The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year but are more often than not fraught with stress, anger and tension. By December 24, most people feel broke, worn out and ready for a new year to begin. For starters, we are expected to spend so much money -- on family, teachers, neighbors, charities and all the tips for the postal workers and sanitation men and women. There are some weeks that I see those men and women ringing their bells for the Salvation Army, and I remember what one of my former students would say, "Honey, I ain't giving to charity. I am a charity." Then there are all the extra parties, cookie exchanges and secret Santas. There's the money and time spent hanging decorations and sending out cards to people.
And then there's the family.
All those people you can successfully avoid throughout the year suddenly descend for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and all the rest. Instead of an afternoon at a birthday party or a picnic reunion for a couple of hours by the shore, over the holidays we're often faced with spending days and days with our family. Not an east task for many of us.
So how can we survive the holidays feeling relaxed, poised and even, dare I say it, joyful? It all begins with FAITH.
F: Forgive and forget. Just for the holidays. My friend has a great saying: Do the hard work in the short term for a big payoff in the long run. Sure, your brother might drive you crazy, but this time of year is not the time to rehash old wounds. Keep the peace and you and your family will be rewarded with a sense of unity to last for a lifetime.
A: Accept people as they are. My friend Joanne has a sister who insists on serving like Martha Stewart. Everything is made from scratch with herbs grown in her garden. The china is used, the silver is polished. My friend resents all the fuss and time she has to spend in the kitchen helping her sister. However, I'm sure her sister hates going to my friend's house where the policy is always, "Help yourself; server yourself." We are all different. If we were the same, we'd never learn and grow. Both these sisters can teach other patience and tolerance if they can just learn to accept each other's different way of serving dinner.
I: Ignore mean people. They are all around us and sometimes they are in our own families. Mean people hate the holidays, and it brings out the worst in them. A mean person in my family will literally try to start fights by discussing contentious issues such as politics and religion or bringing up past hurts that have never been fully resolved. The only way to deal with these people is to ignore them. And when they try to start something with you, just smile, nod and deflect. "I don't really have an opinion on Obama, but I sure do love your new camera. Can you take a picture of us all after dinner?" And then walk away.
T: Take breaks. Lots of them. Texting is a great stress relief. I text hilarious family comments and responses to my friends back home, and then they text back providing a much needed tension break. I take walks too and insist on going alone. Make sure you have a friend that you can unload with. It's important to have a safe person to release your stress to. This person isn't always going to be your spouse, especially if your source of tension is with his/her family! Pick a neutral friend and tell them your stress stories. Just be sure to be there for your friend when she has to deal with her family.
T also stands for Talk. Talk to your family members. Really talk to them. I'm always amazed at how my family and I can make small talk about nothing, literally nothing, for hours. We discuss current events, politics and celebrities but never our own selves. We're current on each other's kids lives and their activities but when it comes to the story of own lives, nothing. And we are each fascinating people. I have great stories to tell, for example, about talking to the dead and what the other side looks like. My husband has great stories to tell about arresting people or helping families through the holidays. And yet, when we go places, no one really asks us questions about us. I am amazed each time I go to a party how I can literally "interview" someone for almost an hour, and yet they will never ask me a question about myself in return. It's so odd to me, but it happens all the time. This year, take the time to ask meaningful questions.
H: Have fun. Seriously. The holidays are supposed to be about family and friends and happy times. And I've found that the best way to be happy is to make your own happiness. Find something every day that you can do for yourself to make you happy. It could be a good holiday movie, a lovely book to come home to, a game of cards with someone, a warm bubble bath, a vigorous workout, getting a manicure. For me, it's doing something creative. As long as I have time every day to knit, draw or write, I am a happy girl. I love to bake with my daughters and make ornaments with them too. Christmas music always makes me happy. The other day, I went to the library and checked out a dozen books on holiday crafts. I was so happy sipping my tea later that night and planning all the things my girls and I could make together for Christmas. It's the simple things that bring the most sustaining joy. Find yours.
And don't forget to remember the meaning behind all these holidays. It's not about money. If you can't afford a gift for someone, do not get stressed or overwhelmed. One of my favorite gifts is a little book mark that has one of my favorite quotes on it by Cicero: A room without books is like a body without a soul. The person who bought me that bookmark knew I loved books, so that gift meant so much to me. It really is the thought that counts.
To help my children remember why my husband and I are snapping at each other as we untangle lights, or why I tend to yell at the tape dispenser that never works, I bought a beautiful gold hat box a few years ago that we place under the tree each year. Then I take construction paper and cut out dozens of crosses. Whenever my girls do something nice for someone, they write it down on one of the crosses and place it in the box as their gift to Christ. It's just a small and hopefully meaningful way to help them remember that this month is not about who gets the biggest and best gifts.
Keep your expectations minimal. Forget the Norman Rockwell Christmas. And in return you may just feel as if this is the most wonderful time of the year.
And for those of you in particularly stressful families, check out these tips from a gal who knows where you're coming from:
1) Send lots of love, light and prayers to the dates on which you'll have to be with your family. By sending extra energy to that date, you'll provide a cushion of good energy to encircle that event.
2) Surround negative family members in pink light. It really works. Just imagine them being wrapped in thick pink cotton candy and watch as their negativity begins to soothe. Just don't forget to wrap yourself in pink light too!
3) If there's someone in your family who always gets under your skin, take a moment before you speak to them to say inside your head "I love you." This will soften your tone and bring lots of love to the situation.
4) Place a crystal cluster near the family gathering -- either on the dining room table or the sideboard. Crystal clusters help groups to get along and work together.
Good luck to all of you reading this. And remember this, you are not alone. You have your guides and angels watching over you. Ask for their help too. Ask and you shall receive. I wish you all a joyous, peaceful and happy, happy holiday season.