Good-bye Bah, Humbug!

By Kathryn Oldenburg

Oh, the holidays! It’s a time when visions of sugarplums dance in our heads, and shiny packages perfectly wrapped with velvet ribbon are stacked with care waiting to be presented at a holiday dinner made from scratch — right? Reality check: For many, this season of joy is the cause of overloaded calendars and stressed-out minds. The crush of attending holiday pageants, hosting get-togethers, and adorning homes makes this otherwise merry time less a season of peace and more a season when we fear we might fall to pieces.

As we enter this holiday season, give a gift to yourself: Focus on what is most meaningful, slow it down, and simplify. Here are three approaches you can take:

Expand Your Awareness. Focus on the diversity of the holidays by celebrating the roots of popular traditions. Angus Kress Gillespie, a folklorist in the American Studies department at Rutgers University, encourages people to stay culturally connected by observing other events that occur around this time but are often overlooked, such as the Feast of Saint Lucia (Dec. 13) or the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21). “A good place to look ?for some unique culture is the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia on New Year’s Day,” Gillespie says. “It blends Finnish, Swedish, Irish, and German traditions with extravagant costumes made of feathers, sequins, and golden slippers.” For a more personal approach, he recommends reintroducing holiday customs like lighting candles, burning a yule log, or hanging mistletoe.

Be Available. While traditions are a beloved part of the holidays, paying attention to loved ones can bring back the true meaning of the holidays, says Diane Handlin, Ph.D., a clinical and consulting psychologist. “Make room for presence instead of presents by being attentive and available to the people you love,” she says. “If you give up saying, ‘I want’ and ‘I have to have it this way,’ there is more room to care for others.” Considering others’ needs may also generate ideas for meaningful (and wallet-conscious) gifts. Try spending time with your children baking cookies or spread cheer to your neighbors by delivering hot cocoa.

Keep it Simple.
Judy Kahn of De-Stress That Mess in South Orange says organization is a key to achieving a more peaceful season. “People underestimate the amount of time it takes to buy presents and wrap them and decorate the house,” she says. “If you start early and buy a present here, wrap a gift there, and sort out the absolute necessary holiday accoutrements prior to the season, you’ll have more time to focus on ?enjoying the holidays rather than having them run your life.” Kahn suggests simplifying clutter by sorting seasonal activities in ?labeled bins for easy recognition (e.g., “recipes and baking supplies” or “decorations and lights”). “Part of the frustration people run into is that they want everything to be truly perfect,” she says. “It’s up to us to simplify our desires and eliminate the excess.”


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