“Sometimes it's like there's a competition to see who has the most hectic schedule this time of year,” My friend was talking about how pressured she felt to socialize and pack.her schedule with activities during the holiday season.
Often, the expectation is that we WANT to have a lot to do: parties, shopping, baking and cooking, wrapping, sending out cards. We may feel strange not having a full schedule. But as my friend said, ”it’s all too much at times.”
We may feel pressure to socialize with people we don’t even like, the office Christmas party being one example. We may work with people we get along with but wouldn’t choose to spend time with. Throw in alcohol, loud music, annoying party games and holiday eating, their significant others, our significant others, and this can feel like a burden. Add in all the parties your significant other feels obliged to attend, and pretty soon, your schedule is overflowing.
I told my friend about traditions around the holiday season, how in medieval Europe, people would take time off from regular chores except for the absolutely urgent things like milking the cow or feeding the animals. They’d eat, drink, visit, play games, sing songs, tell stories. There were celebrations in the village or the town, and celebrating a festival was like an obligation. My friend pointed out that in modern times, we don't take time off work or school, yet we still want to do all this merrymaking,
Our work schedules can be even more hectic this time of year, with limited holiday hours and year-end deadlines, our kids have extra activities, music recitals, concerts, rehearsals, all on top of preparations for our own celebrations. Besides cooking, shopping and decorating. these may include getting ready to travel or host out-of-town guests. We’re trying to cram a lot of extra activities into the same 24 hour days we have the rest of the year.
If it feels like you don't have time for your favourite activities because of pressure to do more and more, look at the balance between what you really love and enjoy during the holidays, and what you feel obliged to do, especially if that pressure comes from the media, or from people who don't actually matter to you. The people you work with may be friends, but they may be people you tolerate or get along with well enough. but wouldn’t choose to spend time with. Maybe family members or in-laws are pressing you to do more with them than you enjoy or will fit with your other obligations. How important are their opinions compared with the feelings and opinions of the people you love most? The latter list needs to include yourself.
It's important to think about what you value most in your life as a whole, especially during the holiday season. Make sure you block off time for things you enjoy doing, with family or close friends, for other projects you like to get involved with like choir, charity activities, outdoor sports, seasonal festivals and rituals, for spending time alone, and with close family or your significant other.
You’re allowed to say no. Think ahead to find diplomatic ways of turning down an invitation. That might be, “we have other plans,” or “I’m not available.” You can follow up with, “it’s such a hectic time of year, isn’t it?” and let the other person draw their own conclusions. You don’t need to explain yourself or justify your preferences.
If it’s someone you value and want to maintain a good relationship with, you can make a different plan with them that doesn’t make you feel harried. That might be a lunch date early in the New Year where you exchange cards or gifts. Maybe include friends with a casual family activity, like going skiing or taking a walk on New Year’s Day.
If you decide you need to say no, it can help if you have an alternative. I know people who make a seasonal treat, like cookies or special popcorn, and have a scheduled day they drop these off at people’s homes or offices, which means they’re sure to have contact, but they control how long they stay. “Great seeing you, gotta get the rest of these delivered! Have a great Christmas!” If you make this a habit, then get an invitation you need to turn down, you can soften the blow with, “but I’ll see you when I drop off your cookies on Christmas Eve!”
You can also counter with an invitation of your own, where you control the time and event. I know people who have a champagne brunch the day after Christmas: they supply the coffee, champagne and orange juice, griddles and pancake mix, you bring your favourite bubbly, and pancake toppings or crepe fillings. Any time after 10 am and they kick everybody out by 2.
Another family had a musical evening between Christmas and New Year’s, “Come as you are, any time after 6,” BYOB, a few people brought instruments and there was a piano and song sheets. Once everybody arrived, we ordered pizza, on the theory we were all tired of turkey and fancy occasions by then, but we still wanted to get together. It was festive, but not onerous.
Find ways you enjoy socializing so it makes it easier to turn down activities you don’t enjoy or that make you feel harried. And don’t feel bad about not agreeing to every possible invitation, as long as you’re sensitive about how you refuse.
It can be hard to opt out of certain activities, but we all have only 168 hours in a week. At this time of year, make sure some of those hours are spent doing something you enjoy with the people you love.