It's November, yo. Thanksgiving is but two weeks away, kicking off a month and a half long parade of winter festivities.
Do you have a plan?
I ask you this because in my humble experience poorly managed holidays can be really stressful. Amidst the whirl of activities, shopping, gift-giving, decorating, and cooking, there is the underlying cloud of expectations.
Rarely are these expectations clearly defined or articulated, but there they are, lurking in our subconscious and those of everyone around us.
Not only may you not be aware of your own hopes, but also the hopes of everyone else around you. Your boss and co-workers; your family; your friends; your community. They are pulling on you, asking for attention, and we feel compelled to respond to them even when we don't even know what they really are.
Despite (or because of?) their vague-ness, when these subconscious expectations are not met, they can lead to all sorts of tension, disappointment, and hurt feelings.
By bringing my own expectations and desires to light, and looking ahead at everything I expect of myself and what others will expect of me, I am able to sort through the mess, make adjustments, and plan for a wonderful season.
* * *
I have dealt with the holiday bluster in many ways over the years, in often a less than graceful manner. It's been tricky for me since I have chosen the option to (until recently) keep my pain disorder private; people haven't understood why I am not thrilled at the prospect of cutting down a Christmas tree or decorating cookies all afternoon. This has made things pretty dicey, and I have walked on my share of of eggshells. In the process I have repeatedly disappointed those around me.
My family likes to do Christmas to the power of ten, and my lack of enthusiasm was alternately viewed as bad behavior, not being a team player, poor attitude, and, most threatening of all, a sign that I didn't love them.
Rising above this tangle and creating an enjoyable holiday season for me has required
- taking care of myself first
- articulating to myself what I do and do not like about the holidays
- maintaining strong boundaries.
Selfish? Oh no. It's not selfish to change my own behaviors with the goal of better participating in the group. On the contrary; it would be selfish of me to attempt to change everyone else so that they met my expectations.
After all, my friends and family prefer to spend time with me when I am happy and grounded. Who wants to celebrate the holidays with the bat-shit crazy version of a loved one? By doing myself a favor I do everyone a favor.
(Bonus: my behavior shows those who routinely take on too much stress during the holidays that there are other options.)
* * *
It's been a rough ride and I have ruffled a lot of feathers, but things have smoothed out. By knowing what my expectations and boundaries are, I keep my head above the roiling emotional waters swirling around me.
Over time, my family has slowly come to accept that I appreciate keeping things light and simple, and I have seen people relax their own high standards in response.
We are more comfortable with having people celebrate in different ways (me not decorating cookies does not preclude someone else from doing the same) while maintaining the most important tradition: loving each other.
All the work of sticking to my guns has been worth it. By focusing on what brings me the most joy, and minimizing or avoiding the stuff I find draining, I make it though December without turning into a Grinch or a cynical burnt-out shell. When the New Year comes along I am happy to greet it.
And that makes for the Happiest Holidays of all.