The holiday season is for many a beautiful period. But talking to my friends and family, I noticed a lot of them experience stress or even anxiety around this time a year.
If you feel utterly relaxed around the holiday season, this post isn’t for you. I’ve written this especially for those who feel overwhelmed by the hectic by the end of December, the stress, the travelling and all that.
This stress has mostly to do with all the ‘obligations’ you have: visiting relatives and relatives-in-law, the travelling back and forth, playing nice, hearing your uncle moan about ‘those bloody immigrants’ (we all have one uncle like that, right? 😉 ).
But what are obligations?
Certain obligations (especially those around the holidays) are restrictions you put on yourself because you have been taught to feel guilty when you don’t oblige to certain expectations. Long sentence but please think about it.
Pick your battles
A few years ago I decided I wouldn’t attend all Christmas-parties. When I feel like it, I spend the first day of Christmas with my parents. Sometimes my parents go to my aunt and uncle, and I tag along. My boyfriend is not coming with me as he goes to his parents on the first day of Christmas. That way we both have visited our families but we don’t have to travel across the country (we all live on opposite sides of the country) to see everyone. Does the family raise an eyebrow because you don’t bring your partner? Yes, they might, the first year you do it like this. But they will get used to it. If you have children, let them go along with you one year and with your partner the next.
The second day of Christmas I spend it at home, under a blanket, with said boyfriend, and the film Home Alone. This has become our tradition.
If it seems that I don’t care enough for my family, it’s not true. I visit them whenever I can but not just around the holidays.
Do you really have to go to all of those relatives (and family-in-law), or can you make fewer visits? Why is it that we are forcing ourselves to jump through so many hoops to visit family on a certain day, while we have 364 other days a year we can visit them? And why do we feel so guilty about it?
I guess we feel guilty because we love our family and we do want to see them. We want to spend time with them! It’s just that it’s hard to manage in just one or two days.
Celebrate Christmas on any day in December
If your family is sad you’re not spending the holidays with them, arrange for another day to come by. Maybe a week before Christmas, and offer to cook dinner for them. The whole month of December has a Christmas-sy feel to it, you probably have a tree in your living room already, ask your family to wear their favourite clothes, and celebrate it then. You’ll see it’s much more relaxed and less stressful!
New years eve
A few years ago I made a drawing how I celebrated new years eve: on the sofa, by myself, with oliebollen and hot coco, watching a film. One person said “I wish I could do this but I have obligations”. That struck a cord with me. Why did I allow myself to have a good time? Why didn’t she? It was obvious she wasn’t happy with her situation. Follow Phoebe’s advice from Friends: “Oh, I wish I could but I don’t want to.” 😉
I feel that I am allowed to have a good time, whether it’s with family, friends or by myself. Imagine being at a party where nobody wants to be but just is there because it’s an ‘obligation’. What a sad perspective! If someone is at my party just because they have to be instead of wanting to be, then please go home. It’s not that I don’t love them: I want them to have a good time because I love them. I think if you talk about this with people, many will agree on the latter.
Of course you sometimes do things you don’t feel like doing but you do them because it matters to the people you love. But it’s all about finding that balance. How to please your loved ones without putting yourself in a very stressful situation.
Dealing with not-so-kind family members
The body-shaming remark
On twitter someone was asking how you should respond when a family member makes remarks on your weight/body.
My response was quite simple: you don’t have to take bullshit from anyone, not even family.
If someone makes a remark, I will tell them that they’ve hurt my feelings. I expect an apology from that person then. If that doesn’t happen: anyone who doesn’t respect you is not worth spending time with. Not even family.
We probably all have one relative that feels that they need to make remarks on topics that are unpleasant. Not suitable for the Christmas dinner either but they do it anyway. May it be politics, racism, immigrants, certain religions.
It might be handy to know that a lot of these (angry) remarks are fuelled by fear. Often these people aren’t even that angry but they are frightened of change, and fearing their way of living will change. So, in most cases it doesn’t really help to be angry back at them.
Plan A: when that family member makes a remark, check if they have a heart. “That’s quite cruel of you to say, uncle Herbert.” Turning it into a remark on their own personality makes them reflect quicker. Maybe you can have a conversation with your relative about it, when they are open to it.
Plan B: If your family is from a line of immigrants, it’s quite easy. “You do know your (grand)parents came from [insert country here] to build a better live for themselves, right?”.
If it’s family-in-law and you’re the one from a line of immigrants: “Do you want me to go back to my own country too, uncle Herbert? I don’t have any family there because they’re all here at this table but whatever suits you!” (make it extra dramatic by getting ready to leave :D). This jokingly approach might get some laughs and brighten the mood.
Plan C: Turn the subject around. Whenever that one relative tries to talk about something nasty, try to immediately talk about something different. “Have you guys seen the film The Christmas Chronicles on Netflix? Oh my, isn’t Kurt Russell brilliant as Santa?! Maybe we should put the film on!”
Plan D: Buy noise cancelling headphones and sit through the day with it.
In most cases I feel you get to make the holiday-season as stressful as you want it to be. It’s a matter of choices you’re making. Is it too hectic? Make it less hectic. Visit fewer relatives. They won’t love you less. If they do, they’re horrible people 😉
Happy holidays to you!