I heard the term "holiday rush" about 4 times last week, and it didn't really phase me until I was FaceTiming with a good friend on Friday, and she was not in the greatest mood. She teaches until the 22nd, her oldest is coming home from college and has a birthday celebration that needs some planning, she is hosting Christmas Eve at her house, and she has to get gifts for her family plus for her extended family's White Elephant gift exchange. This is all "fun" stuff, but work has been stressful and is not leaving her with the time she needs to get everything done.
"I just want to have fun next weekend," she said, referring to Dec 18-19. "I don't want to be stressed and busy. I want to enjoy the holidays and my kids."
My friend is a Martha Stewart-type through and through. She is an outstanding cook and she lovingly decorates her house for every season. She's very organized, but she doesn't get more hours in the day than the rest of us, and she is overly busy - and stressed - with work.
I asked her what she could do to to be less stressed about the holidays- what she could let go of, and she said a few things: she wasn't going to do the desserts. She'd ask her sister to bring those. She seemed a little sad because she loves making Christmas cookies, but she knew she probably wasn't going to have enough time, and at least this way, desserts would be covered. She was planning on making a big, fancy chicken dinner, but she was letting go of that and had picked something easier. She wants her house decorated perfectly, she said, and her voice trailed off when she talked about that. Her house ALWAYS is decorated beautifully, but when you throw "perfection" into the ring, it's never enough.
I talked to her again yesterday and she was heading out to shop for her White Elephant gift, plus she had to pick out the gifts that her kids and husband would bring to the White Elephant. I knew she'd rather use her afternoon doing something else - anything else, actually - but that she had to do this. We talked about trying to get into the Christmas spirit. I asked for her go-to holiday radio station. I had just submitted my final grades, and I'm done taking Christmas orders now, so I'm ready to get my elf on. It's a struggle for me this year, honestly. My dog just died, and I always miss my mom so much during the holidays. My friend is missing her mom and her dad. Keeping family traditions going and blazing forward with new meaningful ones is important to both of us.
And even thought we want the holidays to be fab for our loved ones, maintaining the requisite vibe isn't always as easy as it could be because of three things: expectations, obligations, and "the holiday rush."
By expectations, I must point out that we want to meet everyone's expectations about the holiday - a fool's game, by the way, because it's impossible to manage so many expectations - even if we actually could identify them, and anyway, no adult is responsible for another adult's emotions, feelings, and responses. That's a tattoo I'd consider getting, actually, as it's such an important piece of wisdom.
We feel obligated to make things "perfect" because our moms died, so now we try to pull the holidays off just as well as they did, but as they are dead, the memories of those holidays are now legendary, and no mere mortal (or person with a full time job which our moms did not have) could ever reach. Simply put, they had more hours to put toward all things Christmas.
Lastly, society has instilled in us the concept of the holiday rush. We are obsessed with not having enough time. If we aren't hustling and bustling, then we aren't doing it right, right? Here's a challenge: Note how many times you see the word "hurry!" today, whether it be about getting something ordered so it's delivered by Christmas or because the item is going to be out of stock, or because hours are shortened for the holidays. Scarcity is hot right now! And scarcity is stressful. Honestly, I think tackling number 3 and focusing on what I'll call "the holiday slow down" is the way to go because it might aid us with walking past number 1 and 2. For example, if you stop and shake the snow globes, and you watch the little glass worlds get covered in your blizzard, and then you watch your blizzard settle, well, you weren't worrying about expectations and obligations for a minute. That's progress.
Here's the thing about my friend and me: We are both good people. She is one of the best humans I know. We like to share. We like to help. We love holidays. We want our families to enjoy this holiday. However, when we get really busy with our other stuff - whether it be work stuff or health stuff or relationship stuff - sometimes making sure the holidays are great for everyone seems like something we have to carry for everyone else versus something we want to do because it's fun, and let's face it - if you go into a holiday feeling like everything is a chore, you're going to be resentful, and you're not going to have fun. She and I both are aware of this, which is why we actively check in with each other to let go of the stress, to let go of the obligations. We have to get ourselves excited. We have to find our happy. No one asked us to take over for our moms. We just decided that if we didn't, it wouldn't happen, so we did. But no one asked us to. We took action to keep these traditions going. When we can remember that, a lot of the feelings of expectations and obligations can slide away.
I have this silly little meditation practice I do in the morning. I keep a stack of 2" squares of black construction paper by my desk and I zentangle on a few of them every morning for 15 minutes with white pen while I sip my cold brew. My mind wanders at first and then goes blank. I focus on drawing circles and lines, and sometimes they look really cute, and sometimes not. And that's ok. It's the process for me.
At one point, in 2020, I had a pretty big stack of 2" squares, and I thought, "What am I going to do with these?" I grew up with a "waste not, want not" mentality. I decided that some were cute, so I'd hole-punch those and use them for gift tags when I sold malas and other products. Then I decided I could also laminate some squares after gluing a quotation about self-care on the back, and tuck them inside every bag of bath salts. When the customer would pour the bath salts into the water, this little Crackerjack-like surprise would float in the tub. I never told anyone about them, and I excitedly waited to hear from customers when they found them. It was a little treat I created for them -- and for me.
The pile dwindled this November. I was out of black squares. I needed to pick up the pace of production of these squares.
I mean- that's what I thought.
MSW is my business. I can do this however I want, right? People are buying my bath salts, not my laminated squares with quotations on the backside of a funky little pre-coffee white-on-black drawing that they didn't even know they were getting, right?
Right. However, I have become attached to the idea of these. I want to keep including these. One day, a couple weeks ago, I didn't do anything for four hours but draw on these little squares. All caught up.
This morning, I drew the one pictured above. It's ugly. Let's not pretend it's not. None of them are exactly Rembrandts, but most are cute and pleasing to the eye. My first reaction when I finished this one was, "Oh, no. I can't use this for anything!"
When I started this meditation process, I wasn't planning on using them for anything. They were the result of me taking a little time in the morning to make sure I do something creative every day because being creative feeds my soul. Then I decided to use them as cute gift tags because it's a special touch. The initial thought of a new way to provide a special touch to each customer made me happy. However, I turned this into something else when I made these into an obligation to my customers (who don't even know they were getting them). They never asked me for them!
We all tend to do this with holidays, too. We can forget the joy that comes from gathering together with friends and family, and we focus on what we think brings the joy: finding the perfect gift, making the perfect meal, putting up perfect decorations. That doesn't bring joy. Those are things that are the manifestations of joy. Those are the extras that come because of the joy we have inside. All of that is joy in action - it is not joy-making.
This is important. I think the expression "Putting the horse before the cart" fits.
I haven't talked to my friend yet today, but I know she will find her happy. She always does. I know she will feel 100% ok about letting go of some of the pressures that come with hosting Christmas Eve. She is so loved by everyone, and looking back, no one will remember the food or the decorations when they think about this holiday. They will just remember her laughter, her funny stories, her smile, and the new memories made. She will do what she can with love and care and intention - not because anyone asks her to or expects her to or because she absolutely has to, but because she is basking in her holiday joy and she wants to.
So that's your holiday task list: forget the expectations, skip the obligations, and get started on the holiday slow down.
Stop and shake the snow globes, friends.