“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” ~Jane Austen
Reviewing the holiday calendar has an opposite and equally strong reaction between my husband and myself. When he sees a blank space, he wants to fill it. When I see a blank space, I want to keep it free from commitment. I see a long, deep breath–a contented sigh between holiday activities. He wants to add more and more, and I want to subtract from the busyness of the season by creating emotional white space.
I find great comfort in staying home. Jane and I would be kindred spirits, I feel this down to my bones. However, I don’t live with Jane Austen, I live with a man whose idea of comfort involves hosting large groups of people and/or major home renovation projects requiring decision-making skills I don’t possess. Add this to an already full holiday schedule, and you have a recipe for marital disaster.
In eighteen years of marriage, I have yet to strike the balance between finding comfort and surviving seasonal overkill. I always feel as if we’re doing too much, and all I want is to cocoon myself in a blanket with a book. I long for simplicity, for quiet, for peaceful nights strung in a row like fairy lights. Instead, I run here and there and everywhere trying to buy, eat, or socialize my way into the “holiday spirit”.
This year, as the calendar fills up, I’m giving myself permission to change a few things. I’m giving you permission too.
Five Ways to Survive the Season
1. Build margin into your calendar in advance.
How many days or nights at home does it take for you to feel like a human being rather than a human doing? How many meals do you need to eat around your table with your people? How many Sundays will you experience a true Sabbath? Schedule these days and nights on your calendar just as you would a holiday party. Next Sunday, my husband promised me an entire day with zero commitments. I plan to guard that time like a mama protects her baby cub. If you need something from me next Sunday, you’ll have to fight me for it.
2. Give yourself permission to cancel.
I know this sounds irresponsible, impossible even. You can already imagine how disappointed your neighbor will be when your voice is absent from the altos when caroling. You hear an inner voice saying how selfish you are to rob the neighborhood of your voice in all its glory. You see the crestfallen faces of your children when you say no to a third visit with Santa, ensuring pictorial perfection. You know how much they adore waiting in a line of hundreds, only to sit for thirty seconds on the lap of a bearded stranger. You can hear the grumbling of your book club members when they recognize your lack of commitment to an 800-page tome during this, the least book-friendly of all seasons. You obviously don’t take your reading or your title as Supreme Book Nerd seriously.
It’s okay to put something on the calendar tentatively and then cancel. Really, it is. I know from experience, you will fill your calendar with all manner of redundant and overwhelming activities that do nothing to promote peace or joy or thanksgiving. Hold them lightly. Stick to the ones that matter, the ones adding value to your life and your family.
3. Make room for what feeds you.
If you love your weekly coffee with a friend, by all means, leave it on the calendar. If you feel healthier when you’re speaking to a counselor regularly, Christmas isn’t the time to let it go. If you need to run or read or have a family movie night or host a coffee or take a hot bath or cook a homemade meal or sit in a corner in complete silence to feel like a whole, functioning human being during the non-holiday seasons, then you need to make them a priority even more during this one. I’m no good to anyone if I don’t run and read a little bit every day. And if I’m not writing, well, buckle up boys. This train, carting every one of my myriad emotions, is headed straight to Crazyville. Recognize what keeps you from descending into crazy, and then make time to do it.
4. Be prepared for inevitable interruptions and unavoidable failures.
Someone will get sick. Someone else will have a bad attitude. You’ll forget to buy the bus driver a gift, and have to run out to Dunkin Donuts for a gift card at 6am. Your tree will list to the left, the kids will hate your favorite family movie, your pie will not look like the one you copied on Pinterest. You know this will happen, so set your expectations accordingly. Celebrating the highs (The kids slept in! Your gifts arrived on time! Elf is on again!) and accepting the lows are part of the process of living imperfectly.
5. Make your home a sanctuary.
This is the secret ensuring my survival this season. My home is filled with the things and the people I love. We intentionally cultivate a space that brings us comfort and peace. I place cozy blankets in every room, books sit stacked on and under my tables, and I fill the cupboards with an endless supply of vanilla tea and peppermint hot chocolate. I printed a list of Christmas movies we want to see, and I have everything I need for our first Jesse Tree. In every room in our house, my eye can find one meaningful thing to rest on, whether it’s a photograph, a souvenir from our days abroad, or something my kids hand-made. You will not find an Elf on the shelf or fifty-two holiday versions of the ubiquitous sugar cookie.
Begin to think about the things that bring you joy, and incorporate them into your home life. Maybe it’s jazz music or scented candles or apple pie. Maybe you love having people around, decking your halls with the sound of laughter and friendly chatter. The question to ask yourself is this: What do I want Home to feel like for me and my family? Home should be the first place you want to return to, a place to retreat when the worries of the world creep in, the place you feel like your truest self. Home should be the place you invite people in and offer them the best of you.
What keeps you centered and grounded during the holiday season? I’m all ears!
On Mondays, I’ll be writing regularly around the theme of Home and belonging. I hope you’ll join me. For regular updates sign up below to have posts delivered straight to your inbox.