This morning I read a tragic news story about a man who killed himself over the weekend when his girlfriend refused to stop Christmas shopping for the day. As she defiantly shopped, he dropped — throwing himself over a seven-story balcony. Tao Hsiao, 38, and his girlfriend entered a huge mall in Xuzhou, China on Saturday evening (no, it wasn't Black Friday) to do a little holiday shopping. Five hours later, the man asked the woman to leave. She refused, and a heated argument ensued. Witnesses claimed the woman told the man that he was "ruining Christmas", and with that, the man flung himself over the railing to his final destination: the cosmetics department. Tao died instantly upon impact.
How many times have you told someone you cared about that they ruined Christmas? Or vice/versa? Chances are, you've had someone put a big stinking damper on your cherished holiday. Typically, it's younger children arguing with their siblings over present jealousy or throwing temper tantrums because little Meggie didn't get a pony. Cringing yet? Have some stories of your own? We all do! Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years ... it wouldn't be the holidays if there wasn't at least one snafu at each family gathering. Unless you are the Brady family, and you aren't.
When words start flying, I go on a house-wide search of red wine and pecan pie. Or pumpkin pie. Or just the wine. Better yet, make that a bottle of peppermint schnapps and fruity pebbles. Don't judge! We all have access to multiple different ways to cope with stressful holiday moments; we all have the freedom and power to select a coping mechanism that will result in the best outcome to the issue at hand. The right choices will lead to decreased stress, a hangover-free morning, an enjoyable holiday and a groovier family gettogether in general. You can't choose the family you are born into. You cannot change those people, either. And admit it: you might not like them all the time, but you love each and every one of them. So in honor of all of the Tao Hsiao's and disappointed kid sisters of the world, I have prepared a compilation of my favorite holiday season solutions. Time tested, these have kept me out of the drama and relatively stress-free over the holidays:
- Prepare yourself: If you have a family dinner coming up across town, do some research beforehand to see if any other friends are doing something nearby in which you might be able to tag along. It's necessary to have an OUT if things get really, really bad.
- Bring Friends: If you are hosting, invite a few friends over that make you laugh. Or a friend that is alone that holiday. It's your party and you can invite whoever you'd like, even if Granny says "family only". Now your friend has something to feel a part of and your family can take the focus off of themselves. Last year, one of my best friends was alone on Christmas Eve, which also happened to be his birthday. My mother always makes a Thanksgiving-style meal on Christmas Eve and I asked her if he could come and she said yes. We bought him a yule log cake, candles, and ice cream. In the middle of dinner, my mother's oddball boyfriend said something (political) that really irked my sister. She turned to my friend and talked to him and him only for the entire duration of the meal. My friend had a great time and no one stomped away from the table. It was a Christmas miracle!
- You don't need to spend the night. If you are going out of town, check out a few nearby hotels if you need to make a quick escape. Playing the "how many air mattresses can we set up tetris-style in the living room" is fun and all, but for light, finicky sleepers like me, I will wake up in such a foul mood that it borderlines on dangerous. Someone hide the kitchen knives and put the coffee on, ASAP! Or, I can just hop on Priceline and spend $60 for a little peace and quiet. It's Christmas and you deserve to treat yourself! The Embassy Suites are great because they are relatively inexpensive, and most have free cocktail hour, a huge buffet-style breakfast, a swimming pool, a sauna, and a hot tub. So pack a bathing suit!
- Do yoga anywhere. I bring a foldable travel yoga mat with me to do a little yoga wherever I end up laying my head. My favorite, by far, is the Dragonfly Natural Rubber Lite Yoga Mat. As long as you have enough room to lay down a standard size yoga mat, you have enough room to practice. Close the door, bring a relaxation kit, a relaxation/guided meditation CD and few soothing candles, and find your center in your childhood bedroom.
- Hear no evil, see no evil. No Christmas vacation luggage is complete without my iPod filled with meditation music and uploaded yoga CD's, ear plugs, and a crescent eye pillow. Looking for a warm, soothing ending to a chilly day? Spritz the eye pillow with lavender essential oil and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. Give yourself an energy boost in the a.m. by spritzing the pillow with peppermint essential oil and place the pillow in a ziplock in the freezer for at least two hours before use (the best time prepare a cold pillow is the night before, for instant gratification upon awakening. Noise cancelling headphones would be a nice accessory to pack, as well.
- Let it go. Perfectionism is my best friend and worst enemy. It's nice to not be the lazy slob of the family, but when everyone else is piled in front of the plasma watching football and drinking beer, I'm busting my butt washing dishes, hand-picking dust bunnies off the floor, scrubbing the oven (who even does that?!), and anything else that involves keeping the house in a pristine condition. Even if — especially if — the house isn't mine. Three years ago I learned that this insanity only made me resentful of all of my happy family members who are actually laughing and bonding with each other. Suddenly, a spiritual awakening of sorts: as long as you have love and family, your home that holds it is perfect as-is. If everyone is acting positively, one small mood swing can throw off the whole bunch, so I refrain from playing house maid until the last guest leaves. Usually, others pitch in and after a large meal or before packing up and everything kind of works itself out.
- Cut the kids some slack. Too much freedom will leave you with an unstoppable gaggle of "here comes a migraine with a side of insomnia". But allowing your children, nieces, and nephews some special privileges like an extra hour of TV, staying up a little past bed time, allowing children bunking together to talk after "lights out", or an extra bowl of ice cream will keep the rugrats content. Also, a few hidden/secret mini-presents pulled out of your purse randomly or placed under their pillow makes the holiday extra special. And let's face it, Christmas is much more magical as a child than it is as an adult.
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