If you love holiday traditions, the entire month of December is your time of year. It's a blissed-out parade of friends and relatives lugging casserole dishes, hoisting dairy-based cocktails, and nibbling on mixed nuts and chocolate coins. Some of these traditions might not exactly be your cup of eggnog; worse, they may make you feel oppressed and resentful. Worse still, the whole month might feel like a prison stretch, and you're just keeping your head down and doing your time.
But we have more choice than we often think we do. Almost everything about the holidays is optional, and you're free to pick and choose the things that make you happy, and walk away from those that don't. Here are a few of my favorite exit strategies to get through the season in one sane, healthy piece.
1. Say no to so-called "treats" and the cookie exchange
Cookies shaped like snowmen and Santas have a strong, Pavlovian pull, but they're really just like the ones we could have had in October and February. So if you can have it all year long, it's really not a treat at all. Get roped into a cookie exchange, and the payoff is even less: hours of work and you end up with the same type of cookies you made yourself except they're singed at the edges, and who knows what kid stuck their fingers in them along the way. But most importantly, remember what cookies do to your body. Look what they did to Santa.
2. Say no to hanging out with relatives without a break
When spending the holidays visiting relatives who test your patience, be sure to take care of yourself, and not by doubling up on the nog. A little small talk may be requisite, but after a few hours you're perfectly justified in taking a break, and if you do it right, no one will find it the least bit strange. Standing alone in the carport with no jacket on will raise a few eyebrows, so give yourself a purpose: Announce that you're going to stretch your legs and look around the neighborhood, and who wants to go with? If there's a dog, it needs walking. If there's a kid, it needs taking to the park. A few desperate types might join you, and then you can bond as you walk. You can easily work this angle for up to an hour, a significant cool-down period if things at the house are getting weird.
3. Say no to eating traditional foods just because they're traditional
If you've always wanted the smell of a seafood cannery right in your own home, you may want to try my sister's recipe for oyster stuffing, which most of my family has been choking down at holiday meals for years. My homemade cranberry sauce, on the other hand, is quite delicious, but for some reason people have an aversion to that as well. But there's no reason to take offense, because everybody gets to feed their body any way they want. Like to peel the marshmallows off the sweet potatoes and mix them with your green beans? Good luck with that, and don't mind if I don't watch you while you eat. You probably don't want to watch me either. In fact, no one really cares what other people eat or don't eat, so let's just agree: You keep your stuffing over there, and I'll keep the cranberry sauce right next to my plate.
4. Say no to the company holiday party
It's always going to be a great company holiday party when the 19-year-old intern gets out of control and climbs on stage to sing "Hey Ya" with the band. But you just can't count on that kind of excitement every year. What you can count on is a long speech from the boss meant to motivate or pacify, though it's hard to tell because no one's listening; a few co-workers dressed in ways you never wanted to see them; and a grossly unbalanced array of giveaways, with one person winning a trip to Hawaii and everyone else getting two-for-one coupons for the Hot Dog Hut. That may be your idea of a good time, but if it isn't, there's a sure-fire way to making the evening fun: do something else instead. As far as I know, they still don't take attendance at these things.
5. Say yes to enjoying the things you love
While you're bucking up your courage to say no to your least favorite holiday traditions, don't forget to say yes to all the things that make this time of year special. The holidays bring people together who enjoy each other's company, they break up our work and school routines, they bring out creativity and generosity, they have great music (if you like that sort of thing), and they make children goes bananas, which is always fun to see. So learn to savor the things that are meaningful to you. There's no need to go full-on Grinch.
And if all you do for the holidays is enjoy a big homemade lasagna and a "Seinfeld" marathon, you're one of the lucky ones, because clearly you've found your groove. After all, the only worthwhile tradition is the one that makes you happy, year after year.
About the Author
Ken DuBois is a marketing guru by day and a freelance writer by night. He has written film reviews for Reel.com, and worked for a time as a theater critic. He is passionate about working out: When he's not in the pool, he's hiking, biking, walking and, weather permitting, working on his backhand.