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Warning! The Holidays Are Coming! The Holidays Are Coming!

It’s official.  Now that November is upon us, the holidays are all but here.  Oh, you can try to avoid them.  You can deny them.  You can ignore them.  But they are on their way nonetheless.  With all their trimmings and trappings and commercial overkill.   The tatty ornaments.  The omnipresently icky jingles.  The overspending.  The overeating.  The drinking. The family gatherings.  The drama.  More drinking. The guilt.

And then again, how lovely the season can be, how genuinely, wistfully lovely.  There are parties and wonderful meals, gatherings of friends and family, time-honored decorations and religious services, all bright with expectation and promise and hope.  Indeed, if we manage to survive the whole holiday frenzy, we nearly always look back on them as somehow magical,  with a fondness and a tenderness that makes it all worthwhile.

So let’s get an early start.  Let’s manage the stress, set reasonable goals, control the spending, organize our time wisely and – and this is crucial – take decent care of ourselves in the process.  Who knows? We may actually enjoy our own parties and keep our blood pressure and bank accounts in check!

First, the stress thing.  Have you shopped yet today?  Now that Hallowe’en is over, even though it was only yesterday, the Christmas and Hanukkah stuff has pride of place on all the shelves.  The grocery stores are bursting with Thanksgiving ingredients and holiday baked goods.  Lights and toys and strange blowup creatures for our lawns are everywhere.

We start to feel rushed and pushed.  We feel impatience creeping in.  We get cranky, sad, anxious.  We don’t sleep well.  We get headaches and upset stomachs and our muscles seem tight and sore.  And it’s only November!

The Cleveland Clinic has set out some great tips for coping with the season of joy.  Step one?

  • Invest your precious energies wisely.
  • SIMPLIFY.
  • Say goodbye to unrealistic expectations.  
That sounds pretty easy, right?  But what does ‘simplify’ actually mean?  And what are ‘unrealistic expectations’? So on to step two: figure out what the holidays really mean to you and your loved ones:
  • Exactly what are you celebrating, anyway?
  • What values are you thinking of when you think of the holidays, or your holiday?  Are you practicing or honoring those values?
  • Think about holidays from the past.  What did you really enjoy?  What worked?  What wasn’t worth it?
  • What traditions and rituals do you and your family treasure?  Which ones do you all enjoy the best?
Things that bring you and your family and loved ones closer together are the ones to keep.  And the traditions needn’t be elaborate.  And don’t be afraid to let go of rituals or family customs that have lost their meaning.  Their memories are already blended into the ones that matter now.
Step three:  gift making, buying and giving 
  • Set – and respect – the holiday budget
  • Promise not to define love by the cost, or number, of gifts.
  • Find out what people really want or need – that may be the perfect gift.
  • Think about giving your time or service as a present.
  • Shop early enough in the season that the selection is still good and you have the time to make good decisions.  Impulse buying is inevitably expensive.
  • Look through catalogs and shop online for good selections and prices.
  • Avoid, avoid, avoid the malls during peak times and after 5 pm.
Step four: party season
  • Remember that the best parties are great get-togethers.  A relaxed and welcoming host or hostess is far more important than elaborate food or state-of-the-art decor.
  • Clean enough of the house to feel comfortable, but remember this is a party, not an inspection.  Don’t make yourself crazy worrying about windows and blinds and organizing the linens!
  • Use as many prepared foods as you can.
  • Ask guests to bring along their favorite dishes.  Sharing really helps everyone feel included.
  • Use disposable plates, glasses and cutlery.
  • Cook and freeze foods ahead of time if you can.
  • Think simple.  Think warm and happy.  Think gracious.
Next, handling family gatherings, some time management tips and ways to cope with the holiday blues and seasonal depression.
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