Not overtly seasonal, true, but this vintage dinner party illustration helps set the right tone for the last seven weeks or so of 2018. Can you believe it?
Although it is just November 21st, and Thanksgiving Day is not until tomorrow here in The United States, the annual holiday season, as it is called here, is upon us. It will last, in some instances, until after January 1st. So, you might be excused for feeling exhausted by the prospect of almost two months filled with all of the preparation, travel, and planned festivities either real, or imagined.
I suggest, in my usual contrarian way, that we strive for a more relaxed and understated holiday period than has become the accepted norm for many people between the end of October and the beginning of January each year. Here is a short list of ways we might achieve that aim:
1) Don't leave things until the last minute.
Enough said really. You can fill the blanks here, but taking care of things ahead of time is its own reward, and hopefully will result in fewer Billy The Singing Bass chatchkes, or similar, being purchased as last minute gag gifts. To my way of thinking, any physical gifts you might purchase for someone ought to have more thought behind them than that.
2) Learn to say , "No, thank you. Not this year."
And stick to your guns. You don't have to accept every invitation to every party, open house, or extended trip somewhere if the prospect of fighting holiday traffic and/or air travel fills you with dread at the mere thought of packing your roller bag one more time. Especially if your Monday through Friday job involves frequent time on the road. Hopefully, Aunt Belva and Uncle Homer will understand.
3) Scale back a bit on the shopping, gift-giving, and decorating.
Likewise, you don't need to feel like absolutely everyone you know needs a physical gift of some kind. Often, a handwritten Christmas or holiday card with an actual note inside (not the impersonal mimeographed annual Christmas letter you understand) is fine and might be even more appreciated. For those closest to you and for whom you plan to buy gifts, keep your shopping time and spending within reason, and do that online to avoid the throngs. It might also be a good idea, in the name of reducing stress, to cut back just a wee bit on the sheer amount of seasonal decor your erect outside on, in front of, and around the house. Some quiet white lights, maybe a lone wicket reindeer or two in the front yard, or a lovely wreath or swag hanging from your front door. But do we really need one more house featuring a 20-foot inflatable snowman in the front yard, huge illuminated candy canes, enough colored lights to be discernible in satellite images, and signage out near the mailbox to the effect of "Santa stops here!"? Remember, when your house resembles the inside of big box arts and crafts stores like Hobby Lobby or Michael's, it takes that much more effort and time to take down and put away everything after the first of the year.
4) Don't rush right back out into the fray the day after.
Thank about it for a moment. Is that really necessary in the delightful lull that follows Christmas? Of course, people will be eager to spend those online gift cards and gift certificates as soon as humanly possible after the big day, not to mention make the inevitable returns and exchanges, but give yourself a break. As an adult, I find the quiet of December 26th and Christmas Week to be as wonderful in its own way as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are in theirs. Take some time to mull over the possible purchases to which you might apply those gift certificates and cars. Enjoy the daydreaming in other words, and the exchange of that hideous Christmas sweater for something more understated and practical can wait a day or three. Tune out, turn off, and unplug for a few days. AI is already here folks, and we should be concerned. We're practically cyborgs already. How about making a more concerted effort to remember what life was like, and how delightful, it was before we were all 'wired' around the clock?
5) Accept that you can't (and won't) do it all, or be all things to all people.
So, stop trying. This gets back to Point #2 above. Too often, it seems, our decisions and behavior are driven by those around us and their expectations for how and where we should spend the holidays. We are, perhaps, more reactive at this time of year than proactive. I humbly suggest that more of us climb into the driver's seat of our own lives a bit more. If you would prefer not to uproot your own family to drive ten hours each way to spend a frantic two days with extended family, some of whom you might prefer NOT to see if we are quietly honest with ourselves, then don't. There is nothing wrong having Thanksgiving, Christmas, or another holiday in your own home on your own terms without all of the hubbub. And others will have to accept your decision. If not, that is their problem, not yours. If we look at life in 2018 with absolute clarity for a moment, it becomes clear that there is already more than enough of that clamor and confusion to go around day-to-day. A few days without that are fine, and it is amazing how refreshing a lack of holiday pandemonium can be.
6) Set aside ample time for yourself and your closest loved ones.
With that in mind, do a few things you want to do but don't usually have the time to enjoy. Read a book. Stare idly out your front window at the world going by over a fresh cup of coffee. Amble around a local park on a chilly day with that special someone. Reconnect with your spouse or partner without the children underfoot for a few minutes. Turn off the TV or Netflix, and have a dram of something medicinal by the fireside after the kids' bedtime. Find what it was that first drew you to him or her in the first place all those years ago. Or pick up the phone and give your parents a call if you have chosen to spend the holidays apart. If your grandparents are still alive and compos mentis, drop by with a bottle of something festive and spend a few hours just chatting together. It will make their day. I used to do this in my 30s when my maternal grandparents were still alive and living not far from my parents in Pittsburgh, where I used to spend the Christmas and New Years period while in graduate school. We'd sit at their dining table with coffee or hot chocolate and just talk about everything for hours on end.
7) Take pleasure in small, simple, and quiet things.
Listen to some music. Take a walk in the snow with a loved on. Meet a friend or two for a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate and good long chat about whatever (see where the conversation takes you) at your local cafe. Take the kids tobogganing, build a snowman, or have a snowball fight if snow is on the ground. Take the family to the beach for the day if it's not. The point is, turn off those new chirping, burping, buzzing, and vibrating iGadgets for a while. Find out once again what life was like before the bells and whistles took over, and we had to find other forms of entertainment. Life is about so much more than that peering at that tiny screen with all of your new gaming apps, boys. Have you ever sat outside and really listened on a snowy day? You'll be sure to hear all kinds of sounds besides the new snow landing gently on the ground.
8) Steer clear of toxic people.
Why is it that the holidays seem to bring out the worst in so many people? Whether family members or acquaintances, too many just plain suck the air out of any room they are in with their whining, nitpicking, victim-playing, bullying, arguing, passive-aggressive dynamics, etc. The answer? See only the people you want to see this holiday season. Steer clear of any gatherings where toxic personalities are likely to be present. You needn't be so crass as to ask who else has been invited when you receive an invitation to a gathering of some sort, or offer what amounts to a long-winded explanation about why you won't be there yourself. Just give some careful thought to the invitation before responding, calmly, rationally, and concisely. Often, you can figure out a guest list of potential invitees pretty well anyway if you have a history with the person doing the inviting. Anyway, let the hosts know in plenty of time that, regretfully, you can't attend this year. Just say something along the lines of, "Thank you so much for thinking of us, but Jane and I have already accepted an invitation to another dinner party that same evening. Please keep us in mind for next year." Short, sweet, and it gets the point across without hurting any feelings. Even better, it gets you off the hook when it comes to enduring, yet again, known boors, belligerents, and sloppy drunks. Why continue to put yourself through that?
9) Above all, remember to put up your feet.
It's ok. Really. As I have mentioned already in different ways within this post, it seems far too easy to get caught in the undertow of 21st century life before we realize what is happening. Often, many of us might feel it is just easier to go with the flow rather than attempt to swim against the current and rock the boat. I suggest, on the other hand, where the holiday season is concerned, that it is time to grow some backbone and assert more control over our own lives, how we spend the festive season, and with whom. I am not suggesting complete selfishness and turning our back on others. Far from it. But, in the interest of de-cluttering and de-stressing our lives just a bit during what can be, let's be honest, a difficult time of the year, it might, just might, be nice to be a bit more strategic in how we approach things each November and December. After all, we don't really want our lives to resemble all of those saccharine family holiday disaster films on Netflix, right?
In closing, your first reaction after reading all of the above might be, "Easier said than done, old man." However, I would counter that, since our world has become so over-connected, busy, and fraught with activity around the clock that MUST be seen to, and very often we never really enjoy time truly away from work anymore, it is vital for us to have more downtime during the festive season than has been the case in recent decades. We owe it to ourselves and whatever shreds of sanity and calm we have left.
As for yours truly, I am off to prepare a pumpkin pie and a green bean casserole (Shades of 1940s Betty Crocker recipes there, right?) with The Young Master for Thanksgiving Dinner tomorrow. The three of us will enjoy a quiet Thanksgiving here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold with good food, a fire in the fireplace, piano music from the hands of The Grand Duchess and The Young Master, who is making great strides in this endeavor, with maybe a brisk walk around the neighborhood before pie and coffee on our return.
At some point early in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day, we'll speak to our respective families in Washington State and North Carolina on the telephone, and end the day later with some bedtime reading for The Young Master and myself. We are currently working our way through Series Five of The Geronimo Stilton books. Good fun and even educational in places. Afterwards, I hope for a quiet couple of hours talking before the fire with The Grand Duchess while enjoying a nip or two some nice liquor and/or single malt scotch . A quiet, calm, and collected Thanksgiving holiday for all. Ahhhhhhh. . .
My helper, The Young Master, earlier this afternoon. Truthfully, he did most of the work on the pumpkin pie, I simply assisted as necessary and handled the oven.