As the old saying goes, ‘Happy holidays!” It’s that most wonderful time of the year when we get to relax with family and friends and reflect on our wonderful lives.

This, of course, is how it should be… but it’s not for some. In fact, we, as a whole, have moved down the troubled path of placing ourselves in a pressure cooker. How is it that we’ve allowed the end of each year to tie us up in knots without putting a wonderful silk bow atop our heads? A product of the 1950s, I recall when meals were with family, businesses were closed on Sundays, and the definition of Black Friday was historically the first day retailers would show a profit.

Today, almost none of this is true. Everyone is on the run, we live 24/7, and Black Friday just means “sale,” and isn’t even limited to Friday anymore.

When you look to the words which are most associated with the single word holiday, you find it to be described as a day of festivity and recreation when no work is done. What person staring at a fifteen-pound frozen bird in the fridge, with the invading prospect of a dozen family members dropping in, ever thought such a thing? Whose idea was it anyway to place two grand Holidays just one short month apart? To make matters worse, while long traditions, one has nothing to do with the other, and sadly neither truly maintains the essence and value of that which they represent: gratitude and the birth of Christ.

Converting holiday stress back into gratitude and, at the very least, a cultural birthday celebration, may unfortunately go against society’s runaway train — but it is not impossible. Stress is mostly brought on by a loss of control and very often is of our own making. Your life is still your life, and it’s up to you to actively participate in your well-being.

You may be thinking to yourself right now, that’s easier said than done. Well, everything is easier said than done, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said or not done.

You deserve the best holidays you can possibly have.

First, if you are really feeling stress and the pressure associated with the festive season, share how you’re feeling and ask for help. Often, the expectations we place on ourselves are much higher than what those around you expect. We become our own greatest critics to live up to.

Second, we are also living up to someone else’s expectations when we place pressure on ourselves. Maybe it’s how your mother used to do things, or a visiting mother-in-law’s view of how things should be done (or perhaps it’s just us, unfairly interpreting it all this way).

Stress manifests stress, but you are you, and what makes you great, and what makes you special, is bringing out the real you in all that you do! If you like simple, but you feel as though you are expected to be over the top? Stop, and be who you are. Care not who will judge you — which sort of gets us back to that special holiday birthday celebration, wherein no one should be judging anyone. This is a lesson often wasted and forgotten.

Third, do not be afraid to break with tradition. Maybe try ordering a pre-cooked turkey, maybe try no turkey at all. There is no rule book that says anything about having to cook a turkey with all of the trimmings. The only thing the holiday does in fact imply is the importance of giving thanks.

If you apply to this one rule alone, you will lower your stress measurably. Meaningful, honest gratitude has a way of humbling us. It is deserving of much more than but a single day in our lives, so if it is to be reduced to just one, this day of all, Thanksgiving, should be kept close to its tenor. Being filled with gratitude is the gift worth giving to yourself, which in the process extends a heartfelt warmth to the universe as a whole. This is powerful medicine.

Last, but most certainly not least, please try this: Live An Artful Life.  

Live – Not to just exist, not just the time between birth and death, but to live and experience life.

An – Indefinite and limitless!

Artful – Showing creative skill, cleverness, or taste.

Life – Again, not to just exist, but to possess the capacity to grow!

Imagination is the most wonderful thing, and how it invigorates creativity is the greatest freedom anyone can experience.

This season, try giving yourself and your family the greatest gift of all: happiness. Make the holidays carefree, creative, and fun. Make it your agenda and communicate it to everyone involved. Maybe gifts should be limited to children, and adults can make a donation to those in need in honor of a family member. After all, gift-giving is easy, gift budgeting and hunting are far less so and thus, can be very stressful. 

Let your creativity flow through a fun table setting, all the way down to having family or friends draw from a box for clean-up assignments. I can’t tell you how many times I have just rolled up my sleeves and made my way into a host’s kitchen to wash the dishes. At first, they feel obliged to say, “Please don’t worry about that.” But after the kitchen is clean in teamwork-like fashion, I’ve never heard “I wish you hadn’t.” What I have heard is mutual gratitude from them for the help, and from me for their generous hospitality. 

You can use this time of the year to teach youngsters valuable life lessons, and to remind yourself of what this time of the year should really represent. Low stress equaling good health, and the honest ability to be thankful is filled with unjudgmental love.

Happy holidays, everyone!