Christmas is coming up, and with it — at least for me — a lot of stress. I’ve already started budgeting my household’s money fiercely, tracking every single dollar and, in turn, inadvertently shaming my boyfriend every time he buys a pack of cigarettes or a can of Mountain Dew (his two vices). I sat down the other day and made a battle plan: what gifts to get for whom, tracking down addresses of people who require Christmas cards, tricking my sister into letting me use her Amazon Prime info, and so on.
And then, for a glimmering moment, I remembered something: I fucking love the holidays. I love getting to cook a lot and to shove my concoctions down everyone’s throats (they say they enjoy it, but who knows? I’m terrifying). I love the way cold fronts smell and I think I look prettiest in the winter. My skin gets soft and ivory, my cheeks get all pink, and I get to bundle up in lots of warm, comfy clothes and forget about shaving my legs. I love the smiles on people’s faces when I surprise them with a gift and a card. I love Christmas songs and the smell of pine needles and turkey broth.
But as you get older, you forget about that part of Christmas. You can’t stop thinking about how you’re going to be out of work for a bit, how you don’t know what to get anyone for a gift let alone how to afford it, which holiday dinners and parties you will or won’t be able to attend, how much your utilities bill will spike when you’re having to run the heat, and how to place your space heater next to your beta fish’s bowl in such a way that it will neither boil nor freeze to death (both happened to me last winter, RIP Baron Franz I & II). Your mom stops getting you cool shit and buys discount socks for you at Walmart. It starts seeming like an annoyance to decorate a tree you’re just going to have to take down in a month or two anyways. You wonder how much people appreciate the gifts you get them and if maybe you wasted your time and/or money nurturing a possible crappy relationship. The holidays get stressful as you get older.
So, here are some life hacks I’ve come up with to try and make the holidays a little more cheerful — even for all of us jaded adults whose parents never even pretended that Santa was real.
1. Get off your phone.
The winter holidays are truly a time to be enjoyed and to be present and getting off your phone will serve many purposes. First, car accidents are so much more common during this time of year. Thanksgiving is the most dangerous day to drive in the US, statistically speaking — accidents spike to 5x the normal rate. So really, put your phone aside, focus on driving, and crank the radio Christmas tunes. Ensure the safety of yourself and others on icy/dark/cold roads.
Secondly, the holidays will fly past so quickly if you don’t take the time to enjoy them and really be present (I’m sounding like a yogi using that word again, but I can’t think of a better one)! Set aside time to sit around with your loved ones in candlelight getting wasted off of various spiked and delicious beverages, reminiscing and listening to Etta James singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Don’t ruin the candlelight by having your iPhone shining everywhere or checking Facebook (rage, rage, rage). I know it sounds corny and cliché, but be there this winter. Be involved and excited and, again, present.
2. Think about what the people you love really enjoy.
I was trying to think of what to get my significant other yesterday and I made a list of things he loves: Spiderman, WWE (Sting and Cena especially), fried foods, The Simpsons, Samurai and kung fu movies, Usagi Yojimbo, plaid/flannel, the book Shantaram, discussions about the justice system in the US, etc. Clearly, he’s a huge nerd. Anyway, it was only when I started making this list that I realized how well I know and love this man, and yet I’ve never really made a list like this before. I started making them for all the people I love and really want to get gifts for.
It became monumentally easier to decide what to get for these people once I had made my lists. I cross-referenced budget limitations with different needs and likes and, voila!, perfect gifts for all (I’ll have to share a follow-up post when I discover that my mother doesn’t like the gift certificate to the Adult Supercenter I got her). I’ve come up with options that are thoughtful, show how much I care and know the person, how well I listen to them. I don’t know why this seemed like such an eye-opening and intense experience, because it sounds mundane, so I recommend you do it, too. Let me know how it makes you feel when you realize that you have the capacity to really be an awesome friend/family member/co-worker this year and to give a gift that makes someone feel loved, noticed, and appreciated.
3. Send cards.
Send cards. Do it. It’s such a simple, cheap way to do something wonderful for someone you care about, especially if you can’t really afford presents this year. A basic Happy Holidays card with a heartfelt, personal message inside will make a great addition to any friend’s fridge and always gives me the warm fuzzies inside. I’m tempted to share my address here and get everyone to send me a card. I love cards. But don’t be those people who just send a card with a picture of themselves and their super successful, happy family on the front and a message like “Happy Christmas!” inside because we all really know they’re just showing off how much happier their holidays are, possibly because they know you’re sitting in your bed drinking peppermint schnapps out of the bottle. Send a card, any card, with a message inside. A personal message. Again, like with gift-giving, write a message that you put thought into, some time thinking “what does Sally really need to hear right now from me? What would put a smile on her face?” (I wrote that with Heath Ledger’s voice in my head, by the way.)
4. Remember that the holidays will be hard, but that doesn’t make them any less happy.
If you’ve lost anyone close to you, whether they’ve passed on or you’ve had a falling out or just broken up, the holidays will be hard. Obviously, that includes 99.99999% of the human population, I’d imagine. Having experienced a lot of loss myself, the holidays always bring one or two hard nights where I just really, really miss someone special to me. That’s okay.
Be prepared to have a couple of those nights. Allow yourself some quiet time, maybe some alone time. I like to watch A Wonderful Life or Christmas Story and have a good cry, personally. You’ve got your ritual and allow yourself to wallow for a little bit, but never allow those nights to characterize the whole holiday season. I’m going to use another stupid Tumblr cliché here, but “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” The holidays are the perfect time to remember past years where you spent time with amazing people who you love and were wonderful parts of your life then. Don’t sit around crying for more than one or two nights about missing someone, because that’s a waste of a beautiful time of year and kind of insulting to all the wonderful people and blessings I have no doubt are right under your nose.