Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Five tips for reducing holiday stress

So if you haven't figured it out by now, the holidays are a hectic, stress-laden time of year. They're so laden with stress, you could pick up the stress with a...ladle. A time of year that should be spent unwinding and focusing on quality time with those you love is increasingly becoming a spectacle of marketing, materialism, and malicious trampling of fellow man. I mean, holiday violence? You've got to be kidding me. Irony would be a gross understatement. Every year the malls put up the Christmas decorations earlier (I think we saw hints of it in September this year), and the push for everyone to buy the "right gift" for their loved ones becomes more aggressive. The day will probably come when we see ornaments and tinsel in July, along with the "Summer is over, it's time to buy Christmas gifts" marketing push.

And so here I am, a survivor of many Christmases, both as a kid and adult, with my sanity intact (That's right, everyone's crazy but me), to offer some tips for reducing stress in this Season of Doom.

1) Suggest to your family a reduced gift-burden: Every person buys only one gift for one other person, Secret Santa-style, so that everyone gets a gift. If you know ahead of time that you only need to buy one gift, not only does it save you money, time, and sanity, but you can focus on buying a gift that is more meaningful/useful to your intended recipient. And Mother Earth will thank you for having fewer wasted gifts that end up in landfills, in addition to less wrapping paper and packaging to dispose of. Our family tried this a few years ago with great success. But not as much success as some of these later options which we adopted. Read on:
1a) If you are a true altruist/socialist, buy a board game or other group activity as your one gift! A game with simple rules, like Jenga, seems to work particularly well for this application. That way your family can play together immediately after opening gifts, thus distracting you from other less savory group activities like Texas Hold 'em or Blackjack, where Dad can accidentally gamble off the money he had been saving for your inheritance. This has also happened in my family, and unfortunately started when I was young, so there has been much inheritance loss over the years.

2) Suggest to your family the most reduced gift-burden of all: no gifts at all! Well, I don't mean no gifts literally, because little kids still get a kick out of opening gifts and really know how to dig them. With no appreciable savings accounts of their own beyond what is in the pickle jar bank on their dressers, kids have no means of blowing horrendous amounts of money during the rest of the year like all of us grownups, so the holidays are their one shot to get all the stuff that they won't use in 3 months. So just buy gifts for the children, and maybe throw in some gifts for the "golden generation" (grandmas and grandpas) as well, whom I find appreciate the thrill of unwrapping boxes, even empty ones, as much as anyone. Meanwhile, everyone in the 16 to 64 age bracket can enjoy the comfort and satisfaction of having bucked holiday materialism in favor of quality family time together, and maybe a little Texas Hold 'em or Blackjack (see 1a). My family currently uses the no-gift protocol for our Christmas celebration, having transitioned away from the one-gift protocol a couple of years ago, and it has honestly led us all to love Christmas all over again! No lie! I can say with the utmost sincerity that giving up gifts was the single greatest thing to happen to our yearly holiday gathering, at least in my adult life. It will likely revolutionize your family's holiday experience just as dramatically, especially if your family is like mine, i.e. a group of people who happen to have some genetic material in common but who really don't know each other that well. You'll be amazed at how much you will look forward to the yuletide season once it becomes a minimal-obligations event, like Thanksgiving. No more anxiety, no more insecurity about buying the wrong gift, and no more cattle-herding in the mall on Christmas Eve.

3) Here I address the the tricky issue of whether or not to buy gifts for your pets. I hold animals in the highest regard: They are pure-hearted and sincere beings who seem to have their priorities straight, and know how to live life day by day. I have never seen a pet get worked up (either positively or negatively) about the impending yuletide, no matter how many rawhide-filled mesh stockings PETCO puts up on display. Those, my dear reader(s), are for us, not the animals. We're supposed to feel the heart-strings being tugged and experience twinges of guilt if we would even entertain the notion of forgetting Fido or Fida this Christmas. But let's be honest: your pet cares about what you do for him/her the ENTIRE 365 DAYS OF THE YEAR, not whether or not he gets an extra raw hide on Christmas. It's part of the animals mentality, and a justifiable one at that, of living every day like the next. So feel no guilt about ignoring the wreath made out of catnip fibers hanging in the pet store window. Your pets need love and attention and entertainment from you every day, and their needs have to be met as they arise, so just continue doing that and you'll be rewarded with happy, healthy pets who love you back. Save the holiday gifts, if any, for us silly humans who get a kick out of seasonal displays of attention.

4) Limit your family's watching of television. TV is where we get the notions of what we need to buy implanted in our minds, and it fuels the demand for the "hot" items of the year. So we knew that Nintendo's Wii system would be popular this year, but when we hear the media exclaim that the Nintendo Wii is the "MUST-HAVE TRINKET OF 2008", many people suddenly decide that they have to have one, and they have to have it for Christmas, or their kid has to have one, and the idea of waiting until March when the hoopla dies down is just unthinkable, thus creating an exponentional increase in the demand for this item. A simple boycott or reduction of TV watching limits your exposure to these mass marketing phenomena, and you will instead turn your attention to bugging your loved ones to buy you something else that you'd really like more. If everyone just follows this simple formula, it will ensure a generous surplus of Nintendo Wiis for the rest of us, who absolutely, unequivocally HAVE to have it this Christmas.

5) If all else fails: Record an entire season of kids' television shows, including the commercials, in advance, and play it to your children several years down the line, discreetly substituting it for the current season's shows without your children knowing. We're all aware that kids decide what they want for Christmas from the commercials that appear in between the shows they watch, right? Well, if the commercials your kids are watching are already four years old, you can bet the toys being marketed in those commercials will be a-cheap and a-plenty at some discount store down the street. So when little Billy wants a Furby, you say, "Well, I'm going to have trample a lot of parents to get this, but I'll do it because I love you," and then you go out to Valu-Mart and buy it for $2.99. No hassles, no lines, Christmas is a done deal.

Relieve stress now.

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