It’s the middle of September, so it’s about the time we start seeing folks settling in to thinking about the last part of the year, which of course includes the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and many more). It is also the time of year where we start to see so much messaging in regard to eating during the holidays and how you can stay ‘fit’, how you can replace treats with ‘healthy alternatives’, and basically a whole lot of toxic diet culture tropes that are trying to come off like they are about your health.
If you are looking for those sorts of tips, this blog isn’t for you.
I am taking a completely different approach and this blog is going to be five tips to keep yourself EMOTIONALLY fit for the holidays. I really wanted to put something different out there that isn't focused on maintaining some sort of diet, but is really dedicated to things you can do to get through this time of year with as much of your sanity and happiness as possible.
Now if THOSE are the sorts of tips you are looking for, keep on reading!
One: Don’t make yourself feel guilty for anything that you eat
There is so much out there during the upcoming time of year about restricting your food and being careful about what you eat. You can’t get online without finding articles about how to pick out the items that have the least amount of calories at a holiday party or how to drink a ton of water before you go out so you can resist a few cookies or practicing how many different ways you can say no when offered food. Want my advice? Don’t do that to yourself. Food shouldn’t come with guilt. There shouldn’t be a price you have to pay physically or emotionally if you decide you want to eat food. As someone who is on the other side of having disordered eating for the majority of my life, I’m here to tell you that the stress and strain isn’t worth it. It is taxing going to parties or celebrating a holiday with loved ones and trying to figure out calorie for calorie what you are putting in your mouth and how on earth you’re going to be able to work it off at the gym. I spent years in that mentality and I feel really sad looking back at all of the holidays that I spent hungry and frustrated when I could have been enjoying life. Food isn’t the enemy. Unless you have specific dietary restrictions due to health conditions, just eat the damn cookies. Stop trying to do mental gymnastics because society has burned into your brain that a smaller body is somehow the gateway to health and happiness. I’m here to tell you that’s a crock, y’all.
Two: You do not have to spend time with toxic family members
There are so many times during this part of the year where you’ll potentially see a lot of family members. Many people feel the pressure of being around people that do not treat them or others well because it just feels easier than being alone during this time of year. As hard as being alone is, it is better than being around people who are toxic and aren’t healthy to be around. Even if they are related to you. Probably especially if they are related to you. So many people use being related as an excuse to sweep things under the rug and say that because they are family they can say and do whatever they want when it comes to someone. That isn’t how any of this should work. You don’t have to break bread with racist Uncle Bob or listen to homophobic Aunt Jan or dodge invasive questions from Cousin Sue about your children/lack of children/marriage/lack of marriage just so you can eat some most likely dry turkey and weak stuffing. If family is not good for your well-being, then family isn’t everything. Surround yourself with people that love and understand you, regardless if you share blood with them. We always make it very clear during the holidays that any of our friends who do not feel welcome in their families homes are more than welcome in ours. We want everyone in our lives to know that our home is a safe haven no matter when they might need it.
Three: Create your own traditions if typical ones do not work for you
It surprises a lot of people every year when they find out that we don't do Santa with our children (for the record we also don't do the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny either). The responses range from mildly surprised to people telling us point blank that we are ruining their childhoods! I was super surprised at first when we got such fierce reactions, but then I came to understand that people are really protective over traditions. For our family, Santa isn't a tradition that works for us (and something that I will likely blog more about the closer we get to Christmas), so we simply do not do it. I feel like the holidays are a perfect time to chart your own path and to do the things that work for you and your family. You do not have to participate in the typical holiday traditions if they do not work for you or go against something you feel strongly about. Even if other people don't understand, that really is more about them than you. Do what makes you happy! For the record, don't worry about my children ruining Santa for yours; we teach them that while we do not do Santa, many other families do and it wouldn't be kind to mess with other folks traditions. It really is that easy, y'all. We have a thirteen year old who got through it all just fine with his childhood very much intact.
Four: Disabuse yourself of the notion that you need to spend tons of money on gifts
Especially as a parent, the holidays can be super stressful with the expectations of having to spend a lot of money. There are gifts for your kids, for your spouse, for close friends, for family members. There are expenses that go into big meals or parties. A lot of work places have holiday parties where you need to bring in a dish, so there is money to either cook or buy something. Not to mention of course if you want to be Perfect Pinterest Mom, you have to bake cookies or do crafts with your kiddos! Let me tell you, baking cookies for the holidays isn't exactly cheap if you are trying to do it up with icing and sprinkles and the whole nine. I spent a lot of time as a new mom with my oldest son thinking that somehow if I didn't do ALL the things and that inevitably meant spending ALL the money, that it would somehow give him bad memories of the holidays when he was older. I quickly realized that isn't what is important, though. Children honestly are more likely to not remember exactly what you did but how you made them feel. You can make your children feel happy and magical during the holidays without piles of gifts or activities. My oldest son's favorite thing to do during the holidays is to watch movies with some snacks. He doesn't even want to watch holiday movies! He just wants to spend that quality time with us. For Christmas, we have also put into place the "something to play, something to wear, something to read" philosophy and it has been a big hit so far. With three kids it makes everything fair because no one will feel somehow slighted, we aren't having to spend a ton of money we don't have, and our kids enjoy their gifts regardless if there aren't a thousand of them. We work with quality rather than quantity. Also it needs to be said; if your love language is doing all the things for the holidays and it is within your budget and time and heart, then go for it! This is me saying if it isn't then you do NOT have to guilt yourself into doing it all.
Five: Donate your time or money to a worthy charity
I know this might seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but that doesn't make it any less important. This time of year can be especially hard on the most marginalized people and they need our help more than ever. On Thanksgiving, which is a day that is already not without conflict historically, we always pick a charity relevant to Native people to give our money so they will directly benefit from it. During Christmas, I am working on a tradition where every year we (for now it would be Nate, Sean, and I, since the littles are too young to do it yet) individually pick a charity for the family to give to, may it be our money or our time, depending on where we are at financially. We sure aren't the most wealthy people in the world, and oftentimes we simply barely have enough money for our family; what we DO have, though, is time. Sean and I want to set the example for our kids to have giving hearts and generous spirits during the whole year, but the holidays is a particularly special time to set those traditions into place. Do your research and homework on a cause that is important to your family; include your children in the process! It will build the most amazing foundation within them and teach them so much about the world around them and how to give back.