I saw on Facebook this past week a post that said “Ruin Thanksgiving in four words.” The post received 186 comments in one day. I didn’t post a comment because I want to try my best to maintain positivity when all possible, but there is something about the holidays that evoke a sense of anxiety, fatigue and even disappointment. These feelings seem to be felt universally. As I scrolled through the comments, memories of holiday gatherings of the past surfaced. Burned food, awkward interactions with family, ex’s, political conversations (especially in an election year), missing critical food elements and more were represented.
The question comes to mind, how can it be any different? How can we switch the narrative to “make the holiday great in just four words.”? How, especially this year- which has embedded a layer of fear and anxiety in so many, can we make a great memory of the holidays? I sift through my memories both good and bad, I return to the simplicity that feels comforting in the holidays. The year that we opted for a paper table cloth with crayons and paper plates was loads of fun for the kids and really easy on clean-up. The year that the weather was so mild that we moved the table outside and ate while the leaves fell around us. When we celebrated with lots of friends or no one but our sweet babies, or special dinners with family who are no longer with us. With so many ways to ruin the holidays, what are the things that make them great, truly special and really at the core why we bother to do all that we do to make it happen?
TOP IDEAS FOR CHANGING THE NARRATIVE AND MAKING THE HOLIDAY SEASON GREAT IN FOUR WORDS :
1. THIS YEAR CHOOSE LESS Yes less. Less food, less presents, less rush, less stress. Let’s just choose less. In choosing less you, choose what you need most and what makes you most happy. You will find more out of that less, more joy, more rest and more content family time. We are in the process of moving this holiday season and have been living with less stuff in our house over the past few weeks. The children’s toys have been reduced to one box of playdoh and Legos. Yes that’s all- 2 choices. This reduction has been very positive for everyone. Less is freeing and I promise it’s better.
2. DO WHAT IS EASY Sometimes the complicated recipes are just too much. Sometimes fulfilling all the traditions of years past feels really hard. I have to admit I have been cutting corners in the kitchen more and more. I have also been trying to look for the easy button more. How can I cut the parts out that don’t bring the most joy to the experience. This path is not a cop-out, but an attempt to spend more time in relationship rather than doing more tasks. A friend mentioned today ordering her Thanksgiving from a local restaurant this year. Although this cuts a lot of corners, it seems like a really great idea this year. Not only is she alleviating many time consuming tasks, but she is also supporting a local business who may be struggling. She noted she was still cooking her famous biscuits, but getting help on the other parts.
3. BRING FAMILY IN VIRTUALLY This is no one’s preferred method of being relational, but especially during COVID and the heightened germ season, it’s a great alternative. It can also be helpful with challenging relationships in which a longer visit may be too much. Make it fun and come up with a theme for the virtual party. Everyone brings a festive snack to the virtual time, wear a fun hat or eliminate use of a word like “turkey” during your conversation.
4. MAKE IT KID FRIENDLY Let’s just soak in all the good being a parent of young kids brings! The year we put paper on the table and set out crayons was a fun memory for everyone. Making it kid friendly also means getting kids involved. Let the kids help cook foods they like, or have them pick recipes from Pinterest to add to the table. The more ways a child can feel a part of the holiday preparation the more they too will find joy in all of the parts of it.
5. DO SOMETHING TOTALLY NEW Switching things up often eliminates the expectation of what it should be. My mom made a delicious traditional green bean casserole every year at the holidays. It was a family favorite. A few years ago I was hosting Thanksgiving and I decided to do a new twist on as many of the dishes as I could find. My thought was that it would be familiar but lessen the comparison to my mom’s version. My mom and sisters were especially concerned about the green bean casserole being altered. I found an updated recipe and everyone loved it more than the old one. Doing the same things each holiday provides rhythm and predictability, but switching things up can infuse a freshness to the celebrations that may have fallen away over the years. Doing something new minimizes expectations engrained over the years that are hard to meet.
6. REMEMBER “WHY” IT HAPPENS Why do we take a family photo every Fall? Why do we make so many dishes for one meal? Why do we bring a real tree in our house (they are so messy!)? Why do we search for that specific present that is nearly impossible to find? Whatever it is that feels so crazy or unnecessary, try to remember the why. If you can not fully identify your “why” you need to assess why you choose to continue to do it.
7. FIND A QUIET MOMENT I don’t know when or where you will find this moment, but find it! This is going to be critical to survive the holiday. I promise there will be an opportunity to find this quiet moment. It may be on a last minute run to the grocery store, by yourself, that you turn on YOUR music and sit in the car while the song finishes. Maybe it comes when you wake up early to begin the cooking, or late at night when wrapping that present in secret. Find this moment and recognize it and soak it in for all it offers in refreshment.
8. GET SOME FRESH AIR We have had some tough days since quarantine started in March- more tough days that I remember having in 2019. The smoothest days are the ones that we are outside for as much of the day as we can possibly squeeze. Plan to be outside. Go for a walk, ride a bike, rake a leaf pile and jump in it. The fresh air gives everyone a new attitude and it also gives people needed space. Set up a yard game and get out there and play.
9. THINK OF SERVING OTHERS Whenever I feel down on things, I turn to gratitude and then to serving others. Find a way to serve others this holiday season. I have seen people put snacks and drinks in a basket outside for the delivery people. Give your mailman a note and a water bottle, write cards or make artwork for a local nursing home, buy new socks and keep them in your car for the homeless you may see. There are so many ideas, so get your children involved too. Service and gratitude are key characteristics that we want our children to exemplify. They won’t become better at these things without practice, so include them in the process. They may have a terrific idea for how to serve someone and just need a little help.
So there you have it. 9, four word statements to improve the holidays and add some ideas to refresh the holidays and not ruin them in 4 words. Rather you can make them wonderful in simplicity, newness, serving and identifying your priorities.
Written by Naomi Brubaker