If you’re one of the lucky few who experience holiday joy and magic without the salty coating of stress sauce – I’m happy for you! Really, I am.
However, if the ghosts of holidays past are your uninvited party guests or if nasty Mr. Obligation Clause steals your ability to have the fun, then read on...
When the past comes back to bite you in the ass, whether showing up as longing for what once was or fearing a rerun of family holiday war games – I’m here to offer relief.
First tip: Change up your holiday routine significantly and those old ghosts will have a much harder time finding you. Our memories are woven together with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes – it’s how the brain works. So you have to get creative and proactive to keep those ghosts away.
To help unhook from bad memories, fears, and longings that might ruin your day, plan a completely new tradition or gathering. Introduce new foods, listen to different music, make it two smaller gatherings instead of one big one. Try a potluck, or go Chinese. Try something that takes you away from that dark and creepy memory lane. In with the new, out with the old!
If your ghosts lean toward longing, sadness and loss, make a conscious decision to honor those times/people with a few candles and a toast. Take some time to have a private ritual of remembrance. Play a song, pour a drink, look at photos, and say a few words...and then try to move on. Give your sadness a nod by feeling it and expressing whatever is there, rather than have the ghosts lurk in the corners like your uninvited cousins. Honor the past then get back to feeling the present.
If you fear that there will be a fight and your holiday gathering has the charm of lighting a match in a gunpowder factory, then you have a few choices: If you are hosting, make the fight happen ahead of time. Really! Contact the usual suspects and let everyone voice the stored resentments they’ve been carrying around. See if everyone can get over themselves and forgive each other. Also clarify that sniping, shouting, and name calling will not be on the menu. If they decide to stay home, let them! Better for you. Better a fight up front than a drama at dinner – or don’t invite them. Yes, that’s a real option.
If you have a troubled family member that’s like a turd in the pool, and you love them, take ‘em out for a holiday breakfast, catch up, and move on. You are NOT obligated to invite anyone, no matter what anybody else may say. (More on that later.)
If you are NOT hosting, let the host know that should the weirdness begin you will exit swiftly and gracefully and then make sure you do just that. Have a plan B. Make it fun. Go see a movie or have some friends on call. If Uncle Wally gets drunk and angry, using your have an escape plan won’t be a big deal, just a drama free decision. You don’t have to make a point or a scene. After all, if this is the usual behavior and no one has made an attempt to deal with it through the years, you’re all co-creating the rerun. So just go. You don’t have to explain, justify or defend your decision. Of course, if you know someone there is a miserable person with a history of abuse, just head right for plan B and don’t even bother to go to the party.
But if the Spirits of Obligation begin to moan and howl in your ears, torturing you with all the terrible things that people will think and feel and say if you do not come to the godforsaken holiday gathering… And you sigh, believing again in that old lie. Stop that.
Don’t allow obligation to ruin your holidays. Start by telling the TRUTH, first to yourself, and then to your family. Talk to people about what happens and you’ll discover that you’re not the only person in the room white-knuckling your way through the gathering. The tale that we tell ourselves that keeps us doing what we don’t want to do is something we invent. It’s not the truth. Obligation is a hangover from years of childhood conditioning in which we were taught to be “nice” (or to lie) instead of expressing ourselves. You are a grown up now.
See the people you want to see. Don’t see the people you don’t want to see. If you start to slide into obligation mode, remember these three tips ways to banish the ghosts:
1. Be proactive by addressing the concern you have.
2. Tell the truth to yourself and others about what you’d like to experience and what you’re not putting up with.
3.Change things up, create new traditions, and unhook from old memories and emotional hangovers that can trigger sadness and fear.
Here are a few new things to include in your holiday festivities: Go caroling, drive around delivering sweet treats to friends and neighbors, take a solitary walk in a beautiful place, drive around to see the neighborhood decorations, try MadLibs, eat Chinese food, watch movies, invent a weird holiday contest. Just go on and have fun!
Here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season with the joyful Spirit of Holidays yet to come! Throw open the window, lean out and take a breath of fresh air, be grateful for your life and for the day. Do what makes you happy!