own homes, and those aren't the kind of people you want to associate with. Besides, once you're wherever you're going on those two days, you're out of luck with Step 3 (Step 3 doesn't work on those two days...I'm not sure what you should talk about on the holiday itself). No, instead, have family and friends come to you, bringing dishes for the feast, of course. This way, you can dictate what you eat and when. You can wear sweatpants. You can lock yourself in the bedroom for a 1/2 hour, if necessary. You can assign multiple Santas, each with a garbage bag for shreds of wrapping paper. You can send the kids to their rooms, and forget to get them for a while. If all else fails, it's your tv in your house, right? You've got the remote, so use it. Guilt-trip others into helping clean up, and then feign a nap in order to plant the seed in your guests' minds that they should leave. You've had a wonderful day, and you've maintained your own strict minimal standards. Mission accomplished.
Sanity Begins With Humor
In all seriousness, the road to sanity during the holiday season is the same road you've tried to stay on all year long. Make sure you keep your sense of humor, regardless of how hectic things get. Remember, it won't be long before the kids are grown and gone, and you never know what another long year will do to the numbers in your family and friends. Appreciate the chaos that you have, and consciously create a holiday season that outshines every other. See value in the small moments as well as the large, and remember the spirit of the season: to give is far more important than to receive, and we are the result of our own generosity.