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Your happy holiday guide to stressing less this festive season

Your happy holiday guide to stressing less this festive season

Here’s how to enjoy and make the most of this festive season, rather than gritting your teeth just to make it through.

“And you won’t construct great memories if you are permanently grumpy, resentful and under severe financial pressure.”

They say there’s nothing new under the sun, and that’s certainly true of magazine articles. Online or on paper, you can be sure that around this time of the year there are a bazillion permutations of the following story: “How to survive the holidays.” In fact, I should probably confess upfront that I’ve written some of those articles myself.

Just read those five words again. How to survive the holidays. You know, the holidays – all through November and the first part of December you’ve been singing along to Nat King Cole: “Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, those days of soda and pretzels and beer…” And now that they’re finally here you need tips on how to survive them? Something is terribly amiss.

I get it, I really do – there’s all the Christmas shopping, if Christmas is something you celebrate that. And even if you don’t, there are visitors and celebrations of various sorts, and the weight of family expectations, and it can feel like you spend the whole time ticking off things on a massive to-do list.

Perhaps you have to cook a massive turkey lunch on Christmas Day, or risk Aunty Mavis’s wrath. Perhaps you have always had the entire family of 60 people over on New Year’s Eve, and they’re all counting on you, but this year you just can’t afford it and frankly, you don’t have the energy. Or maybe you’re just exhausted at the thought of the endless rounds of parties and celebrations. And then there’s the gift-buying. This year you’re really broke and your family loves extravagant presents. Or maybe you’ve always hated the festive season – the forced jollity, the tinsel, the fake snow…

Well, there’s a simple solution to all of this. And note, I said it’s simple – it may not be easy. You could just stop. Because you do know that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the very definition of madness, right?

And no, it won’t be easy. But the solution really is just to stop doing things you hate. And then to think about how you would like to spend the holidays – and do that.

I can feel the objections building – the people who will be upset if you don’t attend this, or cook that. The people who will purse their lips and be unhappy with you for daring to have your own mind, for daring to be an adult who is in charge of their own life. So, before those objections threaten to drown out the rest of this column, let me tell you about my friend, Penny (not her real name).

Penny has a husband and two teenage sons, and one year they set off for their little holiday home at the coast for a couple of weeks of R and R. Penny, being a very nurturing sort of mother, generally does most of the cooking at home. Okay, she does all of it. When they’re on holiday, nothing changes.

But one year, Penny decided she’d had enough, and that her husband and sons were more than capable of fending for themselves. She’d bought a brand new Snackwich machine, and so every time one of them asked what was for breakfast, lunch, or supper, Penny looked up from her book, gazed wistfully at the ocean, and then suggested they go and make themselves a Snackwich.

Predictably, they were not terribly happy with this. And I think after a few days they just stopped asking and made a Snackwich. Did anyone die? Of course not. And Penny had one of the best holidays she’d ever made.

Change is always hard – even when it’s about something as simple as whether you have a hot or a cold meal on Christmas Day. But people are also surprisingly adaptable. This year, after years of cooking a hot roast meal for Christmas Day, I’ve explained that I’ll be doing cold meats and salads instead. The kitchen in my new house is just too hot, and my oven is too small to do the food I usually do. No one has batted an eyelid.

Last year, knowing that some of the family were under financial pressure, I suggested a Secret Santa gift-giving system for the grown-ups with a budget limit. It went down a treat. So, it’s really about thinking about what you struggle with over the festive season, and then making changes in a way that keeps the traditions without depleting your energy reserves.

If you’re exhausted by going to all of those social gatherings, start saying no to some of them. If you can’t afford to host the family as you’ve always done, tell them. Ask everyone to bring something. And if your self-catering holiday sees you constantly in the kitchen, make sure there’s plenty of ‘help yourself’ food in the fridge, and draw up a roster for the meals that require some extra prepping. Or buy a Snackwich – that also works.

The holidays are a wonderful opportunity to spend time with friends and family, as well as relaxing and recovering from a long, hard year. Those two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Remember that memories really come from the experiences you share, rather than whether your table setting is worthy of Instagram or Pinterest. People are far more likely to remember the time Grandpa fell in the pool after one too many cocktails, than the elaborate origami swan you fashioned your serviettes into. And you won’t construct great memories if you are permanently grumpy, resentful and under severe financial pressure.

Of course, none of us is an island. It will require some discussion and compromise and working with family, whether that means parents and siblings, or your partner and children. But it’s your holiday too, and with a bit of thought, some boundaries, and a dash of compromise, this year you can thrive, rather than survive.

Mandy Collins

Change expert, Mandy Collins, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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