High-five, everyone! Christmas is now officially behind us and if you're reading this right now, that means you survived! Merry Darwinian Christmas to all of us!
Before you block out the entire experience until early next fall when you walk into Home Depot and have a traumatic flashback triggered by all of the ginormous inflatable holiday decorations straight out of some creepy Christmas nightmare, we have some debriefing to do. I'm not trying to torture you; I'm trying to teach you how to have a not-so-painful Christmas next year.
If you are one of those rare people who truly loves every last thing about Christmas, you can stop reading right now. There is a 60 percent off Christmas home decor sale happening somewhere, and that would be a far better use of your time because there is nothing in this article for you. But if you're like the rest of the world and you find at least some aspects of the holiday season to be pretty stressful, this article is for you.
The two most challenging aspects of Christmas are gift giving madness and awkward family get-togethers. Let's tackle those in that order.
It's Christmas, not Giftapalooza. Not everyone is a fan of Christmas presents. And contrary to what Simon malls would have you believe, there is no law that requires you to give them.* If you resent having to spend the weeks before Christmas chasing down gifts for everyone, and you resent spending the weeks after Christmas figuring out where to put all the stuff that people gave you, then it's time to jump off the not-so-merry-Christmas-go-round.
In our society, it is presumed that everyone will participate in gift giving; so if you don't want to anymore, you actually have to opt out. Rather than announcing that you're turning over a new leaf on Christmas Eve when gifts for you are already under the tree, manners dictate that you give people a little notice. It feels weird to announce that you're doing something that is out of step with the rest of the world, no matter how reasonable it is. And the closer it is to Christmas, the more awkward this announcement becomes. In other words, the best time to let people know you're opting out is right now.
Before you blink and Christmas is punching you in the face again, let your friends and loved ones know that from this point forward, the only presents you want is their presence. Yes, I really did just say that. And yes, I realize it's a super cheesy line. (But who doesn't love cheese -- especially around the holidays?** ) If you can't bring yourself to say something quite that cheesy, let me do the talking for you. Simply forward this article to everyone you know and love. Then, next December when you're enjoying not having to go to Best Buy to pick up a $50 gift card to give to your brother Larry in exchange for the $50 gift card to Ulta that he will be giving to you, you can instead thank me with a $50 gift card to Nordstrom.***
You're all grownup -- feel free to act like it. Family get-togethers and holidays go together like fruitcakes and Christmas. Much like family get-togethers, no one**** actually likes fruitcakes, but everyone grudgingly accepts that they are an unavoidable part of the holiday experience.
Family get-togethers put you in close quarters with people you only see once a year or so. Because you hardly spend any time together, you've never updated the impression you formed of each other when you were kids. Your big brother Bill might have been an oversized bully when he was a kid; but today everyone who knows him thinks he's a gentle giant. And Bill might have thought you were a bratty little tattle tail when you were a kid; but today you're known as the friend who can really keep a secret.
When you head back home for the holidays, it's like hopping into a time machine. You don't use the time together as an opportunity to get to know each other; you look for things that are consistent with the opinions you formed decades ago. With that approach, you're more likely to have a Miserable Confirmation Bias than a Merry Christmas.
Here's what you can do to break this pattern: Before you block out the memories you have of Christmas this year, sift through them. When it comes to the relatives you like the least, pick out one or two memories from this year that are either positive or at least not negative. Maybe you think of your cousin John as a blowhard -- and maybe he really is. But maybe he was also the first one in the kitchen helping out with the dishes. And maybe you're right to think of Aunt Connie as a gossip. But maybe she was also the one who voluntarily sat next to Great Grandpa at Christmas dinner and talked to him for a solid hour when everyone else was too busy to give him the time of day. Once you've identified a few positive memories, delete all the negative ones.
This exercise will do two things for you. First, it will make your Christmas memories from this year far more pleasant. Second, it will set you up to have happier Christmases in the years to come because you will begin to update and reshape your impressions of family members based on recent interactions rather than old baggage.
When you drag the Christmas tree out to the curb, don't forget to also haul out the ghosts of personalities past, too. Once you've gotten rid of all that rubbish, you'll have plenty of room for new impressions -- ones that are both positive and accurate. From this point forward, may all your Christmases be light.
*Unless you have kids who are not yet grown, in which case you're kind of stuck.
**Honk if you love cheeses.
****Except for me. Hi, Mom.