It’s that time again: Chestnuts roasting on open fires (if you’re in Italy anyway), parties, family gatherings, feasts decorating, and shopping. The pace of our lives is fast day in and day out. Add the holidays into the mix and we all have the potential of turning into Ebinezer Scrooge!
How do you navigate the holidays, wellness intact and still live it up a little?
Think like an Italian. Stay with me. Italians say that the difference between us is that we think they can control chaos. They know that they can’t.
They embrace it and make it part of their lives, smoothly navigating life’s little adventures. I often say that we are all Type A personalities. They’re Type Eh. Things get done when they get done. No stress.
Now I’m Italian so this is by no means a besmirching of my people. They simply have things in…perspective.
I have spent many a holiday season in Italy and while I am on holiday, what I see is enlightening. I compare it to holidays here and I am amazed.
The joy on each and every face as they light up (pun intended) with delight at the decorations is tangible. The gatherings in the squares and at cafes, in restaurants and bars, homes and clubs have a festive quality that’s unlike anything I have seen.
What I don’t see in Italy at Christmas? I don’t see news footage of people trampling each other at a big box store to get the latest, greatest whatever at the cheapest price. I don’t see people camped out in malls for days to be first in line for stuff. I don’t see people abandoning their family celebrations in favor of 4 am shopping in a mall.
I see people enjoying the spirit of the holiday season.
In our house, since I was a kid, Christmas was the most special time, but not for the reason you might think. My mother loved service to the community and used every opportunity to include us. It started with Lent. When all my friends were giving up sweets or chocolate, my mother would say that God didn’t care that you didn’t eat candy for 40 days. He cared that you did something. So we spent lent volunteering or helping neighbors, babysitting (for free), doing anything that served other people. I fell in love with the notion of taking care of each other and serving.
She carried it into the holiday season with food drive, serving food to the less fortunate and gathering clothing, food, books, toys, coats and anything else needed to ensure people had a better life. We were raised with the spirit of Christmas: be with those you love; enjoy life; help others and be kind. It made our holidays magical. Sure, we were kids and loved our gifts but we also fell in love with the idea of caring for others.
In Italy, it seems people are generally more interested in being together, enjoying the social scene, feasts and festas, family and friends than the frenetic shopping that has become the signature of our holiday season.
Why do I tell you all this? I think that so many of us simply don’t enjoy the holiday season anymore. It’s become just another thing we have to deal with, shop for, cook for and manage. We must have the best and most beautiful tree; the perfectly set table, the best wine, the most expensive gifts. In the middle of it all, we decide we aren’t even sure we love this time of year or the people in our lives. And that’s so sad.
Here’s my list of the top things to help you love the holiday season again.
See Things with a Fresh Eye
Make a change. Take one task that drives you crazy during the holidays and either get rid of it or do it differently. A fresh approach could make all the difference. If sending cards drives you nuts, try sending them only…and I mean only…to the people you rarely see or live far from you. It’s easier on you and the planet.
Make Sure that Good Enough Is Good Enough
Bigger is rarely better when it comes to holiday celebrarting. Loretta LaRoche, who I adore is the author of Life Is Not a Stress Rehearsal says it best: "Does the tree have to be bussed in from the hinterlands of Alaska?" she quips. "Isn't a little bush enough?"
Ditch the Shopping List
You have so many options with this one and while it may not thrill the kids in your life at first, try skipping the stress of shopping for family members and instead share special times and experiences. Try treating a loved one to a special show, brunch at a swanky joint or spa treatments together. Instead of opening a package, you have a glorious memory (or several) of special time with special people.
$70 billion worth of gifts get returned each year so save yourself the stress and your loved one the forced smile as they imagine what they really wanted.
What’s Really Important?
What’s the season really about for you? If it’s over the top gifts and trees and parties then go for it. But if it’s not, stop stressing. Focus on what’s important to you. More chill family time? Coffee dates with friends? Casual dinner parties? Being together? That’s your focus then.
Don’t Skip Your Rituals
If you like to read before bed, read before bed. Don't skip it to do one more thing. Love going to the gym every day? Go to the gym every day. Like to meditate for 20 minutes each morning? Meditate. You get the idea. Our everyday practices help center us.
Give Yourself a Break
Seek out a bit of serenity in the busy holiday season. Sneak away for a walk in the woods or park. Head to the movies…alone. Bundle up and take a starlit nighttime stroll through your neighborhood to view the holiday lights.
Make Your Heart Sing
Join the choir at your church or a carolers troupe and wander the neighborhood singing songs of the season. It’s so joyful; people are delighted by the surprise and you bring peace and happiness wherever you go.
Sweat…Often and a Lot
It's worth it to brave the cold to break a sweat, especially if you don’t have time for regular gym sessions. And here’s the good news: According to Gregory Chertok, sport and exercise psychology consultant, heading outdoors to exercise is more enjoyable than doing the same activity inside. You'll feel a lift in your mood after just 5 minutes. Inside or out, working out is also one of the best ways to reduce your holiday anxiety, as it promotes the release of endorphins, which act like a tranquilizer on the brain, settling your cute self right down. Exercise blunts the effects of stress hormones like cortisol so you can minimize holiday weight gain. Conclusion? Go for a brisk walk before or after dinner; set your morning alarm 20 minutes earlier and head out for a quick walk or hit the gym…hard and often.
Breathe, Baby, Breathe
Holding onto your stress for too long can lead to health issues like back pain (from excessive muscle tension) and a weakened immune system. So let it go. Find a release that works for you. Some experts suggest going to a private space, like your car and screaming. That seems a bit extreme to me, but whatever works. I like the idea of dancing and singing to let off steam or finding a quiet space and practicing deep breathing for 5 minutes.
Enjoy Your Loved Ones
Look, everybody has quirks that we love and that can drive us insane and they seem to amplify around the holidays. Maybe it’s all the gatherings, the parties, the shopping, but we seem to have shorter fuses for our loved ones special characteristics.
Life is short and we live in times of turmoil. It’s time to take a step back and appreciate your loved ones with all their flaws. They love you; they’re yours and when you get right down to it, they’re beautiful. Be grateful for each and every one of them.
Step Outside You
The holidays afford us many opportunities to serve others. In fact, many charities are overwhelmed with donations, volunteers and requests to help. So find a charity you love, a neighbor who needs help, a busy mom who could use some time to herself and can’t afford a sitter; a soup kitchen who serves meals to the homeless and give of your time.
If you’re too busy, pack up all the good, gently used clothing, from coats to shoes and donate them to a local charity. Your discarded stuff will save someone else’s life and help them stay clothed and warm well past Christmas Day.
And once the holidays have passed, please continue to help when and where you can. My mother used to say that we were put on this earth to serve others and I believe she was right…at least about that.
Have a gorgeous, healthy, happy holiday season, my loves!