Written by Molly Lancaster
I think it goes without saying that planning a holiday celebration is hard work. It comes pre-packaged with pressure, financial obligations, and family dynamics, all wrapped up in a shiny bow of expectation. Throw in a gift basket of guilt and self-doubt, especially when your seasonal plans may look different from years past, and you could end up with a recipe for a Mommy meltdown.
Planning a holiday worth celebrating this year will present more than the usual obstacles, and 2020 has served up plenty so far. It is hard for me to even think about festivities, but the calendar suggests that it will be go-time before we know it. Don’t go into the holiday feeling as if you have a hole to fill! It has been a rough trip around the sun, to put it mildly, so how can we make this a season worth celebrating? The following suggestions can be incorporated into anyone’s gaiety, but it was written with a particular subset of parents in mind — those who share custody and may be spending time without children underfoot. But bear in mind that nuclear families, parents dealing with loss, empty nesters, and single revelers can benefit from taking a deep breath and stopping to smell the holly.
Everyone celebrates in a different way, so don’t fall prey to the fallacy that there is a right way to rock around the Christmas tree, or make merry by the Menorah. Thanksgiving is the perfect way to kick off the holiday season, as it is quite literally a holiday about gratitude. In the midst of making your green bean casserole and baking the perfect pumpkin pie, remember to hit the pause button and reflect on the things for which you can give thanks. Do you have your kids this Turkey Day? That in and of itself is a huge reason for gratitude! Particularly in a time when we are encouraged to keep get-togethers small in order to minimize exposure for everyone, gathering your own little turkeys close will make your Thanksgiving happy enough to last you until New Year’s! Encourage them to help you in the kitchen as you prepare for the big feast. Incorporate a new tradition — perhaps you can make new dishes to blend with your old favorites. Kids love consistency, so try to keep some nods to Thanksgivings past as you forge ahead to new and better ones to come.
No little ones to sit at the kids’ table this year? No problem! Many people dread the last months of the year due to the expectations and pressure they feel to be extra happy and festive this time of year. If you don’t have any close kin with whom to break bread, formulate a Friends-giving. Gather up those around you that may not have a table to gather around and make it a pressure-free potluck. Give yourself a pass on re-creating the picture-perfect meal and make it your own. Don’t want to cook a turkey for your pals? Have a taco bar! Not a fan of cornbread dressing? Do what my friend’s Italian grandmother always used to do on Thanksgiving and make a lasagna full of love! Surrounding yourself with people, even friends of friends with whom you may not be very well acquainted will leave your heart as full as your belly.
If you are spending a holiday event without the kids that have been the center of gatherings of yore, make sure to send the little ones off with love and encouragement. Juggling different households and traditions is hard on them, too, and they will fare much better knowing that you support the time they spend elsewhere. Is there a favorite treat your child looks forward to all year? Consider making it for them to share with the other side of their family. Is there a special book you share? Send it along! A little grace along with small concessions like these will go far to make the back-and-forth of this busy time smoother and happier for all involved. As hard as it can be to recognize, the more people that love your loved ones, the better! This is particularly important if your children will be celebrating a holiday tradition that differs from the one recognized in your house. What better way to teach your babies gratitude, joy, and inclusivity than to help them observe new customs?
The days between the end of November and the New Year can fly by faster than Santa’s reindeer, so make sure you carve out some time to enjoy them your own way. How do you celebrate when you don’t feel very festive? The first year that I didn’t have my children with me for Christmas was hard. I did not feel like trimming the tree or decking the halls. Seeing happy family social media posts reinforced my sense of isolation, and I developed some serious resentment towards that darned elf on a shelf! I forced myself to go through the motions until the kids left for the big day, and then I actually left town. Spending Christmas morning in the place where the stockings were hung but untouched was unfathomable, so I called my parents and told them that we would converge for some post-December 25th revelry, and I took myself on a trip. Getting a stamp in your passport during Christmas in the time of Covid isn’t likely to happen, but that doesn’t prevent you from hitting the open road. Book a mountain cabin, find an Air BnB in a beach town, or head to the spa and treat yourself to a holiday away from the holidays. It may sound daunting, or even lonely, but people are even more warm and welcoming at this time of year, and you will be pleasantly surprised what a change of scenery can do for your own perspective.
If you are not in a position to travel, there are plenty of opportunities to occupy yourself right in your own hometown. It may sound counter-intuitive, but doing for others will do good things for you. Many folks give back during the holidays by giving of their time. Oftentimes, the local soup kitchen or food pantry need an extra helping hand, but if that is not your bag, they always need donations! Now that some Covid restrictions have been lifted, local assisted-living homes afford the chance to share a meal or even enjoy a game of Bingo with residents who might not otherwise have visitors. Our four-legged furry friends need holiday cheer as well. Consider contacting your local animal shelter to see if they need volunteer or supplies for the pets that didn’t find a home this year. Not comfortable mingling and still looking to make a difference? Clean out your closet! A large portion of Louisiana got hit with a double whammy in the form of Hurricanes Laura and Delta and I am sure that many families would be grateful for hand-me-downs. Another no-contact way to bring some joy to those less fortunate is to adopt a kid — or two, or three! — from a local “angel tree.” Many professional organizations sponsor gift requests for children in your community that you could fulfill without ever leaving the comfort of your couch.
What best recharges your batteries? The holiday hullaballoo can sap your mental and emotional energy under the best of circumstances. When added stressors are at play, you have to make a conscious effort to focus on yourself while you are busy focusing on everyone and everything else. Are you a runner? Take a long jog in the crisp air. Sign up for a virtual race so you can sport your swag and relish in your accomplishment! Feeling crafty? There is no better time than now to break out the glue gun! Does yoga reconnect you with your inner Zen? You know what to do! If you are a reader, buy yourself a new book or download the Libby app and borrow from your local library. Find a quiet, cozy spot to catch up on your reading and relaxing. You will be grateful you did!
This cannot be stressed enough, especially at this time of year: A change in your familial status does not invalidate your right to find happiness and gratitude wherever you can. Do not waste your precious time reminiscing about holidays past and viewing them through a rose-colored rearview mirror! Sometimes nostalgia makes you forget the year you burned the turkey or squabbled over assembling the bike that was going under the tree. This year, make new memories and traditions in your own way. Remember that families and holidays come in all shapes and sizes — just like your great aunt’s fruitcake. Turkey isn’t only for the third Thursday in November. If your kids are gone for Thanksgiving Day, welcome them home with a pancake/pajama/Christmas movie marathon celebration. Similarly, Santa’s gifts aren’t relegated to Christmas morning — the tree can stay trimmed until everyone can gather ‘round it to open their goodies together. No matter how you choose to celebrate the upcoming holidays, do it with gratitude and confidence that the best is yet to come. Take a moment to step back, look around, and actually, keenly, REALLY observe your surroundings. Drink in all the love that surrounds you. And if you need a reminder of everything you are lucky to have in your life, make an actual list of all the good things, even it if it’s just not having to actually eat that fruitcake!