How Can I Make The Holidays Less Stressful?
Ah, holiday traditions. Every year, the familiar customs, gatherings, and celebrations.
Every year, seeing family… the cousin who always breaks something valuable. The uncle who tells everyone what’s wrong with this country. The sister-in-law who knows ADHD is crap and you just need to try harder.
The annual office party where the creepy co-worker, Carl, plants himself under the mistletoe, hoping against hope. Damp sandwiches. Limp gherkin pickles. That one person who ALWAYS spends 4 times over the limit on their Secret Santa gift.
Every December we devour the holiday meal, which is ‘not as good as last years.” From the watery gravy and dry turkey, or in our case the maligned lentil loaf, we gobble down too much, too fast. Stuffed with stuffing someone announces, “Well, since I’ve clearly blown my diet… I’ll finish the cheesecake,” which magically bestows permission on everyone else to indulge in 4 desserts.
Every year we head to the great outdoors – un-burying the car, scraping the icy windshield with a credit card because the real scraper is lost. Shoveling the driveway. Then re-shoveling after a passing snowplow piles up an icy moraine that walls up the end of the driveway.
It’s the time of year to let go…of our hard-won exercise regimen, our spending limits, and our dreams of family harmony. You know, that impossible vision of a gathering that’s free of passive-aggressive sniping. One that doesn’t lead to yet another round of, “Fine, we’re leaving.”
Every year you pause and remember where you left your keys, wallet, the scissors, tape, ribbon, icing sugar, your spouse, and all the gifts you carefully hid so no one would find them and peek… including you. At some point you begin to doubt whether you actually did buy the present. You buy a second one. Then find a clever place to hide it from sneaky peekers… only discover the first one you bought is hidden there.
So it goes every year.
Except this year. Except 2020. Now most of us are isolating. No need to worry about Mistletoe Carl. No putting on a brave face when Aunt Patricia asks how the can of fruit cocktail in jello tastes? “And it’s so simple!”
This year everything has changed. But everyone still wants their gifts! The good news, you won’t spend days circling the mall looking for a parking space, as I do in this video.
The bad news, you still have no idea what to get people. They probably told you, dropping hints, even saying, “For god’s sake, I have enough neckties, I need gloves!”
So, in this most stressful of years, you may find that the holiday shopping is also stressing you out. Let me offer gift suggestions that are thoughtful and take the stress out of holiday shopping. All kidding aside.
Last Minute Tips for Holiday Gifts
- EXPERIENCES: People don’t need more stuff! Give a gift certificate for an experience: a spa day, yoga class, meditation class, art classes, writing class, quilting class, museum membership, gardening classes, obedience classes for their dog or kids, or a vasectomy.
- UNIQUE GIFTS FROM UNIQUE SHOPS: Frequent small, local shops, or maker’s websites. Call and do curbside pickup. Almost everyone I know loathes the big box stores, and almost everyone I know frequents them. Frequently. Including us.
Small, local stores are awesome. They are often run by the owners, they carry local products, unique stuff. They earn the profits and hopefully make a decent living, able to afford to buy things and contribute to the local economy. As opposed to paying staff minimum wage and sending the profits to a head office and share-holders a thousand miles away.
- A MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION. Online or actually delivered to their home. I love the Economist, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and everyone’s fave, Model Railroader. One year, my friend gave me a model railroad catalogue. Brilliant.
What does the person love? Woodworking? Quilting? Cats? Tennis? Travel? Get a catalogue. I may not know what a friend who loves gardening needs, but a huge gardener’s catalogue is perfect. My wife loves a good seed catalogue.
- TIME: Volunteer at a food bank. At a charity. A not-for-profit. A woman’s shelter. A hospital. Shovel the sidewalk or get groceries for a shut-in neighbour. Nothing you buy or give will feed the soul as deeply. And there’s so much research about how beneficial kindness and helping is good for your mood and self-esteem.
- MAKE STUFF: We’ve become very popular for gifts of homemade muffins. I’ve bartered muffins for 3 hours of help fixing my laptop.
We had been hanging on to the kid’s old Playmobil toys, but they’re adults now and they urged us to sell them. Great! Kids can enjoy them again. So we sold a few online. Bought by collectors, who will display them away on a shelf. The toys sit there. Unused. Collecting dust. If we’ve learned one thing from the Toy Story franchise, it’s that toys want to be played with.
Then a woman bought a construction toy set from us. When she came by to pick it up, she was so grateful, “I’m a teacher and these toys would be put to good use. Every day.” Wow. “Wait here,” I said. Closing the door, I rushed around loading a box up with toys we were going to sell for a few bucks. She was waiting patiently, confused, until I handed the box to her, “Merry Christmas!” “Oh thank you, how much do you…” “No worries. Enjoy. Take care.”
Such gratitude! She was beaming. I was beaming. A happy holiday.
A teacher I know confirmed that donations of toys are hugely appreciated by elementary schools which are always strapped for cash. I learned that teachers often buy toys and supplies for their students out of their own pockets. The next week I was dropping off bundles of Playmobil toys at local schools, to the delight and gratitude of the staff. And of course, to all the kids who will play with them in years to come.
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