What do the holidays mean to you? Is the time from mid-November through December 31 filled with endless joy, warm hearts, and cocoa? Or do you feel overwhelmed and anxious about meeting everyone’s expectations when picking the perfect presents and cooking meals that will impress even the toughest mother-in-law? Not everyone has the pressures of managing a big family’s gift-giving and meal planning. I have a small family, and there are no obligations that I need to fulfill. This can be a stressor too. Often, we watch idyllic Christmas movies set in a cold and snowy small town with the family gathering where all is merry and bright. As I reminisce on all that has changed over the years for the holidays, I feel inspired to share what helps me to enjoy the holidays and limit the hustle.
Staying Active: Some of the best foods and desserts are available during the holiday season, and it’s hard to say no to Nana’s cookies, cakes, and candies. To counteract the calories and spend time with the ones you love, several options exist to stay active. On Thanksgiving morning in the streets of downtown Atlanta, thousands of runners earn their turkey. Many of them are with their families and friends, spending a couple of hours running the half marathon (13.1 miles) or the quicker 5k option (3.1 miles). This is a great way to burn a lot of calories and begin the holiday season. If the Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon is not an option, consider looking for local turkey trots or start the day with a brisk walk in the neighborhood. The crisp fresh air will energize and burning those extra calories will help when you sit at the dinner table. In December, many fun Christmas-themed runs are scheduled throughout the metro area to share the holiday spirit with your loved ones. Your friends and family will thank you for planning an active outing and it could become a tradition.
Decorating: Decorating for the holidays is a tradition that begins in childhood. My parents are from New York, and the tradition up north is to decorate closer to December 25. We always waited after New Year’s Day to put all the decorations away. Part of the fun was selecting a Christmas tree at the farmers market or tree farm. We always looked for the perfect tree that was full and even around all sides. Once the tree was home and the lights were hung I helped my mom unpack all the Christmas decorations for the tree and the house. There was so much to display and we carefully set out all the delicate decorations on the mantle and the Hallmark ornaments on the tree. During our decorating mom played Christmas music classics from the Lennon Sisters and the Carpenters. After everything was done, I was mesmerized watching the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree and admiring all the ornaments that had been collected over the years. Some ornaments were handcrafted by me in school. I still have a few I hang on my Christmas tree. When I was a child the sparkle and lights for the holidays were my favorites and when it was time to pack the holidays away, I felt dismal. I had to adjust to the plain, no sparkle life again. In my home I decorate early, right around Thanksgiving. I take out my most loved decorations and get the tree up so I can enjoy it for about a month. I still get mesmerized by the lights and the collection of ornaments since I have the ones I admired as a kid and my own I have collected. At the end of the season, soon after the new year, I pack everything away. I miss the sparkle and lights initially, but it’s an easier transition now. I sometimes leave a strand of lights up for a while longer to continue the holiday glow.
Gift Giving: One of the realities of getting older is family dynamics change. The kids grow up and our grandparents and parents may no longer be with us, dampening the holiday joy. One way to help a little is by picking a cause to support. A tradition that started a few years ago for me is supporting the program Light Up the Holidays. This program helps vulnerable Georgians. Last year I was given the wish list for a 75-year-old lady who requested a robe, slippers, socks, a nightgown, and toiletries. Since I miss shopping for my grandmother and mother, this helps fill a void within me and provides for someone in need. We have so many ways to give back in our communities and once you find a cause near and dear to you it quickly becomes a tradition.
We have been conditioned by the stores to believe we should be buying the best gifts to show our love and devotion, but it certainly doesn’t feel good when the bills begin rolling in, and money is tight for the first few months of the new year. However, I am willing to spend on travel and experiences. Instead of piles of gifts a holiday trip is a great way to get away and have quality time with the ones you love. A long weekend away or an extended trip to a faraway land is a great way to unwind, think of all that has been accomplished through the year, and refresh before the new year begins.
Another favorite way to give without the stress of gift shopping began many years ago when I was newly married. We held Christmas Eve parties with a seafood boil and an open bar. We invited all the family and our friends, which was our gift. Everyone enjoyed the food and the company, and it gave us great pleasure to feed everyone. It was the easiest way to bring the family together. For those who could not make it due to other family obligations, it was unfortunate they could not come, but schedules were busy at that time, and no hard feelings trying to accommodate everyone’s schedule. Last year we celebrated with family on Christmas Eve, grilled steaks, and had our favorite holiday dishes. On Christmas day, we left for a long weekend trip to North Carolina. It felt like a perfectly balanced holiday.
These are just a few things to keep in mind to reduce the hectic holiday hustle. Stay active with family and friends to stay connected and feel good. Find the formula that works for you for decorating to truly enjoy it for the season, and when it’s time to pack it away, it’s not like pulling the plug on all your joy. Gift giving is done in many ways whether feeding people or sharing experiences, it provides lifetime memories. Since Christmas falls at the end of the year, it is an excellent time to consider all the blessings throughout the last year and give back to someone who needs a little extra love.
I wish everyone peace, love, and comfort, and Merry Christmas!