beating holiday stress

The Holidays have gotten so huge and complicated. The shopping, Black Friday, Cyber Monday. Light displays that rival Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation. There are traditions and family issues to tiptoe around.  There are neighbors and friends and parties. We see constant commercials of shiny, happy, people in perfect homes, eating perfect meals, dressed perfectly.

And all this starts before the jack-o-lanterns have grown mold on the front porch.

Please understand. I love the holidays. I have amazing memories of Thanksgiving in a cabin surrounded by brilliant orange and yellow trees in Utah. And Christmas in snowy white Logan Canyon. Pine trees, real deer in our yard, snow drifts that touched the icicles hanging from the roof. Listening to Christmas music playing on my tinny transistor radio, while making cookies with Mama. Truly beautiful and irreplaceable memories.

But I live in Los Angeles now. It will be 90 degrees on Thanksgiving day. Our leaves are sort of a dull withered brown. If we get lucky enough to have any weather at Christmas, it will probably be rain.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are no longer my 1957 wonderland. But somehow I feel like they should be. And I’m wrong. It’s not the 50’s anymore. It’s 2018.  We have technology to look at instead of each other.  We desperately tried to get my granddaughter to watch The Wizard of Oz the other night. She sort of liked it. She was unimpressed when I told her it was the first movie made in COLOR. At eleven she can’t conceive of something that ancient. She was shocked to learn that Great Grandma, who passed away at 88, was her age when the original movie came out. When it came on, we were all shouting for her to come into the room to watch. “THIS is the Wizard of Oz!! You have to watch this. It’s a tradition!” And she politely watched. But I could tell she was being patient with us. My grandchild really wanted to get back to playing Animal Jam or Minecraft.

Life has changed. We have Alexa now. Amazon’s virtual assistant for the house. She knows everything.  She tells us what time it is because it’s too difficult to look at a watch. She also tells us jokes. And we can play Jeopardy with her.  When we are away from home we have Siri, our constant companion on the iPhone. She knows where all the good restaurants are, and how to get there. She can tell time too. Siri and Alexa don’t care about snow, but they both can tell me all about it, by directing me to Wikipedia. We are not in Kansas anymore.

So what can be done to create a Thanksgiving and Christmas that doesn’t end in someone crying? Here are some choices and their potential results.

1. We can spend a lot of time and effort forcing everyone to do the holiday exactly as we did it as children and be angry, frustrated and confused if they don’t just love it. Result: Everyone argues. Exhaustion. Doors slam.

2. We can do something entirely different. Take a cruise. Travel to somewhere exotic. Pretend we are someone else. Result: Extremely expensive. The whole family will argue over where to go, until we finally give up. Doors slamming.

3. We can sleep through it. Result: Difficult to do with everyone knocking on the door.

4. We can try to create some new traditions that aren’t as complicated, and perhaps have the same flavor as our older ones. Result: Less exhaustion. Doors hopefully stay open.

Something that I have learned is that it’s ok if I’m the only one watching Miracle on 34th Street. I’ve learned that we can go out for Thanksgiving dinner if no one feels like cooking. The world won’t come to an end.  I’ve learned that perfect decorations, lights, trees, table settings only exist in commercials.  I have also learned that if I want to do all those things, I can. But I don’t have to be angry if the family wants to do something else.  See how easy that is?

What is most important to me is the MEANING of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I want to live in an atmosphere of gratitude instead of expectation on Thanksgiving Day and really, every day.

Christmas is about the most wonderful event of human history. The birth of Jesus Christ. The story, the music, church, daily prayer and reading all are musts for me. Those are the things at this time of year, that I’ve found I have to take time for. If I am filled by the beauty of Christmas, then maybe I can share that with my family and others, in both my attitude and my peace.

Holidays in our house have been less stressful for the last few years. It’s easier when we get together as a family and allow each other the space to be who we really are. When we work at loving each other despite our differences, we can find common ground to enjoy our time together. The holidays were beautiful in 1957 because I was there with my mother and father and I felt loved and secure. I don’t even remember the gifts I got back then. I remember them, telling stories, laughing, cooking, walking in the snow. What was important was “us.” Who we were at that time.

Try making your holidays memorable by loving your family with all it’s quirks and imperfections, as it truly is, in the present moment.  Perhaps in 2077 your child or grandchild will be fondly remembering laughing at Alexa’s bad puns while eating microwaved pizza. Her future children will wonder what a microwave is, and their A.I. housekeeper will chuckle over the quaintness of the early virtual assistants.

The memories that really matter during the holidays this year, the memories your family will hold on to forever, will be of the love that was in the room.  Be that love. Give them that memory.