Let’s try a little experiment. I invite you to pay attention to your reaction when you read the following word:
What’d you get? Was it bliss? Was it peace? Or was it a sudden spike in anxiety that prompted you to almost involuntarily say, “Oh no, I haven’t even started to…” Welcome, friend, to the state of the modern holiday season. Why is this the case? After all, the TV specials and ad campaigns are telling us that we should be experiencing joy, laughter, and peace on Earth (and jewelry). Surely there must be something wrong with us.
Why am I like this??
Think about it, though. You’ve been going through the year, doing your thing, just sort of overall maintaining. Sure, there are a few intermittent bumps or emergencies, but for the most part, things are as steady as you can make them. And then, BOOM. Holidays. Invitations. Special arrangements. Events. Fundraisers. Family in town. Disruption of routine. Money. Gifts. Food. Change. Weather. Parties. Money. Travel. Work. Pageants. Plays. Specials. Obligations. Money. And usually no time to yourself to recover. All that consistency that you’ve worked so hard to maintain throughout the year just kind of goes right out the frosty, well-lit window.
Whew. No wonder it’s stressful, right? And with the corporate-approved Holiday Season™ coming earlier and earlier every year, it feels like there’s less and less time to prepare for it.
So what do you do? Just expect to be frazzled and hope you survive? Not necessarily.
Bear with me as I set up an overly-complicated example, and let me take you back to my years as an undergraduate Music Major at UAH. Now, all of us Music Majors were SUPER DUPER into music, but any time someone would bring up Schumann or Beethoven, the gushing that followed was almost like Schumann and Beethoven had personally performed miracles on their family. Spoiler alert: I am really not a fan of either. I appreciate them, sure, and their contributions, but I just get bored with them. It’s like, we get it — you have feelings. Give me Mozart or Debussy any day, or Bach (blessed be his name), but don’t make me listen to Romantic music unless it’s Holst or Vaughan Williams. Anyway, at first, I kind of went along with it, and really tried to make myself like it. And the more I tried to get into it, the more I started to resent it. In trying to keep up with others’ expectations of what “good music” was, I ended up just kind of hating it more, and it wasn’t until I decided that I didn’t need to be like everyone else that I actually started enjoying myself. I realized that we were all celebrating great music, but in our own ways, and it was ok for that to happen
Yes, the Holiday Season™ is something that is an external factor, but the way you conduct your life and your personal celebrations is within your control. After all, different isn’t necessarily wrong — it’s unique! And one of the best ways to ensure that uniqueness is through traditions. Sure, there are some really obvious traditions, like putting up the Christmas tree or singing carols. But then there are the family-specific ones, like watching Elf, or making Chili on Christmas Eve. Those are the ones that don’t get featured in the movies or TV, but they still mean something. They’re the things that make a holiday feel personal, and special. It’s where the joy comes from!
“But James”, you ask, “what if I don’t really have any cool traditions?” Then you have a golden opportunity to explore new things until you find something you like. Maybe try a new recipe, or listen to new music, or go adventure-eating at a different restaurant. It’s like, you don’t discover a new favorite restaurant or movie until you get exposed to it and a tradition is only established when you like something enough to keep doing it over and over. The point is, joy and happiness don’t just spontaneously manifest themselves in the midst of a time period that is usually characterized by a ton of instability. Instead, holiday cheer is something you have to create for yourself, and one of the more effective ways to do that is through traditions. So! Instead of freaking out that the holidays are coming up, try instead to focus on the new and potentially exciting stuff you get to do and try in the name of tradition!