Here Come The Holidays…Where Can I Hide?

mama-to-mama1111So now you’re the mom in the family. You’re the emotional center of your clan and the one who usually gets elected to figure out how to handle holidays and special occasions–what to eat, where to go, what to buy, and what to do. You probably know the drill. And feel the heat.

But some of us don’t really feel like we are the boss when it comes to the holidays. Instead, we feel like we’re getting dragged along for the ride and forced to participate in whatever our extended families have been doing for God-knows-how-many years. Even if we hate it.

We don’t know how to say, “Actually, leaving at dawn to hunt the turkey and then plucking out the feathers and roasting it up later doesn’t really work for me.” So we dread, and then endure, a miserable day and save the celebration for later, when it’s all over.

So much for the holidays. Right about now you may be wishing for a good place to hide or at least a comfortable room in which to have your upcoming nervous breakdown in peace. That’s just the way it is. Right?

NO! Wrong! It doesn’t have to be that way. You really can enjoy the holidays without relying on chemical help or a body double if you are willing to step up and create your own family traditions. It’s not as hard as it sounds and is well worth the effort.

How do you begin your own traditions? What should they be?

Family traditions are important to children and give them a sense of connection, family, and continuity. It doesn’t matter so much what they are or how they got started, it’s more about honoring and continuing them.

New families put a lot of pressure on themselves to create the perfect Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Chanukah. Overwhelmed by Hallmark images of what it’s supposed to look like, they work hard to include all the “necessary” ingredients for a traditional holiday.

But take it from me, there is no such thing as a “traditional” tradition because the ones that are most deeply loved evolve over time and differ from family to family. The best ones come into existence as you figure out how you like to celebrate the holiday, and then repeat it, add to it and eliminate the stuff (or people) that didn’t work.

I have a dear friend whose family always goes for an early morning mountain hike on Thanksgiving and then comes home to a pot luck luncheon served outside at picnic tables with a few close friends. Another one loves to gather with 50 friends and relatives who all get assigned a dish and a chore in advance. And then another friend’s Thanksgiving tradition is to go out to dinner and save everyone the wear and tear. It’s all good. There are no right or wrong answers here.

Sometimes life changes course and we have to start again.

No problem, we can take our traditions with us or change them to fit where we are. When we moved to New York from California we left our friends and most of our family and had to create some new traditions to go along with holiday celebrations. I still miss the chance to be with family members but now love and look forward to favorite new traditions that have evolved over the twelve years that we’ve been here.

We still barbeque the turkey but now we also have an annual “Hoodie Bowl” football game that includes funny t-shirts and an MVP award, a talent show, lots of away-from-home college students and young adults, a few treasured family friends, and food and decorations that hardly vary at all. And my family looks forward to it like nothing you can imagine.

It didn’t start out that way though. Little by little, it has emerged. And it works. For now, anyway. As time goes on, I’m sure that we will have to let some parts go or get refreshed or recycled as things change. You can’t get rigid about your traditions and hold on to them at all costs, or later your kids will be the ones conspiring to come down with the flu when the holidays roll around.

Stress shouldn’t be part of the tradition

Unless you were foolish enough to sign your family up to star in a reality show, the holiday is really just another day. But this one is supposed to be fun! Throw “perfect” out the window. Cut corners wherever you can and don’t be shy about asking for help. And pay attention to a few areas that often trip moms up, like:

  • clothes Kids should be comfortable on holidays. You don’t need to put them (or yourself for that matter) in fancy new stuff that will be ruined if something spills on it or it gets dirty. Pick up a cheap Thanksgiving sweatshirt at Target or an orange scrunchi or T-Day socks for the kids, IF you are so inclined. Don’t go overboard. It doesn’t take much, in the way of clothing, to honor the day.
  • food Don’t try to be Martha Stewart. Be you instead. Your kids couldn’t care less whether the pie crust is pate brise or Pillsbury’s. Believe me on this one. Creamed corn rocks at my house on T-Day and basically it’ s made out of frozen kernels of corn and a lot of sugar and cream. Not exactly health food or gourmet, but keep that to yourself. It works. It’s part of the tradition–reassuring, comforting and delicious. Remember, that’s what you’re going for.

By the way, nobody says you have to have turkey, either. Its not about the food! If you are vegetarian (or just hate the big bird), you can start your own traditional foods to go along with this holiday. The purpose, after all, is to set aside a day to give thanks! Most of us celebrate with a feast of some sort but turkey is not required for it to be a “real” Thanksgiving.

  • decorations Kids love to see the decorations from before show up and love to make things to add, like the perennial turkey-made-out-of-their-handprint. Let them gather a few leaves to scatter on the table, color place mats or place cards, or put up their art from nursery school or kindergarten.

Nobody’s going to judge you if your home doesn’t look like the fall edition of House Beautiful. Most people are grateful for a place to go and don’t notice half of what you spent hours slaving over anyway. If they do judge, cross them off the list for next year.

Is it okay to say no? How do you invite or eliminate people?

If you are stuck in a bad cycle with too much stress or people who make it really unpleasant, change it up. Tell your relatives that this year, you are going to do something different. Figure this out ahead of time and give plenty of notice. Get out of town, or do your own thing at your place. Then next year, plan ahead and own it. It’s your family and you are entitled to create and enjoy traditions that make you happy.

The most important part of holiday traditions, hopefully, is making the choice to have them and then coming up with ways to be with the ones you love in a functional, enjoyable way. The details are up to you. Just remember that memories are being created here and try to make them good ones. Enjoy!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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One response to “Here Come The Holidays…Where Can I Hide?”

  1. Paige

    Great article about the holidays! It’s always nice to be reminded that this is a time to be thankful for family and friends and the rest is secondary! One of the things I am thankful for – Rachel and Ellen at MOC! You are the best!

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