Oy. It’s here. The onslaught of holidays: ThanksgivingHalloweenChristmasNewYears

It’s October, but Costco has had Christmas stuff out for several weeks, and I spotted eggnog at Safeway just the other day. What is up with all this? All the other hoopla and demands are right around the corner. It starts with a simple turkey and sharing what we’re thankful for, and before you know it you’re in a tift with your aunt Judy and you’ve had way too much to drink.

What you need is a strategy. A plan to survive all the holiday craziness. So I present to you:

My 5 tips for getting through family-ing unscathed


Stand in your choices and recognize what you are choosing

It’s easy to get so bogged down in the ceremony of it, the expectations and the performance, that we become  a dancing bear armed with a to-do list and a smile. Just remember: whatever you are creating, whether it be a meal or a ridiculous pile of gifts under a tree, YOU ARE CHOOSING IT.  And you can choose not to.

In the last few years, I have fallen into various hardships where I chose (for my own sanity) to forego a whole lot of gift giving at Christmas, and you know what? No one cared. I got folded into the festivities, I was handed some wine, and no one shamed me for choosing to participate in the holiday in a different way. Own your choices, recognize that they are indeed YOURS, and let everyone else live with it. You are perhaps the only person who expects you to drive all over town to get it all done in time.


Some compassion can go a long way.  

All of this family-ing can be HARD, and not just on you. We recently spent a weekend with my partner’s stepmom helping her move from a giant (seriously, palatial) house to a smaller one in the wake of losing her husband earlier this year. After watching her bravely navigate this huge shift, and accept help so graciously, I have nothing but compassion for this woman. I am not a stranger to grief, nor to “Fresh Starts” that aren’t even asked for, and I get the epic putting-on of the big girl trousers to get through these things. I can just imagine how hard it must be and the brave face she is putting on as she trudges through her grief, largely alone. Keep all this mind when family arrives to celebrate the holidays and emotions are running high; those around us may be coming out of a year they wonder how they even survived. And even if they didn’t, they deserve our compassion.


Rest, rest, rest.

I notice it as I get older that I crave silence, space, and quiet nights at home (I seriously Happy DANCE when meetings in the evening get cancelled and I get to read, drink tea and go to bed early). Add in nieces and nephews, big dinners, too-tight pants, and well-meaning relatives and I guarantee that by the time we bring out the after-dinner game of Monopoly I am fantasizing about my pjs. I soak up my family while we’re together, but I also build in a lot of rest when we are not. Know that you need this, too. When you’re exhausted, you’re of no use as Santa’s Handiest Elf, or as Hallowe’en’s Chief Trick-or-Treat Chaperone. Take care of yourself, first.


Plan some rewards.

I’m already on the lookout for a suitable cabin in the woods to celebrate the end of a truly amazing year, and I’m planning a weekend escape to the mountains for some hiking later this month, and also a little trip to a cabin I visit so I can write. I have a number of deadlines between now and the end of the year then that will take up a lot of my time and energy, so I am treating those like sprints with rests and rewards as I go. I’ve run a number of half-marathons, and even a full one, and I know that resting throughout these is what makes me be able to finish them. So my rewards are strategically placed to keep things interesting on the road to 2017. (And can I just say that it’s OCTOBER and that the end of the year is right around the corner?? It’s THIS QUARTER, PEOPLE.)



For Christmas-at-Costco sake, keep it light. Even when it sucks. Especially when it sucks. Years ago my ex-mother-in-law had just been diagnosed with Stage 5 colon cancer and was resting comfortably in hospital, hours away from our new home in Vancouver. We were sent into a flurry of travelling to her, dealing with worry and stress and arranging care for her so that she could die at home. I will never forget the afternoon when we returned from some errands and my husband pulled into the lot, then turned to me and said, “You know, we should go up there and tell the nurse to unplug her from the life support.”  Puzzled, I reminded him that she was not ON life support and he chuckled and said, “Yes, but can you imagine the nurse’s face if we said that??” We burst out laughing. That was something we did often in the face of things that we would rather have not dealt with. So laugh, even when it’s not even appropriate. There will be plenty to cry about, I promise, but remember that life is supposed to be fun.  I still remember that chuckle in the parking lot, nearly 14 years later.

And if all else fails, I would recommend remembering some last-minute items that you forgot for dinner, dashing off to a coffee shop or a place you really like, and hiding there until Valentine’s Day.


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