For most of us, some of the year's most special days are right around the corner, and we can't wait to spend some much-needed down time with our family, friends & loved ones. There will be much to celebrate, lots of laughter and memories to be made. For others, however, the holiday season brings about anxiety and struggle for one reason or another. Maybe that's you, and you might have a difficult time being around certain family members. It could be that the holidays remind you of someone you've lost and those who used to make this season so special. Or, maybe you're the one doing all the work...all the decorating, planning & cooking, and you find yourself worn out before the festivities can even begin.
Whatever the reason may be, I've put together a list of things to remember to help survive the holidays. It's a list we should all keep close, including those of us who love everything about this season. Because, I believe everyone deserves to feel special throughout the holidays, and it could be that we're the only ones who can make that happen for someone else.
1. You have nothing to prove.
Those who matter are going to love you no matter what you wear, what you cook or what you burn. Those you must impress so they'll accept you are likely going to judge you anyways, so you might as well accept it, let go and be the you the ones who matter already love.
This one took me awhile to learn because let's face it, it stings when you feel like nothing you do will ever be valued, but if the way you feel is truth, then there's not much point in trying to change someone. That's where the fun part happens...when you stop trying to impress others or "act the part" to win their acceptance, and when you love yourself enough to be ok with who you are (even when others aren't), you find the freedom to enjoy the holidays even more than before!
Spend your time with those who will encourage you, lift you up and accept you for being you, and the rest will work itself out.
2. Everyone wants to feel special.
This is somewhat related to the first point because if your family is large, you're likely going to have the opportunity to encourage those who haven't yet learned how to let go of their need for approval. Seek them out, and be the reason they feel loved this holiday season.
It's also important to remember that those who are vying for others' acceptance could be in the category of people who are difficult to be around. They're the ones who want to be seen. They'll talk about their accomplishments and might even make passive remarks downplaying your own, but you know what? That's ok because now that you've read this, you know how to see through it and love them anyways, and since you're going to do everything you can to be in the first category, you're also going to let it all roll off your back because you want the freedom that comes from loving the you you are regardless of what others think. Right??
Okay--good. Let's keep going.
3. Time is limited. Use it wisely.
If you haven't learned this the hard way yet, please just believe me and make the most of your time throughout the holidays. Thanksgiving 2019 was the last one I had with both my parents. 2020 was the first without Mom. This year will be my first without either one of them, and the holidays are going to look very different from now on. This season was always so special when my parents were still living. We played all the games, ate all the food, laughed until we cried, and then repeated the process until we were forced to part ways. I can't find enough words to express my gratitude for the memories I have and the warmth I'll carry from them for the rest of my life.
My mom wasn't terminally sick. She died suddenly and unexpectedly...while we were planning a Mother's Day meal to be exact. Dad had terminal cancer, and while he survived and lived with cancer for 5-1/2 years, and even though we knew what would eventually come, his death still felt sudden. I guess the lesson is that it doesn't matter if your loved ones are 22 or 92, you will never feel like you had enough time when they're gone, so use the time you are given now to make the memories you know you will cherish forever.
I'd also like to make a plea for anyone reading this who might be waiting for the future before making things right with either someone you've hurt or someone who has hurt you. I grew up without my biological father, and he passed away before he could make things fully right. He grew up without his biological father, too. For reasons I will never fully understand, my grandfather wasn't a part of my life. I thought of him often, wondering what he was like and if I was anything like him. I reached out to him in 2019, and he told me then that he had wanted to reach out to me, but he wasn't sure I would want to hear from him. I had wanted it my entire life.
He passed away this week, and while we were able to communicate a little over the past three years, it just wasn't enough time--something we both could have had more of if we had made that connection when we first started thinking about it.
Do you know what most of us are given during the holidays that we don't have the rest of the year? Time. We're gifted with time away from work to spend however we choose, and it's my suggestion that we all set aside any differences we have with our family members--for just a little while--so we can invest our time into loving one another. If that can't happen until you make amends with someone, just do it. Please. Just don't wait to make things right.
4. Give yourself a break.
I write about this topic quite often on my blog.
My mom was the real MVP of our family holidays. On Christmas morning, she'd be up before the sun, fixing a massive breakfast with every fancy side a person could imagine, and it would be ready before everyone else woke up. It wasn't until I was older before I realized how much that took away from the holidays being as special for her as they could have been with help.
Of course, she would have never admitted that. If she were here today, she'd say what made the holidays special was having all of the kids enjoying time together under the same roof, but I also believe had tasks been divided, she would have been a lot less tired on the big days. I think the struggle here is being willing to ask for help. It's okay to let others be responsible for parts of the meal. It's ok to just have one tree and a single Santa standing by the fireplace instead of three trees and twenty-seven Santas.
I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the three trees and twenty-seven Santas, either, because there's not a time I love the looks of my house more than during the holidays, and we like to go BIG during this time of the year. What I am saying, however, is that if you have more important priorities that would have to take the back seat so you can put up the three Christmas trees, scale back this year. You deserve to enjoy the holidays, too, and no one is going to fault you for it.
5. Store bought is 100% acceptable.
You read that right...ha! I know this a blog FULL of homemade recipes, but the food isn't the most important part of what this community is all about. The hospitality is. The absolute last thing I want is for your family to get less of you or less from you because too much of you is taken by your kitchen.
There are plenty of pies at the grocery store, and most kids can't tell the difference between instant mashed potatoes and the real deal. With some desserts, you can even mix the "real" with the store-bought and come up with some spotlight-stealing concoctions. In fact, one of my favorite desserts I've ever made was with a store-bought cheesecake and a homemade bananas foster topping. It was sooo good, friends!
6. If old traditions bring back painful memories of what's lost, give yourself permission to make new traditions.
I had the hardest time during our first holiday season without Mom. I felt like Dad deserved to have everything just like he had known, and I wanted to do everything just like Mom did so my family could experience the same holidays as they had before. The problem with this is that there was nothing I could do to make the holidays just like before because the reality was, they weren't the same.
This year will be even more different since Dad is gone, too, and I've already confronted some traditions that became just mine and his after Mom passed away. While he was very much a "man's man" who loved westerns, ESPN and all things Barney Fife, he was always ready to watch the Hallmark Channel with me and see which of us could predict the ending of the newest Christmas movie faster than the other. He'd announce, "I already know where this one is going!"
For now, I can't keep the tradition of snuggling up to a Hallmark Christmas movie marathon because it would hurt more than it would bring joy, but what I can do is find a classic, funny Christmas movie to watch with my husband and kids. I can't listen to any James Taylor or Kenny G. holiday albums because those were mine and Mom's favorites, but there are plenty of stations I can blast for the kids (that they'd probably enjoy more anyways--ha!).
It's not that I won't ever do these things again, and I'm sure as the years pass and the sting becomes less sharp, I'll be able to revisit the traditions that were once shared with my parents. But, everyone is different and places different value on certain traditions, and if you need a breather, it's ok to post date a rain check by a year or two while you celebrate what you can and what will bring you joy.
On Thanksgiving day, Drew, the kids and I will honor Mom's favorite tradition of naming 5 things for which we are grateful. We may name them in the car in between our families' meals instead of at my parents' table, but it's a tradition that will allow me to honor Mom while keeping her memory alive. On Christmas morning, we will have breakfast at our own house for the first time, and I will still fix Mom's famous blackberry sauce and tea biscuits and let the kids know hers was waaaayy better than mine. Rather than waking up in the Tennessee country, my grandparents will park their camper in my Mississippi driveway, and we will learn to move forward, cherishing the moments we have with those who are still here while honoring those we've lost in the best ways we can.
When you've lost someone who made the holidays so special, it's hard paving the way with new traditions. This season can feel daunting even, and it might be easier to become emotionally overwhelmed with the thoughts of what has been lost. But, the best advice I could give is to look at those around you--those in your life today who are still present and in need of a special holiday season, and move forward with them while finding ways to honor those you've lost.
Keep the traditions that are special to you. Put other traditions on hold if they won't bring you and your family joy. And focus on what I listed in number 5....time. Our time is precious, and it is limited, so let us use it wisely and make our future holiday seasons the very best for those we love.