We believe that you want to enjoy the holidays, so we’re sharing our five best tips with you in the form of a holiday menu.
Above all, your mind frame will make the difference between a holiday season with potential for newness and one that inevitably repeats the past. The mind frame that makes room for spontaneity and your ability to enjoy celebrating the holidays is this: I have a choice.
Don’t be a reindeer in the headlights! You are not a prisoner of other people’s holiday celebrations or other people’s assumptions about what makes the holidays legitimate, nor a sleepwalker repeating the past—because you have a choice. Rather than hunker down, go numb, and survive the holidays as only a partially present person, be an actor in your own wonderful life story.
Rayne: Thanksgiving Day for my San Francisco family meant skipping turkey or ham and having Chinese take-out instead. My darling step-mom Robbie loved scooping Hong Kong Flower Garden main dishes from their white paper cartons into gleaming chafing dishes lined up on her mahogany dining table.
My folks welcomed friends and family from noon to five. Plates of pot stickers and Princess shrimp were balanced on knees while wine toasts were shared. But not every holiday with family is so breezy and social. There can be stress, tears, and psychodrama—especially around our mammas.
Amy: Christmases of my childhood were a cocktail of excitement and dread, common when parents are alcoholic and codependent. Since my mother was never spoken of in our house, when Christmas came, I was sure to intercept her presents from the postman and open them in hiding. I couldn’t risk reminding my dad, stepmom, and half-siblings that I wasn’t really one of them. An eerie Christmas Eve family tradition was watching the three-hour Ingmar Bergman “Christmas” film, Fanny and Alexander. The film portrays the childhood of Swedish siblings Fanny and Alexander, whose lives are darkened by an abusive stepfather. Singing carols, hanging ornaments, and wrapping presents delighted me, still, I never ceased waiting for the other shoe to drop.
As an adult, much of my healing work around enjoying the holidays has been to honor a few select traditions while testing out new ones year by year, using my voice and arms to convey love and appreciation for others, and detaching from the myth that love is measured in gifts.
We’ve created a five-item menu to keep you nourished all season long. Amy and Rayne’s insights will help you rise above toxic family dynamics. Note: You may want to skip dessert this year.
Holidays In-Real-Life Soup
A light, should-free and comparison-free broth
Are you falling for the trap of comparing your holiday celebrations to a standard set by television and movies? Somewhere between the loving Baileys in It’s a Wonderful Life and the fractured family of Home For The Holidays, lays the truth about family gatherings. They can be splendid and frightening, uplifting or anger inducing. Madison Avenue wants us to believe all holiday gatherings are happy, loving and deeply meaningful. The truth is, sometimes the best part of traveling home is petting the neighbor’s dog.
What defines your homecoming experience is your frame of reference. Theodore Roosevelt cautioned us to remember that, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If your family get-togethers lean more towards the catfish throwing in August: Osage County rather than the love story of Miracle on 34th Street, I suggest becoming your own home-for-the-holidays director. You can pick and choose where you go, whom you see, and how you pass the day. You can expand the good bits, edit the scary stuff, allowing for emotional ups and downs, and walk away content, rather than shell shocked.
Amy’s tip! Should-test all holiday activities. For each holiday plan you’re considering, ask yourself, “Is this _____ (activity, purchase, invitation, etc.) something I think I should be doing to meet expectations, or something I genuinely want?”
Rayne’s tip! Consider bringing a friend along. People who regularly behave badly are less likely to do so when there is a stranger at the table. Plus, you’ll have a friend to do something fun with if you decide to leave early.
Plan & Budget Salad
A mind-clearing plate of carefully selected greens for every budget
If holiday gatherings usually end in arguments or tears, plan only a brief visit to wish all well. Deliver pie, place presents, make toasts—and when your internal timer goes off, leave. It will feel scary, but if you follow your game plan, you will minimize stress and maybe save enough time to visit other people you love (who love you back). Set a reasonable budget, so that you don’t anxiously over-do gift giving.
Some budget-friendly practices: Buy one present for a whole family; give baked goods, socks, or calendars, rather than vases, linens or jewelry; officially cancel gifts this year or do a White Elephant/Yankee Swap; make homemade cards. Cultivate self-respect through the act of looking eyes-wide-open at your bank account.
Rayne’s tip! If you’ve always spent an entire weekend, consider reducing it to one overnight. And don’t be shy about allotting time to do something you’ve always wanted to do, especially if it’s on your Bucket List.
Amy’s tip! Sketch out the chronology of your holiday festivities, adding two additional columns: In one column, record the feelings you want to feel during each activity and in the second column, list an alternate plan, or escape plan, for each activity.
This complex dish contains both spicy and warming elements
All ingredients were grown in our childhood gardens
No one feels pure joy during the holidays, not even elves. Remember Hermie? He was the frustrated elf who got no joy from working in Santa’s workshop hammering wooden toys—he longed to become a dentist. So, please, drop your self-imposed expectations to feel only a few positive feelings this holiday season. It’s this time of year in particular that past disappointments like to haunt us—don’t ignore the ghost of what-your-childhood-wasn’t this year. Stop fighting it. Acknowledge your inner Hermie. Acknowledge the kaleidoscope of feelings within, the grief, sadness and joy, all of it! Thoughts like, “I should be over this by now” or “Nobody wants a miserable house guest” are rejections of your inner-self trying to speak up. This year, listen. Make room for everything you actually feel, remind yourself that holiday grief is normal, and take an emotional inventory as you navigate parties, houses and gift giving.
Rayne’s tip! You’ll know you are healing over past family drama when you begin to see the humor in the patterns. Does your mother always make fun of your cooking skills? That kind of behavior is often generational. So, when your mom makes snide comments about your watery gravy, imagine your 1880’s era great-great-great-grandmother tearing down your 1920’s flapper great-great-grandmother’s lumpy gravy. If that thought makes you smile—you win.
Amy’s tip! Grieve. Grieving the past not only acknowledges the hurt child within but also frees up your spirit so that you can respond new sources of joy.
Toxic pie is an heirloom recipe perfected by your mother,
passed down from her mother, her mother’s mother…
Pairs well with hemlock tea
(Skipping dessert is recommended.)
Some toxic people take great delight—you might even say, feed on—seeing you upset. Nobody can serve up drama like the people who changed your diapers. When toxic moms goad their adult children into emotional outbursts, it seems nearly like a moment of triumph for them. One trick Rayne has offered the Toxic Mom Toolkit community is to think of the piece of toxic pie being served as a hand grenade. Your mother (or estranged sibling or former spouse or frenemy) may go to great lengths to pull the pin and watch you melt down. But what if you imagined an extra pin in your magic pocket? What if when you felt like screaming you visualized replacing that pin and just smiling like the Mona Lisa? Staying calm, smiling and breathing when someone wants desperately to provoke you is how you rise above the drama. You might need a pocketful of pins this holiday season—that’s okay—hold out your hand—we’ll give you as many as you need.
Amy’s tip! Avoid drinking, commiserating about painful shared histories, and be prepared to duck or side-step jabs or provocations.
Rayne’s tip! If you travel far away for the visit, plan what you will do if you decide to leave early. If you don’t have a rental car, have the number of a taxi service already in your pocket. Heaven forbid you spend a peaceful evening at the movies.
Ample Self-Restoration Vermouth
Nutrient-rich and nourishing, this digestion-stimulating drink is a staff favorite
Enjoy with a squeeze of self-regard
We rarely take time to reflect on the holidays once they’ve wrapped up. We instead heave a sigh of relief and throw ourselves right back into our normal routines. This year, take time to reflect on your holidays. A few minutes of reflection during your flight home or while you’re brushing your teeth won’t do the trick. We suggest setting aside ample time to reflect on what occurred, to consciously restore your spirit. This could take the form of journaling, talking with your closest friends, or doubling-up on therapy appointments for a couple weeks. Schedule coffee dates with friends for after the holidays now. Here’s the thing: Knowing that you will be able to confide in friends after the holidays creates a lighthouse to keep you on course during the holidays. Our true selves (hiding deep inside) need to be honored if we are to return to the wonderful life we deserve.
Rayne’s tip! Holidays with family can be exhausting. Sobe extra kind to yourself in the weeks following New Years. Give yourself permission to say “no,” or “I can’t this time” until you are ready to resume your busy schedule.
Amy’s tip! Return to your spiritual practice as soon as possible after the holidays, whether it is writing, art making, yoga or meditation.
Peace on Earth. Happy holidays!
Amy Eden, author of “The Kind Self-Healing Book” and Rayne Wolfe, author of “Toxic Mom Toolkit” collaboratively wrote this special non-toxic holiday post. For more information about surviving the family drama trifecta: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years or family dysfunction in general, visit Rayne’s blog at www.toxicmomtoolkit.com and Amy’s blog at www.guesswhatnormalis.com.
P.S. Let us know about your holiday plans by posting a comment!