We made it! Thanksgiving has been conquered. Now retailers large and small are bombarding us with snowy cheer, picture-perfect Douglas firs dressed up in color-coordinated balls and tinsel, and the pressure of that perfect gift to make your someone special happy this December, all at the best holiday price. So how do you survive this time of joy and crippling social and financial anxiety? Let’s break it down into bite-size pieces, so we can power through the season with minimal casualties.
Get an early start, you type A obsessive planner — you got this!
If in past years you’ve found yourself overwhelmed by holiday prep, start with some list-making. Write down all the people and things you need to take care of. You can revise it over the course of a few days, giving yourself time to remember everyone, including cousin Frank twice-removed who lives in Nebraska and never thanks you for the holiday card but will remember if you forget. Look honestly at your list. Does everyone really need a gift? Consider the power of a card and a cheerful greeting and pare things down.
Next, write down your holiday meal plan and all the ingredients. Then revise it with a new strategy: not everything has to be homemade. Plan on quick disaster rescues, such as frozen apps and those little envelopes of sauces and dips.
List-making frees up mental space and quells anxiety. Go down your lists and take one deep breath for anything you’ve accomplished.
Set financial boundaries.
That’s just fancy talk for making a budget and not overcommitting. You know how to do this — you just don’t want to. Do it anyway.
Avoid shopping for holiday decorations after eggnog tastings, or the next thing you know you’re off to buy a laser projector to make your house look like a reindeer acid trip. Your local thrift shop is a better bet for quirky decorations that keep things low key.
Why is talking money out loud around the holidays such a taboo? If you’re doing a family gathering with a gift exchange, set a budget for everyone. It will save you at least one eggnog hangover.
Make ethical decisions, you earth-loving, socially-conscious, anti-capitalist vegan!
Shopping locally can help you curb cravings for excess. There are lots of ways to keep it simple on the Outer Cape. Shops in all our towns offer end-of-season sales on everything from art to clothing. Then there are crafty gatherings like Canteen’s Holiday Market in Provincetown or the weekend craft fair at Wellfleet Preservation Hall.
You may be tempted to get crafty yourself. You have visions of Mason jar sugar scrubs and homemade scented candles dancing in your head. That’s fine. There’s still time to try. But nobody will blame you if you end up taking advantage of Jeff Bezos’s empire for a last-minute purchase. Let anyone who is without sin cast the first iPhone!
Surround yourself with people you like.
You can’t un-invite the annoying uncle, but you can reserve time for the cheerleaders, the venting buddies, the easy-goers, and for those friends who will help do the dishes. You may even want to plan a kind of target practice with your favorite people. Print or draw pictures of your stress triggers, tape them to a tree, and slingshot rotten apples at them.
Go ahead, lose it… a little.
Screaming into the wind on the back shore can be therapeutic. You might also have an ugly-cry with a friend, your significant other, or by yourself. Get it done, and when you come back, I promise you’ll find the strength to stir that powdered dip mix into a bowl of sour cream.
The main thing to remember is this: nobody’s perfect. If you don’t believe me, just count the misfits and weirdos at your own holiday party this year. If you come up short, you’re doing something wrong. Make a note to expand your circle in the new year.
Have a backup plan, because who are we kidding — most of your planning will actually take place last-minute.
Get extra holiday cards for those obscure relatives who stop in at the last minute. If you get too many, you can always send one to the staff at your favorite restaurant; to the local police, fire, and rescue; to the medical professionals, mail carriers, landscapers, hairdressers, and cashiers who do their best to keep the community running no matter the season.
Whatever you’re feeling, stop and give it a little respect. If it’s cheer, good for you. But even if it’s melancholy, that’s OK. Those forces that made the Grinch’s heart grow three times the size and break the little measuring device were complicated. You might even call them the Holiday Spirit.
Doctor Doublepenny will answer your questions if you send them to [email protected] or to Dear Indie, P.O. Box 1034, Provincetown, MA 02657.