If I suddenly had trillions of dollars, after I’d solved the bottom slab of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for all mankind, I’d buy a blimp. Not for wacky steampunk travels, but rather to deliver a message far and wide to as many people as I could, starting right after Halloween: Stop panicking about the holidays.
That’s easier said than done, but plenty of people live in fear of ruining a loved (or barely tolerated) one’s day or entire holiday season by buying the wrong brand of canned cranberry sauce or leaving the celery out of the stuffing. The pressure for perfection can weigh you down, choking the oxygen from any potential joy and for what? An Instagram post? Bragging rights? Staving off someone else’s hissy fit over the fact that the sweet potatoes didn’t taste exactly like grandma’s (God rest her soul)?
If the desire to be perfect genuinely comes from a place of wanting to make people happy, that is a lovely thing indeed. But consider this: Would the people you’re tearing your hair out to please rather be served a mathematically symmetrical plate of winter fruit salad over which you went into the bathroom and cried or see their beloved host kicking back and happily enjoying the party?
If the answer is anything but the latter, reconsider the company you keep, and if that’s not negotiable (family and whatnot), now is the time to come up with a plan to get you through the holidays as calmly and with as few psychic scratches and dents as possible.
Imagine the worst possible thing that could happen. Really dig in there and take it to the very worst place. Yes of course you will lose all your limbs in an alligator attack because you screwed up the pumpkin pie and things spiraled out of control from there. That’s definitely how it’s going to go. Also, everyone in your life will cease to love or respect you because you didn’t have enough matching plates and someone had to enjoy their holiday dinner from one of the blue-rimmed ones rather than the holly-emblazoned set that everyone else has in front of them. You would deserve that excommunication.
OK, now reel it back. Unless you actually manage to poison someone or serve them shards of glass, nothing that dire is going to happen. Yes, someone may snark about your cooking or hosting behind your back—or maybe even to your face—but just inform them with a smile that they are now responsible for hosting next year’s gathering. Seriously, no one ever died from eating gravy that they just didn’t like very much.
You’re going to all the trouble of making sure that everyone else’s needs are met, but are you doing anything to make yourself happy? Cousin Cathy’s entire year will apparently be ruined if she is not served green beans in the exact manner she has come to expect, and hoo boy her new boyfriend is being a pill because he assumed there would be beer and you’re serving wine. Everyone’s got their sensitivities and expectations around the holidays, but grown-ass adults can learn to deal—and bring their own if it’s so vital to their wellbeing.
What are you doing for you? If there is a dish or drink or decor that would bring you delight but you just don’t have time, it’s perfectly fine to ask someone else to take care of it. You might think you’re being a great host by eschewing all offers of help, but you may be—and I say this with love—a teeny bit of a martyr or a control freak here. Plenty of people, myself included, feel more comfortable having a job at a party, whether it’s being told to bring something the host especially likes (or ice—always feel free to bring ice), or gaining entry to the kitchen to help clean up after the meal (and also hide). Let a guest do that for themselves, and also for you. It’s an ouroboros of generosity.
A professor of mine back in my visual arts days used to say that beauty is found in the ruptures. I like that because not only did it free me from the tyranny of perfection, it allowed me to find loveliness in an entirely different way. We don’t look back on the hitch-free holidays as fondly as we do the ones where the dog stole an entire ham from the table, Aunt Miriam farted at the table, or the turkey burned and everyone ended up going out for Chinese food. It’s great when things go smoothly, but the best holidays are textured with humanity and hilarious stories that you’ll tell for years to come—ideally at someone else’s house.
Is all of your holiday stress caused by the bad behavior of other people? Say you’re worried that Uncle Rod is going to start being xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, or otherwise cruddy at the dinner table. Shut it down, boot them out, and don’t think twice. Life’s too short to put up with that kind of hate. Crumb bums get no pie.
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