The holidays have come back around again, seemingly more quickly than they did last year. It feels like they are happening every year now…wait. Yeah, they’re a thing. I know people who look forward to them with great enthusiasm each year, counting down to special traditions with friends and family who make each other feel warm and loved. I know others who would rather crawl into a hole in the ground, emerging sometime in the first week of January, because the holidays evoke painful family memories and gnawing loneliness. You may believe the holiday decorations went up before Halloween this year, that there’s a war on Christmas being waged, retailers are choosing to open on Thanksgiving, crass, crazed consumerism is rampant, we’re all at risk for gaining weight and developing alcohol problems and type II diabetes by the time this whole season ends. Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, pour a cup of spiked eggnog, stream A Christmas Story, gather with loved ones and roast chestnuts, reveling in the love and beauty of the season. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the last two months of the year are a time when energy and tensions run high. My mantra for staying sane: just say no.
It’s too easy to get caught up in the frenetic pace of the holidays, with their hard emphasis on gifts, special meals, and togetherness. Traveling sucks. Blowing your monthly budget is likely, if not inevitable. You’re expected to make an appearance, to feel close and connected, and to do things because that’s the way they’ve always been done. Do not attempt to buck tradition, thereby ruining it for everyone else. But do. I’m giving you permission to say no, walk away, not show up, arrive empty-handed and stay home. Seriously. If that’s what’s right for you, that’s what I support.
Picture this: it’s the second week in November, and every weekend in December has 2-3 holiday parties a night, not counting work celebrations. The evites and facebook invites keep rolling in. And then there’s family. They expect you to show up at the place and time you always have, to act the way they picture you, and like it. There’s the office gift exchange, the book club gift exchange, the close friends gift exchange, the partner gift exchange and the family gift exchange. The gifts must be personal and meaningful, thoughtful. Or you’re hosting, and there are a zillion things to take care of before the day, cooking just an item on the endless list. It’s enough to make you make you desperately insane. Just. Say. No.
You are allowed to refuse an invitation, to not stop by, to suggest something other than a gift exchange, to order takeout and call it a home cooked meal, to grab a giftcard on the way to the party. The consequences you fear for saying no are an illusion. Refer to my previous posts on guilt. It’s served up in abundance by families during the holidays, and it’s wrong. Just say no. Don’t over-commit, don’t overextend, don’t twist yourself into a pretzel to meet real or perceived expectations. Just say no. Hold your ground. Repeat as necessary. Breathe.
Besides, the holidays are happening again next year, so…there’s another chance to spend, socialize, arrange, cook, eat, drink, shop and attend yourself into oblivion. But my guess is, you’ll like the extra space you carve out for yourself by saying no, and keep practicing.
Note: if you’re dreading time with your dysfunctional family, may I recommend you watch Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, starring the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and Ethan Hawke. It’s the ultimate family tragedy, and will likely make you feel better about your family scene in comparison.