The holidays are a great time of year to reconnect with and celebrate the people you love. I look back very fondly on all the Thanksgivings and Christmases I spent playing with my cousins and eating good food.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to understand just how much preparation goes into making those days so magical. My mother would make dishes and dishes of food for our whole extended family, and we would spend the week before a holiday getting the house ready for company.
Spending holidays with your loved ones is so important, but the end of the year is extraordinarily stressful, especially for college students. So often, breaks are our only time to breathe after a pile of coursework, and we have to take that time to rest. This is made difficult by preparing for large holiday celebrations when we just don’t have enough energy to enjoy them.
According to Harvard Medical School, a 2016 survey found that 62% of responders had a “very or somewhat” elevated stress level during the holidays, due to factors such as “the financial demands of the season, negotiating the interpersonal dynamics of family and maintaining personal health habits such as an exercise regimen.”
Suddenly, our time to rest and recover our energy is spent building up to yet another spike, only to last for a day and then drop again. That’s not what holidays should be about. It’s very hard to sincerely celebrate something when it’s making you hang on by a thread.
The expectation that holidays should be a huge affair with tons of people and food does not need to be the expectation every year. Maybe this year, you give yourself permission not to be completely festive all the time.
If making a turkey is going to cause more stress on a national holiday than any other day, maybe skip the turkey or choose a smaller one. If you’d rather sleep in for once than prepare a whole spread, maybe sleep in. If your living space is a little messy, your living space is a little messy. If you’re tired at the party, drop in to say hello and preserve the connection, then go take a nap. If the thought of eating a ton of food on one day is worrying you, don’t make so much food.
While different people celebrate different things, so much about the wintry season involves warmth, safety and coziness. Fall and winter holidays are all about refuge from the storms and food to keep us warm. Sometimes, the storms are storms of work or pressure, and we need refuge from those as well.
None of this is to say we should disregard the people around us just because we are tired. Spending time with family, born or chosen, is a core part of the season and honoring tradition with them is an important part of maintaining relationships. However, if you can all rely on your mutual love and communication to trust that everyone is tired and needs a break, maybe you can agree to dial some of the fanfare back and just enjoy each other’s company with a movie or something.
Holidays are not about perfection; they are about celebration. Give yourself grace this year to enjoy the season at your own pace, without putting a ton of expectations on yourself about how you’re celebrating.
Christmas ornament. Photo by Lillian Davis.