Tips for Staying Sane this Holiday Season

(Originally posted on December 18, 2013 on our previous blog.)

If you’ve ever hosted, then you’re very familiar with the following scene. First, you’re excited. “What a fantastic idea to throw this party,” you think to yourself.  You’re riding the entertainment high, dreaming up all the plans of your party. 

As your party grows near you become a work horse. Your mind is flooded with thoughts of invitations, decorations, guests’ preferences, cooking, baking, cleaning the house, and even what to wear.  You kick yourself into over drive mode by staying up late and waking up early; you are essentially living, eating, and breathing party details.  At least twice in the days leading up to the party you consider making “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” your theme song. 

The party day finally arrives. Although you spend every waking minute leading up to the party preparing and praying nobody arrives early, at least you are excited again.  (Remember that good old excited feeling?) Funny thing about that is, once you sit down to enjoy your guests’ company you feel the festivity fatigue set in.  So the truth is, you only enjoy your party a fraction of the amount you would if you hadn’t spent so much time stressing over it.  So stop it! 

Yes, I said “stop it!” Okay, okay, we all know you’re not going to stop hosting or entertaining, because after all it is delightful to dazzle your guests.  Instead, I’m suggesting you stop stressing yourself! It’s so much easier said than done, I know.  But if you following some simple guidelines, I promise you will have a much more enjoyable holiday season. 

So here are a few tips on how to stay sane this holiday season. They’re things you probably already know, so we’ll call them reminders instead. 

1.       Pick things that are pleasurable to you

Yes, you! Remember those first feelings of excitement when planning your party?  It’s because you chose a party theme that was exciting to YOU.  Your guests chose to come to the party because they were excited as well.  After all, things that excite you typically excite your friends as well.  Even if it doesn’t excite them, they are still coming to see you, their friend.  So the key to throwing a great party is to select items that are pleasurable to you, whether it be the decorations, the food, or the music.  This ensures you will have a good time, which increases the probability that your guests will as well. 

Thanksgiving is my favorite meal to cook of the entire year. However, it has become more difficult over the years. Five years ago, I wouldn’t even give a thought to dietary restrictions. Now, it is a completely different scene. My Mom has a gluten allergy, my brother and sister-in-law are now vegetarians, my Dad does not like onions; yet I love and adore them all. Since I love them all, I make multiple batches of stuffing: one that is gluten free and a traditional one. Luckily, my Dad does not eat stuffing, otherwise I’d have to make a third, onion-free version. This does not bother me because I am a trained Chef. It takes me just a few extra minutes to make the additional batch. But don’t let this happen to your party.

 Too often, I hear people discussing all the different foods they’re making just to try to please EVERY. SINGLE. GUEST. This simply cannot happen.  You cannot please everyone.

I will repeat that again for those who wear their heart on their sleeve and want to make people happy (like yours truly…) YOU CANNOT PLEASE EVERYONE.  Yes, even I need to remind myself of this…often.   So in light of this revelation, you need to pick foods that you will enjoy.  I’m not saying to discard other’s dietary restrictions or pick 7 exotic foods that only you will enjoy.  Instead, since variety is the spice of life, just offer a nice variety of foods….all of which you enjoy as well.  If you’re going to put all your energy into creating an awesome spread, it should be a spread of things that you love.   With a variety of your favorite foods, everyone will find something they like.  And thus, everyone will have a good time. 


2.       Don’t forget about yourself

There are some activities during holiday season that tend to lose their sparkle over time. Those activities that lose their appeal the longer you partake in them: like shopping or wrapping presents.   Both can be enjoyable activities, but both can also become monotonous over time. 


 So find ways to treat yourself throughout these activities.  For instance, when shopping for others, consider a small gift to you as well.  I said small, so maybe not a several-hundred-dollar-designer bag.  Instead, the gift could be more along the lines of a DVD, CD, or book that you love and adore.  It should be something that is not on your Christmas list; after all we don’t want to spoil the fun for others.  Just something that you’ve always wished you owned. 


 More important than what to buy, is when to shop for it. You should search for your treat when you are feeling the drain of the shopping experience.  Finding something that excites you, will re-energize you, as it will remind you how exciting it will be for your guests to get something they love too. 


 Other ways to re-energize yourself include listening to your favorite Christmas CD, playing a Christmas movie in the background, making yourself a cup of cocoa, or stopping for your favorite Christmas pastry. Whatever it is you chose to do just make sure the time is enjoyable for you as well.  Too often, I hear people complain about this most wonderful time of year.  It’s because they’ve done themselves a disservice by making everything a to-do list instead of turning it into an enjoyable activity for them. 


 3.       Lower your expectations


I hate to break it to you, but your party will not be prefect.  No party is perfect.  Although we still find ourselves forever striving for it, remember, there is no such thing as perfection.  Instead aim for a party that is enjoyable and fun. 


 Yes, you can look on websites like Pinterest for party ideas. But just gather the ideas from there and let that be it. If you keep going back online to compare the item you made to the one you see on Pinterest, those feelings of imperfection will creep up on you (even when your creation looks amazing).  Remember, a lot of things are staged by professionals.  It could be an artist or a chef with years of experience that you are comparing yourself to by looking online or in magazines.  So instead, find something you like, create it and enjoy it. 


 Simply put, lower your expectations and you will raise your level of enjoyment.


 4.       Remember what it’s all about

I think we all know that if we stop to think what the holidays are all about it’s not the presents, the cards, or even the entertaining. Your family and friends will love you even if you don’t have a present to give, don’t get your cards out on time, or throw a Hollywood- premier-of-a-party. 


 Many people complain about the stress that the family can bring during the holidays. Sure it’s way more people than you’d typically have in one house, and that brings many different personalities. As much as they may drive you crazy at times, those memories are fleeting.  It is those crazy times you will miss someday when not everyone is able to be together.  It really is about being with the ones you love and cherishing that precious time together during the holidays.  People are the only thing we cannot replace, so do me a favor and truly embrace your loved ones this holiday season.


 My husband served in the military and was deployed for two Christmases. Situations like that make you put into perspective the things that really matter in your life.  I’ve always loved the Christmas season, so it was by far the hardest time of the year to get through without him.  Everything I normally do during the holidays just reminded me that he was not there to share in those memories.  Still, we found ways to creatively celebrate together.  For instance, on New Year’s Eve he Skyped me at my 11:30pm (no easy feat when you’re in Afghanistan).  I held my phone up to the T.V. so we could watch the ball drop together at midnight.  That moment warmed my heart because I knew we did the most we could to make that holiday enjoyable.

That same year on Christmas, I was of course sad without him, but knew I wanted to be around my family.  I flew up to Ohio to spend the time with them.  I spent Christmas Eve mass with my parents, my in-laws, and my husband’s Grandma.  I sat between my Mom and my husband’s Grandma in church and held her hand during mass.  I remember feeling so much love and knew I made the right choice of flying home. The next day they came over for Christmas dinner.  As expected, things went wrong.  My parents’ oven is known for its hot and cold spots.  I still created a great tasting bird…even if it was an hour later than originally planned.  (Remember, that whole things about lowering your expectations?)  Even though I was terribly sad that year without my husband, and things did not go as planned, I still regard it as one of my favorite Christmas memories. 

My husband’s Grandma died the following summer. Although she was not my Grandma, I knew her for 13 years and loved her instantly as if she were my own.  She was the most spectacular lady I’ve ever met.  I take so much pride in knowing I made her a delicious last Christmas dinner.  That holiday was far from perfect.  Like I said earlier, that is a memory I will truly miss.  So remember what the holidays are all about and enjoy every second of them, even the stressful ones.  You never know which memories are going to be the ones that you hold most dear, so treasure them all.